You’ve probably felt it at some point in your life. Imposter syndrome can sneak up on you during professional or personal experiences. With it often come feelings of paralyzing fear, anxiety, and worry. Maybe you feel like a fraud or like you aren’t really good enough to be doing a certain task.
As Psychology Today defines it, individuals with imposter syndrome “feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think — and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them.”
What can you do when you start to feel this way? We turned to a few mental health experts to get the scoop on how to approach self-doubt. Here’s what they recommended.
How to overcome imposter syndrome in the moment
Concentrate on how your body feels
“Connecting with our feelings in our body helps to shift the experience of them,” said Jaree Cottman, a licensed clinical social worker and integrative mental health therapist. “Any practice that helps you feel strong and powerful in your body can challenge the thoughts in your mind that say you’re not good enough.”
Be kind to yourself
Carrie Torn, a licensed clinical social worker, pointed to the importance of practicing self-love. “Rather than relying on criticism as a motivator, self-compassion enables us to be resilient,” she said. Additionally, Torn noted that affirmations, like “I deserve to be here,” can help combat imposter syndrome.
Switch the narrative
Torn mentioned that people often feel imposter syndrome when they do something new or different, like secure a job promotion or find new friends. “You can flip the narrative, and tell yourself experiencing these feelings may actually be a good thing,” she offers. “It’s most likely happening as a result of you having some success, expanding in some way, or showing up in new spaces that you may have traditionally been told weren’t ‘for you.'”
Alison Gomez, a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggested asking yourself: Is this actually imposter syndrome, or is it a message I’m getting from the media or other people? As she pointed out, “those who are lacking privilege are often told that they are less than.” Take time to weigh “how much of [your imposter syndrome] is you really not trusting yourself versus how much the world and environment told you that you’re not able to achieve,” Gomez said.
How to perform your best in challenging situations
These strategies are ideal ways to address imposter syndrome as it arises. On a larger scale, how can you tap into your skills better and excel at being your true self?
Jennifer Chain, a licensed psychologist and owner of a group mental health practice, said the answer lies in safety. “When we feel a sense of psychological safety, we are more likely to perform our best,” she noted.
Naturally, being in a healthy environment helps you feel more psychologically safe. In such an environment, you tend to feel eustress, or positive stress, most of the time. Chain defined it as a feeling “that comes with excitement, challenge, adventure, confidence, satisfaction, inspiration, and motivation.” Healthy surroundings encourage you to feel supported, confident, and equipped to meet challenges. “This is the environment in which you will be able to tap into your skills, be your true self, and do your best,” Chain said.
Unfortunately, you may not always find yourself in such a scenario. For instance, you may encounter a stereotype threat, which “is when a person is confronted with a situation where their performance can confirm a stereotype about their group,” according to Chain. If you experience this, she suggested finding support, advocating for your needs, practicing self-care, and seeking a safer environment.
“Remember that if you are experiencing imposter syndrome, you are not alone. This is not your fault, and nothing is wrong with you,” Chain concluded. “Working with a skilled therapist can help you make sense of what you are experiencing. [They can] help you find your voice to speak up, and help you leave the environment that is not conducive to your growth.”