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).
Today, I’m diving into my positive affirmations, as negative and distorted thoughts have crept in. This is completely normal and something everyone goes through. I like to write my positive affirmations, which include quotes and Bible verses, on index cards. Today, I wrote one about being a business owner. The affirmations are kept on a shelf next to my work desk. As I read through my cards, I reflected on them, noticing that I’m feeling pretty good about them and have not needed to use certain affirmations for a few months! I take them to heart, I know that they are true.
When I’m going through my day and notice physical symptoms of worry and anxiety, I know that a helpful strategy is to visit my cards. Having three to four mental coping strategies on hand, that aren’t going on a run, is key. Addressing anxiety by going on a run is my top way to manage symptoms, but I can’t always go out when I want, so I take deep breaths and incorporate mindfulness to create a different reaction. I read my affirmations as many times as I feel appropriate. There are tougher days where I keep them on my desk and will intentionally be more aware of my breathing throughout the day, as I know that an unhelpful habit is to hold my breath.
When was the last time that you read or recited positive affirmations to yourself? If it has been a while, don’t forget that this is a simple way to redirect your thoughts. Know your distorted thoughts and unhelpful habits. Know when you need to use your positive affirmations and other coping strategies, and pay attention to the benefits.
Do you prioritize your mental health? If your mental health isn’t one of the areas that comes to mind, consider moving it to one of your top priorities, elevate it. Here’s the short answer of why it’s important. When we work on our mental health, we improve all of the other areas of our lives. When we emotionally and mentally operate effectively and efficiently, other well-being pieces fall into place. Some pieces that are positively impacted are, sleep, problem solving capability, relationships, and productivity increases. All a ripple-effect benefit of elevating mental wellness. The benefits are truly endless.
Here are a few ideas of how you can focus on your mental health
What to intentionally focus on
Spend a few minutes a day addressing your mind. What areas need the most attention? Is it sleep? Anxiety? When was the last time that you did self-care? Focus on the area that needs it the most, not to feel overwhelmed, because there could be several areas that you feel could use love. Once there’s a rythm or a habit created for that particular area, move onto another area. Be gracious to yourself through the process of addressing the area, it might take some time and it’s hard work.
How to make it happen
Here are two ways to help you with planning that focus time
The first, is scheduling half an hour to an hour per day. The second, is sprinkling in the work throughout the day. The option of scheduling it in works well for people who like having structure or who are likely to procrastinate. Write it in your planner, including the time you will work on it and set an intention of what you’re going to specifically work on. – An attainable short-term goal. When the time comes, aim to do it for half an hour to an hour. Afterwards, notice or be mindful of the benefits of your achievement. Do what is helpful to you. If you’re having trouble thinking of something, reflect back to your past to see if maybe you did something helpful then, that you can apply to now.
What it could look like
This could look like journaling about your day or a problem that you have. Taking a long bath, free of distractions, and reflecting on the highlights of your day. When you wake up in the morning, thinking about something that you’re looking forward to in the near future. Participating in relaxing yoga before bed. Having a mindful meal.
The second way, sprinkling it in throughout the day, looks a little different and is go-with-the-flow. This strategy might work for someone who has a busy schedule or would like to see it organically integrated throughout their day.
What it could look like
This could look like doing a three minute breathing or mindfulness exercise while doing a simple tasks, such as household cleaning. Working on a gratitude list, jotting down what you’re grateful for as they come to you throughout the day. Stretch and do mindful movement when you’ve been sitting for too long. – When at a desk-job, get up from your chair once every 45-90 minutes for 5-10 minutes.
Doing mental wellness activities will be wonderful. Try both planning strategies, or other ways that you can think of, to see what fits best.
Elevate your mental health to reap all the great benefits. Start by identifying what needs the most attention and then figure out how to make it happen. Is it better for you if you schedule it or if you sprinkle it in throughout the day? Once you have a basic plan, just do it. There are multiple strategies and ways to improve your mental wellness. Do the ones that work for you consistently. Lastly, fully enjoy the benefits and continue the good work.
Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks are signs that you should ask for help
It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks in ourselves. When we experience these symptoms frequently, for longer than a few weeks, it is time to ask for help. Take action. We tend to go for far too long, trying to remain strong, that we become weak. The depression, anxiety, and panic attacks can begin to harm multiple areas of our lives. Social, relationships, school, work, etc. A counselor can teach you ways to cope and renew your strength.