While it might not be a psychiatric disorder, “imposter syndrome” is very real for people who experience it.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern of self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a “fraud” for the things you’ve legitimately accomplished. This internalized fear is enough to make people living with it feel anxious, doubtful, inadequate or in a state of constant worry.
As a black woman, I’m no stranger to the feeling of being seen as a “fraud.” No matter how many doors I’ve opened with my own merit, or how much my talent has allowed me seats at the table or access to certain spaces I might not otherwise be invited to, I often feel like I’m impersonating a role instead of embodying one. And because of that, it’s only a matter of time before people realize I am not as talented as they think I am and that those doors will close on me at a moment’s notice. No dot-dot-dot, just the end. The slightest criticism from a superior evokes an inner voice of, “Have they found me out?” It’s a fear I have to constantly swallow and overcome, but one that is very present.
If you are someone that encounters these feelings on a regular basis, you aren’t alone. We asked The Mighty’s mental health community about the “habits” they do when they’re struggling with imposter syndrome.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Being “Humble”
“I don’t like to talk about my achievements because I don’t think I earned them. I feel like someone made a mistake and there’s no way I could have achieved anything on my own.” — Jessica C.
“When I put myself down, people think I’m doing it to get compliments. I’m not, I honestly believe I’m not that good at stuff despite my achievements.” — Alyx P.
2. Needing Reassurance
“Seeking out positive reinforcement and reassurance that I am doing my job well and handling every little thing correctly. And still not believing that they aren’t going to fire me suddenly for seemingly nothing.” — Kat W.
“We really struggle believing that everything good that we’ve done in life is ours to celebrate in retrospect. It’s self-gaslighting. It’s us telling ourselves that it’s not us, it’s anything but us. The team, the privilege, the judges, the fear, whatever.” — Issela S.
“I was accepted into a masters program and my professor told me that I was dealing with imposter syndrome. It was hard for me to believe that I was smart enough to be in school. I ended up leaving school.” — Ebonie F.
“If I don’t overachieve, I feel like everyone will believe I don’t know what I’m doing…even though there’s so much evidence to the contrary.” — Codi W.
“Pushing myself too hard and to the point of injury. I also hide how much pain I’m in because, after two decades of being told I was ‘faking it,’ I’m terrified of being told the same thing if I show my pain… and I’m even more scared that, even though I have been diagnosed with my illness, I’ll start to believe the same thing myself.” — Mikki I.
5. Not Announcing New Opportunities
“I started a new job last week and won’t post about it on Facebook even though it’s an accomplishment because I think it will jinx me or that I’ll get let go and then everyone would know and I’d feel mortified and everyone would think I’m ‘stupid,’ lazy or incompetent.” — Jenn M.
“I didn’t tell anyone I got a new job because I was afraid someone would call them and tell them not to hire me.” — Grace C.
6. Challenging Compliments
“I always talk myself down without realizing. For example, if somebody compliments my work, I’ll say, ‘Thanks, but it’s just a quick draft.’ ‘Thanks, sorry if it’s not exactly what you wanted.’” — Jenni D.
“When people praise something about me, especially school work, I ask them to go into detail as to why they liked it. Having them pinpoint specific things and hearing their thought patterns helps me to believe that the person is genuine. Long story short, I challenge everyone’s compliments.” — Sarah E.
7. Feeling Unworthy
“I avoid compliments and I feel like I don’t deserve them. I think that I’m not good at all.” — Blake F.
“I struggle with believing I am smart enough. I’ll study and tell myself, ‘I don’t know any of this. I am not smart enough to be here,’ and end up doing extremely well and still not believing it.” — Emily F.
“When I worked for an insurance company, every time we got called in for work review merits and I was praised I felt like a fraud, as though I was just scraping by. Like my manager was just trying to be kind to me. I couldn’t see that I was actually good at my job. It felt like they were talking about someone else.” — Caroline W.
“I have often wondered if self-sabotage is sometimes a sign of imposter syndrome. It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have noticed this in myself through the years.” — Melanie M.
“Turning down opportunities because I don’t have faith in myself even though other people obviously do.” — Stephanie W.
“I stop doing my university work. I find excuses to put it off for days. You can’t do a bad job if you don’t do the job at all, right?” — Steve L.
“I also try to combat the syndrome by trying to be overconfident to try to snap myself out of it but comes off arrogant to others. It’s way more debilitating than people realize.” — Jacob W.
“I find that I often either overcompensate or completely play something down. If I’m taking on a role for an assignment or something, I will try to be who or what I think is required of me more than what I may actually feel.” — Claudia R.
10. Telling Self-Deprecating Jokes
“I tend to self-loathe and uncontrollably tell all the self-deprecating jokes I can think of as of that moment.” — John B.
“I’ve also noticed I tend to openly comment on the imposter syndrome, but frame it in a joking way, e.g. ‘Well you’re doing a better job than I am, I’ve managed to get absolutely nothing done!’” — Emily P.
“I may completely diminish something. Say if I got a good mark or something, I’d say, ‘it’s probably just that my paper got mixed up,’ which I might say as a joke, but to me it’s something that I often think.” — Claudia R.
11. Mentally Preparing for the Worst
“I work out the math for how I’ll survive on entry-level wages once everyone figures out I’m too ‘stupid’ and irresponsible for a professional career. It’s strangely comforting.” — Andrew P.
“[I] mentally prepare for the time when I will be ‘found out,’ but also think what a relief it would really be to admit whenever I’m feeling like an absolute fraud.” — Emily P.
If you find yourself struggling with imposter syndrome, you’re not alone. We all encounter feelings of fraud and inadequacy as we navigate through the world. And while your feelings are valid, chances are you aren’t a fraud if you earned your achievements and accomplishments on your own merit. Still, it might be difficult to combat those feelings. If so, check out some of the resources below to better navigate imposter syndrome:
- What It’s Like to Experience Imposter Syndrome as a Result of Chronic Illness
- The Other Type of Imposter Syndrome
- What It Feels Like to Have ‘Imposter Syndrome’