As early as I can remember, I thought or to be exact, believed that I was adopted. This was something I would comment about on the regular to my friends, or when hanging out with my family. Somewhere along the conversation I would throw in the phrase “I’m adopted”.
I never meant it as a mean comment directed at my family, in the likes of “you guys are so embarrassing, I don’t want to be related to you” or that I want to ‘disown’ you. More than anything, it was a feeling like I just didn’t quite fit in. I felt like an imposter.
Throughout life I have carried this feeling in most things that I have been a part of or accomplished. Whether it was in school, during horse-riding, or in a job, there was always that sneaky little voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough, and that anything I did could be done better by someone else.
This annoying voice is actually a widely known phenomenon and goes by the name of imposter syndrome. Interestingly, yet not so surprisingly, studies show that women are more likely to experience imposter syndrome in their life and career compared to men.
If you have ever struggled with the following signs, you might have experienced imposter syndrome, too:
- You often credit your accomplishments to “getting lucky” rather than recognising your own hard work
- You find it hard to accept praise or compliments
- You set incredibly, if not impossible, standards for yourself (but let others easily off the hook)
- You are paralysed by the fear of failure
- You avoid coming across confident, because you think you’ll be deemed as obnoxious
- You just never feel like you’re good enough.
…And you live with the constant fear of being found out or exposed as a “fraud”.
I think imposter syndrome is not so much a matter of how confident you are, but more so to do with your level of self-worth. Although self-confidence and -worth seem like interchangeable concepts, they differ quite a bit. In fact, you can be highly confident, yet have low self-worth.
Self-confidence relates to how we perceive our abilities and how capable we are in doing or completing certain things or the way we handle different situations. Our level of confidence can vary from one aspect to the other.
For example, we may be highly confident in writing an essay on a topic we’re passionate about, whereas not so confident debating a topic we don’t really understand or have enough knowledge about. Here, you can build your confidence quite easily by preparing well and studying up on extra readings.
On the other hand, self-worth (or -esteem) is how we view ourselves on the whole, how much (or little) we love ourselves, the amount of self-respect we have, and what are the beliefs we have about ourselves whether negative or positive. It’s thinking about things like how worthy or deserving are we of happiness, success, or love. Our self-worth is shaped by our experiences, traumas, our family members, and by our environments and society in general. Each has their role in either fuelling or chipping away at our self-worth.
Especially, when you struggle with depression, it often wakes deep feelings of unworthiness within you. It’s like 24/7 your inner critic is telling you that you’re not good enough, whatever you do is wrong or fraudulent, and at worst, it may try to convince you that you’re a waste of space by just being alive.
So, how can you ditch the imposter syndrome?
Although we can learn to name and tame our imposter syndrome, it’s rare to banish it from your life completely. Instead learning to build a healthy relationship with it could actually be for your benefit.
What I’ve found helpful is to begin practicing self-love religiously and to examine and question the negative beliefs I have held to be true about myself for so long. Are they really your own beliefs or has someone modelled, taught, or fed these beliefs to you about your worth as a person?
By practicing self-compassion and actions such as learning to prioritise yourself, creating and upholding healthy boundaries, and learning to say ‘no’ (or in some cases ‘yes’) can help you affirm and respect your self-worth. No amount of praises or affirmations from the people around us can put the pieces of how we see ourselves back together.
From experience, hearing compliments or praises from friends, coworkers, or family always felt so alien to me. I would often, and even still sometimes, ask myself “are we really talking about the same person here?”. Sometimes, I would think the other person is lying, deceiving, or completely misjudging my ‘true’ character with their compliment. This is because, as long as you believe that you are how you see yourself as, that is all you’ll ever be.
Self-worth is the foundation you build your life on. Life is always throwing unexpected storms at our way, and depending on the sturdiness of that foundation is how we are able to overcome said storms.
All of our friendships, relationships, and the way we experience our life are dependent on this underlying foundation. It is how much you let events – and people – define your value as a person. When that foundation is weak every passing storm will rattle you, perhaps even shatter your world, and the longer it may take to recover from a set-back, break up, or anything.
Of course, such events will always shake us to some extent regardless of our level of self-worth. However, the more we can learn to challenge our inner judge and replace its beliefs with healthier thoughts and behaviours, we can begin to treat our imposter syndrome as a sort of odd flatmate. As someone who is always there in the house, and every so often awkwardly appears out of nowhere to say their piece on something that doesn’t really involve them. You know, one of them.
What are your experiences with imposter syndrome? How do you respond to the undermining comments uttered by your inner critic?