Dealing with Impostor Syndrome
Let me introduce you to my friend, Saqra. She is an old friend who has been accompanying me for some years. At first, I didn’t know who she was or why she was walking beside me. Over time I got to know her a little better. I don’t always like her, I hardly ever like her to be honest. I was expecting her to leave but now I know that she came to stay. I had no choice but to get along with her to be able to live together.
When did Saqra appear?
I think it was in college that this feeling of not being enough appeared. I started comparing myself to my classmates and always found flaws in me. I used to repeat to myself that I wasn’t smart or good enough. Once I started working, it began to get worse. I felt like I was under evaluation at all times. Always questioning everything I do or don’t do. I was never good enough, I was a fraud and soon they’ll find out 😱
How has she affected me?
It hasn’t allowed me to enjoy my achievements (this is what bothers me the most) because there was always an excuse why I didn’t deserve it. Also, I’ve missed opportunities to apply for jobs, scholarships, or start a new project. It’s exhausting and it’s daunting. It’s living carrying a heavy backpack that you decided to carry.
How do I deal with Saqra?
I have gone through different phases. The first was when I discovered that what I felt had a name and that I wasn’t the only victim: Imposter syndrome. It’s a strong name but it describes it pretty well. Being able to vocalize the name helped me realized that it was a thing and that it might have a cure. So there was hope 🤞🏽.
Then I started saying it out loud. It didn’t have an immediate effect but little by little I began to talk about it and share how I was feeling with more people. I was not alone. My friends also began to share their experiences and it was, in a way, a relief.
After this, it was a little easier for me to identify the situations in which Saqra was fooling me. This was a breakthrough because I was able to take a step back to analyze the situation: am I not capable or does Saqra wants me to believe it? Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t. Why? Because knowing is not enough, I needed to take action.
The thing is, our primitive brain is there to protect us. That’s how, after all, we managed to survive through the decades. Our primitive brain tries to protect us by listing all possible risks under certain circusntances. One of the biggest risk we have to deal in our day to day life is failure. It’s better if I’m scared, if I think I’m a failure or a impostor. That way I stay away from the danger, that way I don’t risk it and fail. That’s how I knew Saqra will always accompany me. She’s just scared and needs to be heard. So the next phase was about figuring out how to deal with her.
To understand Saqra I have to pause and ask as many questions as I can. What’s behind this fear? Fear is just a consequence, but what are the possible reasons behind it? I noticed that when I start thinking about this my mind goes 100 km/h. Thought after thought leading me nowhere. One way to calm it down is to write down my thoughts because my hand can’t write as fast as my mind goes. As I do that I have more chances to analyse my thought process and understand the source of my concerns. Alternatively, you can also speak out loud whatever is that you’re thinking. You can even use a text editor in dictation mode to keep all your thoughts and review them later. Understanding the source of your feelingswill help you deal with them better.
I think the key points are self-compassion and vulnerability. Self-compassion is trying to connect with what I’m feeling and with what I’m thinking in my darkest moments. It’s not only about accepting our (sometimes painful) experiences as they are, but embrace ourselves with warmth and kindness. Is about accepting our humanity and that we’re 🤷🏽♀️ flawed and imperfect beings. This is also related to vulnerability because we can openly admit our weaknesses, accept past failures, and the
willingness to fail. I truly believe that vulnerability is important. It’s what allow us to be open to new situationw without having any control.
Something that I learned and that works is to connect with myself and allow myself to do what I feel like doing at that moment, without judging it. It could be doing nothing, painting, taking a walk in the park, eating a chocolate cake or do excercise, whatever makes me feel good and keeps me going. This is a way to be kind to ourselves. I put a lot of emphasis on connecting but that’s because it wasn’t easy for me and because it sounds easier than it is. Are we doing things just because or because it fulfills our real needs?
To take this one step further, you can organise your time in a way that makes sense to you. Be sure to include activities that you really enjoy. Not everything is work and study. What about your hobbies or those activies and people that make you feel alive? I highly recommned spending some quality time in them.
The nature of the human being is to survive and that implies taking care of the dangers that surround us. All Saqra wants to do is to protect me from failure and pain. That’s why she is not going to leave me. The best we could do is listen carefully to what she has to say, be vulnerable enough to admit that we can fail but recognize that we are already good enough and dare to try something new without knowing the outcome. Sure, everything could go wrong, but what if everything goes well?