Do I belong here? Who am I to be doing this sort of work? I feel like a fraud, though I’m not doing anything wrong, but sometimes this feels wrong.
Dealing with imposter syndrome can be confusing. Someone who is feeling like an imposter may have these thoughts and emotions, one side telling you that you’re a fraud and the other working to rationalize the situation.
Note: Imposter syndrome is not an official psychiatric diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM-5).
Who can be affected?
It’s common to have these thoughts of feeling like a fraud in an academic or work setting. Many people, both women and men, including experts in their field, will experience it. People in the helping and healing fields, like mental health professionals, also go through this. They may think something along the lines of, why do people come to ME for support with their issues?
Graduate students may experience this imposter sensation because they are at an in-between phase of professional development. They tend to feel unprepared and don’t fully acknowledge their strengths as they begin their career.
Why does this happen?
People will feel like they’re lacking a certain skill to get the job done. Realistically, people who are working in a constantly evolving field are sharpening their skills and learning new ones quite frequently to keep up with new technologies and research findings. There is an infinite amount of information to learn and an equal amount of skillful work to be done.
Remember, nobody is perfect and mistakes will be made, especially when someone is stepping into a new career. Not only should people acknowledge that their skills need dialed in, people need to also acknowledge their strengths.
The people who don’t acknowledge their capabilities and efforts tend to attribute their accomplishments to external causes, like luck, good timing, or effort that they can’t regularly expend.
If you are having difficulty pinpointing your strengths
If someone is struggling to recognize their strengths, a good way to figure out what those are is to schedule some time with a pen and paper and reflect on times that you handled something well.
What was the problem?
How did you handle it?
What were your strengths?
How can you use those strengths now?
Another way of finding strengths is to list achievements.
What short-term goals have you accomplished? These can be as simple as time management or maintaining a weekly schedule.
What long-term goals have you accomplished?
What were your strengths?
How can you use those now?
Journaling about talent that you use in school or on the job may be useful.
If someone is still having difficulty thinking of their strengths, they can ask someone whom they are close to, who knows them well, and are comfortable asking that person to list three things that they are good at. Next, the person should take those three things and journal about times they used those characteristics, and lastly, how to apply them in the present. Everyone has things they’re good at.
Recognizing expertise is important. People tend to be overly self-critical, on a level that is self-defeating or unhelpful. Over time, this behavior is destructive and likely smothering out productivity. If someone is working in Information Technology (IT) and they recognize a weakness in a skill, instead of playing into unhelpful thoughts, remembering what what one does well and playing to their strengths will combat this. It’s important to strengthen the weaker skill, but the person also must recall that they are good at. If the IT worker has strong communication and group work skills, then simply highlighting those should help. One can’t always be good at everything. Then, they can communicate to their team where they need assistance in getting the job done.
Pressure to achieve
Pressure to achieve comes from many places. People experience pressure to perform at a higher level from their peers, colleagues, managers, themselves, and messages from society (Think about the American culture, where it is practically a badge of honor to be overworked. This is an unhealthy habit.). Society’s message is that we must always achieve.
Research shows that certain people are more susceptible to fraudulent feelings stemming from their family’s beliefs on achievement and how parents praised or criticized their child.
One thing to be mindful of when going through imposter syndrome is perfectionism. People will attempt to do everything perfectly and might have an “all-or-nothing” mindset. Being aware and weary of perfectionism is important because it can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. “All-or-nothing” thinking is a cognitive distortion and should be reframed (Refer to the cognitive reframing article on how to reframe unhelpful thoughts into helpful ones).
If we made a small change in our lives every single day, just 1% better, what would our lives look like? How much improvement would we see? How much closer would we be to our goals?
We often don’t notice tiny changes or progress until they build up over time. We can also be quick to dismiss them, ah, it’s nothing, it’s not a big deal. Later, down the road, we look back and notice that our decisions (thoughts) and habits (behaviors) mattered all along. Depending on whether you made good decisions and led healthy habits, you might find yourself in a fantastic situation or a terrible situation.
If we make wise financial decisions over the years, invest properly for retirement, and maybe even follow a financial adviser’s advice, then we should be set up to have a lovely retirement.
If we make poor financial decisions over the years, we spend money excessively, living beyond our means, and we don’t even consider speaking with a financial adviser, then we probably won’t be able to retire the way that we wish to or even at all.
Tiny details matter! Don’t automatically count something out just because it is minor.
A little more on small changes
The change can be anything small. Think to yourself, what makes you happy? What would make you happy? Increase the value of your day by making a 1% change.
Creating changes involves good habits. Do your habits reflect your goals? This also has to do with identity. Who are you? Who do you wish to become? We behave in a way that reflects who we wish to become. Every time we repeat a behavior that reflects that envisioned person or goal, we’re creating a habit. The more we do that behavior, the more the habit is reinforced. Reinforcing the behavior is an important step, it must be repeated over and over. The more you act towards your goals, the more you identify with that.
Watch this video as I share about a current long-term goal and the tiny details that all add up, making my dream a reality.
I hope that you find this eight minute video informative and inspiring.
Please, “like” and “subscribe” to my YouTube channel while you’re there. I appreciate your support.
To help resolve any unfinished business that you have with another person, write a letter. This may be written to a person who has hurt or wronged you, and who is no longer a part of your life. DO NOT ACTUALLY SEND THEM (or anyone) THIS LETTER, this letter is for YOU. Keep it confidential.
I STRONGLY suggest doing this activity with a professional counselor and talking through the situation with them. They can support you.
Writing this letter will help you to:
Reflect and process
Think more slowly
Maybe to forgive the wrong-doer
Forgive yourself, if you need to
Put your thoughts and emotions to paper
Release pent up thoughts and strong emotions, like pain, sadness, and anger
Find some peace, healing and resolution
Empowerment and improve self-esteem
Increase self-care and self-love
There are no set rules for writing this letter. You may find it difficult to start this process, just dive right in. The letter can be edited and re-organized to how you would like. Start with the wrong-doer’s name, like you are writing a letter. If you’re unsure of how long your letter should be, try aiming to write one to three pages just to get an idea. Once you have that, you will better know if the letter should be any longer. The letter is to benefit you and to help resolve any unfinished business, the length of the letter doesn’t matter quite as much. End the letter with your name.
Important things to think about including:
Things that you want the wrong-doer to know.
Anything that you want to say to them.
Talk about what they did to you.
Talk about how you feel.
Talk about your reaction to what they did.
Talk about the impact that it has had on yourself. What areas of your life have been impacted? How has it been changed?
Write about what you wish went differently.
Write about how you wish things ended with that person.
Is there anything that you could have done differently?
Allow yourself to be open to writing anything that comes up.
This is a challenging exercise, so take a break if you need to, re-visit it. *Self-care is very important through this process.* Work on acknowledging your thoughts and emotions, know that they are natural and occur for a reason, but let them roll away (not sticking in your mind) as you write. Utilize coping strategies to reduce intense stress, anxiety, emotions, etc. Try to make sure that you’re in a good “mental space,” not overly anxious or panic when you write this. It is helpful to be able to think clearly and be focused. After you finish writing this letter, read it out loud to yourself. Reading it to yourself might be emotional because your brain will be processing the information slightly differently, hearing your own voice read what you wrote is powerful. Read it to a counselor, they will listen and be able to guide you. If you think that it would be beneficial reading it a second or third time, then do so. Notice if your thoughts and emotions changed the next time through. Lastly, when you are ready, you completed the letter and read it out loud, destroy the letter for resolution (and confidentiality). There is symbolism in destroying the letter. It isn’t returning. Allow yourself to be healed and empowered. Love yourself. Notice how you feel while destroying the letter and afterwards. Do you feel physically lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders? Do you feel empowered? Did you sigh in relief or smile?
Once again, please talk with someone if you need to, don’t hesitate to reach out. It is rewarding to speak with someone, brain imaging research shows that talk therapy (psychotherapy) can be impactful right away.
These 12 tips are specific to living through a pandemic (COVID-19) where there are multiple tragic events and crisis occurring at once on a worldwide scale.
A brief overview of the destruction that COVID-19 has caused
• People are ill and dying from a virus.
• People are socially isolated from family and friends.
• People are restricted in where they can go and what they can do.
• People have lost jobs and are financially unstable.
– Connected to all of this is the person’s identity because people identify themselves through going out and participating.
• Political issues, finger pointing and name calling are a big part of this pandemic.
• People wear face masks to reduce spread of the virus, but the mask also hides smiles.
• Anxiety, depression and suicide is on the rise.
• People are silently hurting.
The benefits of these tips are (but not limited to)
• Increased happiness
• Connection to others
• Raising awareness
• Fostering positivity
• Finding value and meaning in life
• Learning coping strategies
• Finding help
Keep in mind that this article isn’t telling you to ignore, dismiss, or minimize what’s going on around us. It is important to sit with the difficult emotions and thoughts, to process, and personally grow from what’s occurring in our lives. We can’t run, there needs to be a resolution to do something about it, but there needs to be a balance and healthy approach.
Let’s cover the tips on getting through
1) Limit your time on social media and watching the news. Be informed and have proper understanding about what’s going on around the world, but don’t allow the information to overwhelm and carry you away. The information on social media and the news shouldn’t occupy a good portion of your day.
2) Mute or unfollow people on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if they are posting unhelpful information on the pandemic or are posting frequently on the pandemic. Always check the resource of what they post to make sure it is true and accurate. There is a lot of information being shared that is inaccurate or highly one-sided. Be your own researcher, fact-checker, and it is beneficial to try to see from both sides of an issue. Widening perspective allows us to have a more open mind and gives us a little more breathing room.
3) Use social media and technology to your advantage. Since we have to limit being around others or can’t be around people at all, use social media to connect and to lift up others. Post something kind or funny. Post a beautiful picture. Have an engaging conversation, but leave out the pandemic and political issues surrounding it. You can lift someone’s spirit and your own!
We use video platforms on almost a daily basis now, continue to use it to connect. Talk to a good friend who you haven’t seen in a while. Use video platforms to check-in with a person’s mental health, you don’t know who is suffering in silence.
Are you feeling unsure about how to check-in? This link will lead you to check-in questions:
Do you have a favorite hobby or interest? Join and follow social media groups and pages to motivate and fuel your interests.
4) Virtual tours, adventures and visits. If you are looking for something new and interesting to do without leaving your house, take a virtual trip to a National Park, zoo, museum, etc. Think of somewhere that you’ve never been and would like to go. Read about it, look at pictures, watch videos, and take a virtual tour. This is fun activity to do with kids and it’s educational.
If you’re religious or spiritual, consider attending a virtual service or practice.
5) Teach someone about your hobby or trade. Write, blog, create social media content, and make a video to do so. Engage with people, answer their questions, and provide them with credible resources so they can learn more.
5) Increase your self-care. Do more of what you enjoy and try new things, even if you don’t feel like it. Take care of your body and mind. Try to keep to a normal schedule, this includes proper exercise, diet, and staying hydrated. If you’re overwhelmed with work, schedule in self-care. Slow down, read a book, take a bath, watch a movie, call someone you care about.
6) Make a vision board to stay focused on your long-term goals. Read how here:
8) Practice mindfulness, breathing and or meditation. Find someone who provides these services online if you need help getting started. Create a YouTube playlist of relaxing music and sounds that you can practice to. Don’t give up if these exercises don’t immediately benefit you in an impactful way, it takes time to learn them. It’s a process.
9) Use online presence to raise awareness or funds for a cause that you’re passionate about. Help people learn more, support people who need it the most, connect to others who care about the same thing as you. Feel good!
11) Have a safety plan and an emergency plan. For the safety plan:
• Write down what triggers maladaptive behaviors.
• Write coping strategies for each trigger that you can participate in right away.
• Write down three positive affirmations or favorite quotes.
• List three people whom you can trust to call and talk to and receive support from (Do ahead of time: make sure that they know they are on your safety plan list and tell them how they can best support you if you contact them.) (Ideas on how they can help: this can range from a phone call to recall favorite memories or to meet up for coffee.).
• If your situation turns into an emergency, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or your local mental health crisis lifeline. Add these emergency phone numbers to your safety plan.
12) Speak with a professional counselor. They can teach you several coping strategies and powerful tools like cognitive reframing. They are someone who will be present with you, be non-judgmental, listen, and provide feedback. They will support you and give you space for you to process your strongest emotions and thoughts.
Check out these other benefits to seeing a counselor:
As a professional counselor, diagnosing is necessary and guides how we help people. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the universal guide on mental illnesses, housing all of the criteria and statical relevance. The manual is updated every few years, as the mental health field changes and research backs any new findings.
Basic things to know and my thoughts:
▪︎ I am a fan of the DSM-5. If I have a question, I can usually find the answer there.
▪︎ Diagnosis allows professionals to figure out how to effectively treat someone and to stay up-to-date with treatment solutions. A diagnosis is a baseline, where we can learn and build information upon, or dig below the baseline to find a root cause to an issue. A counselor can customize the treatment plan, fitting the unique client.
▪︎ Diagnosis is necessary and can be beneficial to the client when the counselor properly explains it. I think that the client should have an understanding and gain insight to what is going on. – Of course, it starts with the client telling the counselor the perceived problem, and they go from there.
▪︎ Sometimes when a person receives a diagnosis, they feel a sense of relief because they have an answer or insight, and a direction towards treatment. On the other hand, does someone really want a diagnosis? No. Because people would rather not have the underlying issue to deal with in the first place. This makes total sense!
▪ The client should understand that this is a GUIDE, not a total reflection of WHO a person is. If the client has a concern over the diagnosis as it relates to their identity, then they should let their counselor know. Sometimes people allow their diagnosis to become a role in their life, a part of their identity. A diagnosis or illness is NOT the person, it is something that they are experiencing. A person is not their anxiety, though anxiety may be front and center, impacting multiple areas of life, but it is not who they are.
Those are my main thoughts, along with some information that I think that people should know about diagnosis. Whether you’re giving or receiving a diagnosis, it’s important to understand it and understand the treatment approach. Above all, the client should take care when it comes to thinking and speaking about a diagnosis because it is what they’re going through, not meant to become part of their identity.