By Millie Smith
Impostor Syndrome – you’ve probably heard of it, but if you haven’t then you’ve almost definitely experienced it aswell. Impostor syndrome is defined as a “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments or talents and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.” Basically, it involves experiencing thoughts that you’re not good enough, or that you’ve made it to where you are by mistake or that your success is a fluke and all down to luck rather than talent or intelligence. It is believed that most people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives, most people at one point or another have thought their success was a fluke or that someone else was better suited to be in their position than them. Whilst it is important for us to challenge ourselves to reach new goals, it can be damaging, and draining, to constantly believe we are unworthy, or a fraud.
Impostor syndrome, also known under other names such as ‘impostor phenomenon’ and ‘fraud syndrome’, is challenging to overcome. Starting university, I found myself experiencing these thoughts – I believed I didn’t deserve my place, that there’d been a mix up in the admissions office and that everyone on my course was vastly more intelligent than I was. It’s hardly an enjoyable experience to believe you’re less intelligent than everyone else or that your success is down to luck. For myself, this stemmed from the fact that my grades were slightly lower than those I required to start university, but the university still took me because of other qualities I had been able to show them through my personal statement and application. It probably wasn’t until receiving my first year exam grades that I trusted I was in the right place and I deserved to be there, it was hard work, not luck.
Most people have experienced some kind of impostorism during their lifetime, the impact and experience varies however. Some may only experience it briefly and from time to time, whilst for others its a constant internal dialogue they’re battling with. It can be difficult to fight past that internal dialogue when it is so persistent in telling you you’re a fraud, but the dialogue is wrong and I wanted to share some ways to overcome it and cope with those thoughts day to day.
Recognise the impostor feelings
It is important to be able to acknowledge that the thoughts you’re experiencing are impostor thoughts, that they are not true and are stemming from impostor syndrome. Acknowledging the thoughts as impostor syndrome is a start in cutting them out. Being able to say “that was an impostor thought, and therefore not true” will slowly start to help you realise them and discard them as lies.
Rewrite the dialogue
Being aware of the impostor thoughts means that we can challenge them. Challenge what your brain might be telling you. If you’re experiencing an impostor thought, challenge it with the actual truth. If you’re thinking that everyone else is smarter than you, challenge it with “that’s not possible, not everyone knows anything and I am clever. I deserve to be here.”
Talk about it OR write about it
Talking about our mental health is crucial, and whilst it’s not always the easy thing to do, it is so important to changing the dialogue surrounding mental health. Impostor syndrome is to do with our mental health and, therefore, important to talk about. Being able to share thoughts you’re experiencing with other people will help you to challenge the thoughts. Opening the dialogue about these thoughts can help us see them as what they are – lies. Talking isn’t always easy, so another option is to write about them. Many people find journaling vastly helpful and it’s another way to tackle impostor syndrome. Write down the impostor thoughts and then write down why they’re wrong. Challenge these thoughts on paper, show yourself why they’re wrong and why you are not a fraud.