Have you ever convinced yourself that you’re going to get fired because you think you don’t deserve to be in your job? “The only reason I got this gig is because I got lucky,” you might think. “Everyone is going to find out I can’t do this and that I’m a fraud.”
Thoughts like these are hallmark signs of impostor syndrome, which stems from an inability to internalize your own achievements.
Research shows nearly 70 percent of people feel impostor syndrome at least once in their lives, and it has potential health consequences: The condition can lead to clinical levels of depression and anxiety. Even high-achieving people such as Tavi Gevinson, Sheryl Sandberg and Lena Dunham have admitted to getting stuck in the mindset that they’re not enough.
Psychology professor Pauline Rose Clance first coined the term “impostor phenomenon” in the 1970s after counseling several young women at Oberlin College. Although women may be more verbal about feelings of self-doubt, data shows that this type of thinking is just as likely to manifest in men. No one is immune.
But the good news is that you don’t have to feel like this, according to Vincent Passarelli, a clinical psychologist based in New York City. Check out his tips below to shake that fraudulent feeling:
Pinpoint when the feeling started.
”Impostor syndrome is about an inability to believe in yourself,” Passarelli told The Huffington Post, noting that it typically stems from past instances of self-doubt more than the present moment.
Passarelli suggests thinking back to the earliest time you thought your voice didn’t deserve to be heard or that you weren’t good enough. These moments most often occur in childhood or adolescence, he explained. For example, it could have been the way that people communicated with you when you were younger or even a poor score on an important standardized test.
Lots of folks have an “aha” moment during this exercise, according to Passarelli. Such early moments form a negative belief system, which can lead to imposter syndrome later on. After you’ve identified past moments where you felt you could not believe in yourself or your abilities, grab a pen and paper and list them.
Try to separate the past from the present.
Separate those past experiences from your present self, and evaluate where they’re both similar and different, Passarelli suggested.
For example, let’s say your first public speech in middle school went horribly wrong. Today, you still feel worried about giving a speech or presentation at work. That’s where the experience is similar. But here’s the difference: You’ve likely given other speeches since middle school that didn’t go as poorly as your first. Maybe they’ve even led to some great outcomes.
After you compare and contrast, continue to write down all of your accomplishments, Passarelli advises. You might write down that in order to get your current job, you had to earn a higher degree, complete internships, show up to events and network. Or you had to focus every day and write a script or book until completion. You had to earn the spot you occupy today.
“We’ve all gotten lucky at various points in our life, so you have to acknowledge that,” Passarelli said. “But also acknowledge when you’ve worked very hard to accomplish what you have.”
Define what it means to be successful and to be a fraud.
“I ask people, ‘What is your definition of an impostor?’ You’d be surprised what people come up with,” Passarelli said. “They start to say things like, ‘You don’t believe in yourself.’ Or ‘I don’t know all the answers.’ And my response is, ‘Neither do I.’”
The answers above are what it means to feel insecure or self-conscious, not the definition of “fraud.” The word “fraud,” in the context of an impostor, means “a person who is not what he or she pretends to be.”
What many people describe is really a perfectionistic ideal about success and failure, Passarelli explains. When you are in the thick of impostor syndrome, there’s a good chance you have a distorted idea of what it means to be a thriving person in your profession ― and it probably feels impossible to live up to.
The best thing you can do is to deconstruct what you think it means to be an employee, parent or even just a human being, according to Passarelli, because many people have that initial insecurity, even successful writers and supreme court justices.
But in reality? You’ve got this.