“I’m going to fail—it was bound to happen eventually.”
“My friend is so great. I don’t deserve them.”
“My boss is going to figure out I don’t deserve this job.”
Having these kinds of thoughts regularly? You might have imposter syndrome—an underlying sense of uneasiness with your accomplishments. You feel like your successes are just flukes—that at any moment, someone is going to find out that you don’t actually deserve your grades, your job, your good reputation. You feel like you’ve gotten where you are due to luck. Put simply, you feel like an imposter in your own life.
Whether you feel like you’re hiding a few secrets or that you’re a full-fledged fraud, you’re not alone. According to Corkindale (2008), many highly successful people who have worked tirelessly to get where they are often suffer from this. However, this does not mean the stress caused by this syndrome is any less real.
This raises the question: how can we find relief for this syndrome? The answer may lie with perfectionists.
“Imposter syndrome may just be an extreme form of perfectionism.”
Perfectionists are always striving to be the best they can be. It’s a powerful trait for motivating success. However, this personality trait often comes hand in hand with anxiety. Often, this is because the perfectionist does not tolerate error—they know they can create great work, and they are striving for it. They feel anxious with their work.
Yet there are also other reasons for the link between perfectionism and anxiety. A recent study by Wang et al. (2019) found that imposter syndrome was the reason for the link between perfectionism and anxiety, but only when imposter syndrome was a factor. People with imposter syndrome may not feel anxious with their work—rather, they feel anxious with themselves. Their anxieties are directed inward as doubt, rather than (or in addition to) the outward to the details of their projects. In this way, imposter syndrome may just be an extreme form of perfectionism.
“How can we teach our minds to direct our energy outward?"
So how can this extreme perfectionism, and the anxiety that comes with it, be regulated? By retraining your mind. It’s one thing to passively know that self-criticism causes anxiety—it’s another to internalize, practice, and genuinely believe it. How can we teach our minds to direct our energy outward?
1) Try the "MindShift" app on your phone… “A scientifically proven strategies based on cognitive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you learn to relax and be mindful, develop more effective ways of thinking, and use active steps to take charge of your anxiety.”
2) Acknowledge its existence… You are not your imposter syndrome. You are separate from the anxiety it generates. Repeating to yourself that imposter syndrome is not integral to who you are, and won’t be there forever, will be invaluable to getting relief.
3) Talk about it… Recognizing and creating a dialogue about imposter syndrome will further normalize its existence and separate your sense of self from it.