At some point in your life, you may have felt like you were in a situation you didn’t earn, even if your achievements indicated otherwise. Maybe you’re experiencing this right now. If so, you are not alone. Known as imposter syndrome, this psychological phenomenon affects up to 82 percent of people.
People feeling imposter syndrome attribute their success to luck and fear of being outed as a fraud. Coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, imposter syndrome can affect anyone, but psychotherapist Brian Daniel Norton claims that women, women of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are most at risk of experiencing it. Upbringing, birth order and personality traits are other contributing factors, but there is not one sole explanation for its cause.
In a competitive academic environment like the 5Cs, it’s easy to feel inadequate. Sometimes, I sit in classes where students speak intelligently about readings, concepts and topics I can’t grasp. My peers are securing jobs at big-name companies and getting into prestigious school clubs. Plus, it seems like everyone can balance academics, a social life and extracurriculars with ease, leading me to wonder if I really belong at Claremont McKenna College and can successfully enter the workforce after graduation.
Imposter syndrome has implications outside a school setting as well. Because they feel undeserving or unqualified, people with imposter syndrome may not take advantage of opportunities at work, and feelings of inadequacy in relationships may lead people to self-sabotage them. These outcomes highlight the importance of learning to combat imposter syndrome, and after some research and reflection, I’ve devised a few tips to help you overcome imposter syndrome.
Talk about it
Acknowledging imposterism and talking about it with others normalizes the phenomenon. Being vulnerable is intimidating, but your peers could be experiencing imposter syndrome as well. Regardless of their outward appearance, everyone has insecurities, and vocalizing your feelings may also free them. Talking about imposterism with others will help you objectively look at your own accomplishments and bolster your confidence.
Acknowledge victories, no matter how trivial
If you find yourself asking, “How did I get here?” write down the classes you took, jobs you worked, competitions you qualified for and won, people you met or anything else that led to the present. Visualizing your journey will remind you of your capabilities and encourage you to reflect on the knowledge you gained with each experience.
It’s easy to take the ordinary for granted, but recognizing the small joys will change your perspective. Simple victories might mean having enough energy to get out of bed or reconnecting with someone you used to be close to. The culmination of our life experiences shape our identity, and this reminder is helpful when imposterism is overwhelming.
Reframe your thoughts
The verbiage of our internal monologues is more influential than we think. The difference between “I’m the least experienced person here — I won’t be able to contribute anything” and “I’m the least experienced person here — this is an opportunity for me to learn more” is that the second phrase reframes the situation as an opportunity, rather than a hopeless situation. Learning to recognize and reframe negative self-talk will encourage you to be more proactive.
This might seem silly, but I have alerts on my phone telling me to trust myself. Since I’m constantly checking my phone, having the banner on my lock screen every time I look at my phone reminds me to believe in my abilities.
Identifying the most prominent negative thought is an important first step. From there, you need to turn the phrase into something empowering and positive. Whether it is vocalizing this affirmation out loud in front of a mirror or writing it down on a sticky note, constantly reminding yourself will help you internalize it.
Fighting imposter syndrome is an arduous process that requires patience. Progress is not linear, and it is normal to fluctuate between confidence and feelings of inadequacy. As we struggle to realize our roles in society, it is crucial to be forgiving of yourself and others.
Sydney Lee CM ’22 is TSL’s health and wellness columnist. She’s a psychology and media studies dual major and likes hiking, coffee, and the Oxford comma.