Ever since I remember I have been an above-average student. I wasn’t the academic topper always however I was involved in several activities such as sports, student council, music, etc. My teachers always praised my participation and achievements in all these activities, I was an all-rounder and was liked by both my peers and teachers. I was confident in my capabilities, I had the support of my parents who always allowed me to make my own choices. However, when I passed out of school, I wanted to pursue psychology. While my marks were good, they were not good enough to get into the psychology course. So I settled with history and I did not enjoy it at all. I did not care to give my first exam and also failed one of the papers during the first semester. I was ridiculed by my professors as undeserving of studying in a prestigious college and scolded for ‘wasting a seat’. I did not know it then but looking back I think it was around this time that these thoughts of being a fraud or undeserving of being in this college started coming to my mind.
It was in the 4th semester when I actually started liking some courses and with the encouragement of some professors, I did my assignments diligently and scored the highest in one of the strictest professors assignments and I could not believe it, I thought that maybe it’s because I actively participate in her class or because she knows that I’m having a hard time right now, she’s being lenient. From that time on every achievement felt like a scam to me, being selected in the college basketball team, becoming the head of college events. Getting into my master's course which had two rounds that were fairly difficult. I always felt like I’m tricking people into believing I’m smart and was scared that they would find out.
It was around this time that I started looking up these feelings on the internet and out that these thoughts are actually conceptualized.
Impostor Syndrome is a pattern of thinking among people who diminish their own accomplishments, often attributing their successes to luck. There is also a fear of being discovered as a “fake” person or as someone less capable or undeserving of the praise and appreciation they receive. While it is not recognized as a Psychiatric condition in the DSM, it is noted that about 70 percent of adults might experience it at one point or another during their lifetime.
Originally termed the Impostor Phenomenon, the concept was founded by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes in 1978, after conducting studies on high achieving women.
They studied 150 successful women for 5 years. Highly successful women were defined as PhDs in various specialties, highly respected professionals in their fields, and students with high grades at prestigious institutions. They found that all of these women were uncomfortable with the idea that their success was a result of their talent, hard work, and capabilities. They believed their achievements were a result of luck, and in some cases, they even believed they got admitted into a prestigious school or got a great job as a result of some technical errors.
Gaining these insights really helped me realise the need to resolve and overcome this. This was interfering with my growth as a person and leading to extremely low confidence and constant self-doubt. Here are some things I do that help me overcome this phenomenon that creeps up on me from time to time
Recording the process of my work
Be it journaling every day or actually recording myself working with a camera helps me to look back and see all the hours of hard work I put into a particular task. Writing about the problems and hindrances I have while completing a task helps me to trace the starting point, to the hindrance to the completion of work, helps me to enjoy the good results that I get as I know that I have worked hard for this.
Allowing room for failure.
Consciously reminding myself that just because I don’t learn a task or concept on the first try does not mean I have failed and I can try again. Also failing at a particular task does not invalidate the earlier achievements in any way.
Knowing that I am loved for who I am
My friends and family have never made me feel that I need to earn their love. They do not love me because I do well in academics or I am good at sports and will continue to do so even if I suffer from setbacks or failure. I consciously accepting their praise and encouragement without guilt.
Asking for Feedback
Whenever I get my grades, high or low I ask my professors or mentors to briefly state the reasons for a particular grade. What they liked in my work or what is missing, this helps me to know the reasons for my results and to acknowledge the things I did right, and to work on the things I did wrong