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Imposter syndrome and the crippling sense of self-doubt

By PATRICIA MANARANG Published Oct 08, 2021 5:00 am

“Imposter syndrome” has been a buzz term that has come up a lot in recent years, but it’s something that we have been experiencing forever. To put it simply, it’s the personal belief that all your accomplishments are because of pure dumb luck and not your actual skills and capabilities. It’s the creeping sense of self-doubt that can follow anyone and everyone. 

I’m obviously not exempt from this, and recently I’ve started to step back and notice my obsession with releasing output after output. In the speed at which I churn things out I start to feel detached from the final product, and thus I don’t associate myself with it. I’ve always done the obligatory sharing of my own articles after publication and the heart-reacting of the congratulatory messages from friends, but my achievements have always felt so hollow. 

Imposter syndrome is not something that we can just will away, but it’s important to not let it have a hold over us or affect our sense of self. We should stop viewing ourselves as frauds and learn to give credit where it’s due. 

I think that me getting into my university was a fluke. In my first semester, these emotions were amplified by the fact that I didn’t have blockmates to befriend or confide in. I felt completely out of my element; a puppy swimming in a sea of sharks. Everyone was friendly, of course, but they were intimidating. Every time someone raised their hand in class and gave the right answer I’d sink lower in my seat or get up to go to the bathroom if I thought I would get called on to recite. I didn’t want to be wrong. I didn’t want to show them that I didn’t know anything. 

I’m entering my fourth year soon, and I still can’t shake the feeling I had as a freshman that I never really belonged. The early college years were about adjusting to the new environment, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten used to being good at what I do. I’m surrounded by intelligent and earnest people who seem to be flourishing, and I’m just floundering and staggering slightly behind them.

Sometimes it's difficult to shake the feeling that one doesn't belong.

It’s not only the academics. I’ve volunteered for other extracurricular responsibilities, but I think that all the leadership roles and positions I’ve ever gotten were a result of a lack of manpower. It’s always just been me versus no one, like when there’s a vote for an officer position and I’m the only one running. If I was an option amongst a pool of qualified people and not merely a last resort, would I still have been given these opportunities? Would people still pat my back afterwards saying “Good job!” if they knew they could have had someone better? 

I even think that I’ve kept this writing gig for far longer than I deserve and that I’m merely being tolerated, that the praise directed at me is for the sake of pleasantries. It’s come to the point where I’ve forgotten some of the things I’ve been able to achieve, mainly because I’ve brushed them off.

I think that all I have to be proud of are things simply born out of circumstance. 

Here’s the thing. I would never think this way about other people. So why do I do it to myself? I understand that this mentality is an insult to those around me; in a way, I'm undercutting their opinions or decisions — by choosing me. But I can't help it. When others achieve things, most of the time I just see their result but not their process, the final house but not the foundations, the shine of a medal but never the tears that were shed to get there. I know how I do things, and there’s a lot of uncertainty behind my actions.

I would never think this way about other people. So why do I do it to myself?

A quick survey among my friends about when and why they experience imposter syndrome made me realize one thing: we will believe anything we tell ourselves. Every single person responded with great conviction that they don't think they deserve their achievements, which is strange to me because these are the very people I regard highly. These are the peers who I’ve been in awe of and know deep in my heart would make it far in life.

So how do you deal with imposter syndrome? It really helps to talk about it with friends or people you’re close to. It’s a feeling that is so universal, despite how isolating it seems.

Every single one of them — that one girl who had amazing grades, the boy who’s untouchable in graphic design, the ones who I believed would change the world one day — mentioned the competitive environments they were in, how they also constantly compare themselves to others, and how feeling like a “fake” has been so ingrained in them since childhood. I’ve always had that basic awareness that imposter syndrome can affect anyone, but seeing it hit these truly wonderful people really drove the point home for me.

If you’re struggling with accepting what your peers say about you, remember that real friends wouldn’t lie to you.

So how do you deal with imposter syndrome? It really helps to talk about it with friends or people you’re close to. It’s a feeling that is so universal, despite how isolating it seems. Verbalizing it makes it easier to acknowledge and you can then deal with it head on. If you’re still struggling with accepting what your peers say about you, try to remember that real friends wouldn’t lie to you, and letting yourself believe in their words is a show of trust, too. From my short, mostly one-sided conversations with my friends, I noticed the weight on my shoulders lightening, and that feeling this way is normal.

A lot of people feel that their definition of success relies heavily on the concept of “perfection.” If it’s not perfect, then it wasn’t worth the effort. We hold ourselves to a standard we can never reach. As clichéd as it sounds, comparison can kill you, and thinking you’re above or below anyone isn’t healthy. It’s way too easy to get buried under the constant idealized portraits we all paint of ourselves online. I’ve been trying to reframe my own expectations of myself as well, and trying to look at things differently. Just because all the other people around me are doing well doesn’t mean that I can’t do well, too. It’s not “me or them” anymore; we can all be good.

Imposter syndrome is not something that we can just will away, but it’s important to not let it have a hold over us or affect our sense of self. We should stop viewing ourselves as frauds and learn to give credit where it’s due.