Confronting Perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome

Starting a new job, academic program, or volunteer position can be intimidating and leave you asking yourself: “What’s going to happen when everyone realizes I’m a fraud and don’t deserve to be here?” Imposter Syndrome is common and is the feeling that you are underprepared, not worthy of what you have accomplished, and that you have deceived others in earning this position. Self-doubt is a natural part of the human experience, and many people can get stuck in it. High achieving, goal-oriented people are especially vulnerable to experiencing chronic difficulties with Imposter Syndrome. What starts as simply striving for excellence can easily turn into an unattainable demand for perfection. This can reduce your mental health and increase symptoms of low mood, anxiety, disappointment or overwhelm.

If you are one of the many people struggling to overcome Imposter Syndrome, we hope these tips are helpful as you journey towards increased self-esteem and confidence in your abilities, value and worth!

1. Seek support: Surround yourself with an uplifting environment! This includes people and places that provide you encouragement, support, respect, and dignity. Seek supportive peers and coworkers that inspire you to recognize your unique value and help you to move forward with realistic goals and expectations. Limit contact with those who are competitive or compare you to others. Therapy can help with learning skills to decrease perfectionist tendencies and identify your many existing strengths and emotional superpowers! This will improve your self-esteem.

2. Recognize the benefits of Imposter Syndrome: As humans, we never start believing something unless at some point in our lives it was helpful, even briefly. Nothing is ever 100% “good” or 100% “bad” and the same is true for this concept. Recent research has shown that those experiencing some level of self doubt can use this as a motivating factor to improve themselves. If you experience feeling you are not good enough, you may have the tendency to put forth more effort in increasing knowledge and competence of a subject, or in engaging in a more collaborative or helpful way when with your peers. While there are some benefits of temporarily feeling this way, it is still in your best interest to create more adaptive, healthy thoughts moving forward.

3. Identify a mantra: Positive affirmations create a positive shift in your brain activity. Instead of automatically criticizing yourself, or getting stuck in negative self-talk, you can practice an alternative, healthier thought. Intentionally practicing positive self-talk, and speaking to yourself the way you would a best friend, will help you shift your thinking so you are not getting in your own way. You might try: “My best is good enough” – “I’m proud of myself” – “I worked hard to achieve this” – “I am capable” – “I am worthy”

4. Set more attainable goals: Perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence. An expectation of perfection is not an attainable goal. It leads to you feeling like a failure when things are not 100% right. A goal of perfection robs you of the ability to recognize the majority of things that are going well, and discount these positives. Focusing on perfection, and trying to avoid showing you are human/make mistakes, will only reinforce the false belief that you are not good enough. For everyone, there will be times you do not succeed and things do not turn out the way you planned. With goal setting, can you focus on enjoying the experience rather than focusing on an outcome, or finding peace with things being “good enough.”

5. Challenge negative thinking: Restructure, reframe and examine your toxic and negative thoughts. Thoughts are not facts, so do not treat them as such. The research indicates that those with Imposter Syndrome perceive themselves as being less competent, when in fact there is no evidence to show that they are. This is a distortion or untrue thought your brain is believing. It can be helpful to get an outside perspective to see if your thoughts align with your accomplishments and a trusted friend’s opinion of you. Ask yourself “Is this thought affirming me?” If the answer is, “No”, this is a negative thought and is holding you hostage. When you allow yourself to see an alternative perspective, you open yourself to freedom from these negative beliefs.

Remember, it is natural to experience Imposter Syndrome, but your identity and worth are not defined in moments of doubt. You are CAPABLE. You are WORTHY. You are ENOUGH.

By: Cathy Tillman, M.S. and Amelia Hartman, LCSW

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