No matter what field we are in, whether we are majoring in the field in college, a graduate working on their master’s, or a fully-realized professional who has been working in the field for years–we have all, at some point, dealt with what’s commonly known as ‘imposter syndrome’. A quick Google search will define Imposter Syndrome as “the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills”, but in daily life, it can mean much more than that, and impact more areas than simply one’s career. So what strategies are there to overcoming imposter syndrome?
The ‘Perfect’ Expert
To feel as though you are not a true expert in your chosen field is the most well-known and easy to explain example of Imposter Syndrome. Say that you are a literature major, and upon bringing this up to an acquaintance, they bring up a well-known novel that you aren’t familiar with–it is a given that you would feel as though you are not a ‘true’ expert–just a college graduate! But then, say that you are a doctor, and you have a patient with a health issue that you yourself are unsure about the cause of. Of course, you would feel as though, yet again, perhaps you do not have as much experience, or aren’t as knowledgeable as an older, wiser figure in your field. Yet the simple truth is that no matter how knowledgeable one is–there are always things you don’t know.
A key principle of dialectical behavior therapy is in the name–the dialectic, or the idea that two opposing truths can exist in tandem. To apply this principle here is to understand that you can be an expert in your field and still not know everything. The core of imposter syndrome is the belief that you are not really a professional, that there must always be someone better, or that your credentials are not as valid as they appear. Yet ask yourself what you know about your chosen field–go through that information off the top of your head, and think of how much of that a layperson would know? Though there will certainly always be others with more experience, they are also still learning, and there is no point at which a person will know everything there is to know–in other words, a ‘perfect expert’ does not exist.
A ‘True’ Friend
Often, we may feel as though we are not showing true care for a friend, or empathizing in the correct way, when they are sharing their hardships with us. We may feel, even, as though we are impersonating a caring friend, or simply going through the motions of sympathy because it is ‘what is done’ rather than because it comes naturally to us. Words like “that must be hard” or a physical action like placing a hand on your friend’s shoulder may feel rehearsed, or false, simply because we have seen these things done by so many others with what, in our eyes, may be seen as ‘more’ genuineness. Yet just by wanting to show your friend they are cared for through your actions, you are making it clear that they are important to you, and by extension, that their distress matters to you.
To feel as though you are an imposter masquerading as a friend is not an uncommon experience, and it is important to also understand that you can rationalize through this feeling of falseness. Many of us have difficulty seeing our empathic emotions as the real deal. Logically going through how you react to things, and why you may react that way, will help you better understand that, rather than lacking those emotions entirely, you may just not be consciously aware of them when they are present.
Ask yourself what you are feeling, consciously, physically, when your friend tells you what they are going through. Pay attention to those physical reactions, and think of the responses to your friend that come to mind–why are you, innately, reacting this way? Are the responses of sympathy? Perhaps you instinctively want to offer advice? Here is one way to demonstrate to yourself that you actively care, and it is not just ‘going through the motions’–you are taking the time to let your friend express themselves, listening to them, and responding in turn.
Consciously choosing your reaction to a friend sharing a difficulty with you is no less genuine, and no less caring, than instinctively “knowing” how to react. In truth, it is unlikely that we all know how to react instinctively in this kind of situation at all times. Carefully choosing your words and actions demonstrates a form of care that is exemplary of both; wanting to show your friend that they are heard, and wanting to react in a way that benefits them.
We Are All Special
…and thus none of us are special. In truth, imposter syndrome is much more wide-spread than we are all aware of. Many of us may not even realize that we feel this way, until we open up to one another about it. So many of us go through our daily lives feeling, whether it is in our careers or families or friendships, that we may not be behaving in an entirely genuine manner, or that we may not be truly as deserving of the position that we have. It is important to share this personal feeling of insecurity, and to see how those you know perceive you, rather than being stuck in your own self-perception. We can only see ourselves from the inside, and thus will always first see our own insecurities. However, those we know will only ever see us from the outside, and thus they will always see what we project and our confidence in our knowledge. The key to working with imposter syndrome within yourself is to balance your own view of yourself with how others perceive you, leaning not too far in either direction, but rationally balancing what you know from both sides.