Have you ever felt like you’re a fraud – at work, parenting, or in life in general – and that it’s just a matter of time before it’s discovered that you’re incompetent?

Me too. There’s a name for this not-so-pleasant feeling: imposter syndrome.

I remember hearing about the term imposter syndrome for the first time in an undergraduate psychology class. In that lecture, we were taught that imposter syndrome is when an individual doubts their accomplishments, feeling thpexels-photo-1464531.jpegat they’re a fraud and that it’s only a matter of time before they’re discovered. At the time, I remember thinking how I could relate, but how it made sense because I was still only in undergrad with many things still to learn. Although we were told this feeling could persist throughout one’s life, I figured I would reach a point where I had it “figured out” and would no longer experience this.

Fast forward to around nine years later, sitting in my office of a business I built with my business partner from the bottom-up, in a career I love, and wondering – did I fool everyone to get to this point? Is it just a matter of time before I’m discovered, and everyone realizes I’m not good enough?

Although the feeling ebbs and flows, imposter syndrome is a reality that almost all of us will experience at times throughout our lives. Does it mean we’re incompetent and should give up our career paths, our dreams, and goals?

NO!

Imposter syndrome is not a pathological medical or psychological condition, despite what the “syndrome” in the name may suggest. Imposter syndrome is so much more common than one may think!

The prevalence of imposter syndrome is downplayed because we don’t tend to talk to others about feeling this way. It can feel embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about it, as many of us feel like we’re the only ones who experience it. This can be further compounded by fear that others will judge us if they know how we really feel.

Social media can make matters even worse, when we scroll through our feed and see how the people we’re following “have it together” while we don’t. pexels-photo-533446.jpegThe truth is, most people only post the positive parts of their lives on social media, meaning that we end up comparing our inner negative feelings to how others present on the outside, without really knowing how that other person is feeling on the inside.

This sets us up for always feeling inadequate, since we can never truly know what’s going on in the inner world of the person behind the “perfect” social media posts.

So what can we do about it?

The number one thing we can do to combat imposter syndrome is to talk about it. The more we talk about it, the more we realize that we aren’t alone and that many others share the same fears, doubts, and self-judgments that we have. Talking about it also gives us the opportunity to get feedback from others about ourselves. If you’re feeling like a fraud and talk to a friend who reminds you of your accomplishments and all it took to get to where you are, you are more likely to re-think the fraud story you’ve been telling yourself. This ends up taking power away from the fraud story, and empowering you to know that you are competent.

Another strategy for coping with imposter syndrome can be to monitor your thoughts and do a self-validation activity with them.

For example, if you’re having the thought that you aren’t qualified to be doing your job, write down the thought exactly how it plays out in your head. It might look like “I’m fooling everyone to think I’m qualified for this. Someone is going to find out and I’m going to be fired and I don’t know what I’ll do then”. After writing this thought, think about and write down only the facts from this situation.

For example, you may write facts such as:

-I have the required education and experience for this job

-The interviewers chose me out of other candidates for this role

-I received a positive review at my last performance evaluation

-My boss emailed me a compliment last week about my performance

Next, it may be helpful to try and write the thought from the perspective of a close friend or loved one. For example, “It’s okay to feel like you aren’t good enough sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that the thoughts are true”, or “I know you’re a great employee – you work so hard”. In these statements we are validating the thought while also reminding ourselves that we don’t have to buy into it.

If you feel that you don’t have anyone to talk to about it, or that you’ve tried these strategies and you still feel the same way, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist about it. A qualified therapist can help you navigate thoughts of self-doubt and empower you to feel like you are in control, versus feeling like the thoughts control you.

Underneath imposter syndrome is a values system, meaning that there is something truly important to us about the areas we fear failure in.

They say, “We hurt where we care”, and this rings so true in the case of imposter syndrome.

We’re afraid of not being good enough because we truly value and care about being a good employee, parent, friend, or just person in general. What a wonderful thing it is to be so passionate about something, that we care this much about succeeding.

By Kayleen Edwards, MA, RP

With Valentine’s Day approaching, there is a lot of buzz in the air about love. We buy gifts and make plans with our loved ones to show them how much we love them and that we care. But what about ourselves? How often do you do something for yourself to show that you care?

I’m not talking about the typical acts of self-care (we’ve already covered those, here and here). What I’m talking about is your internal dialogue; that little voice that either tells you that you’re awesome or tells you that you suck. Society is hard on us growing up, always expecting us to be the best; get the best grades, get a high-paying job, etc. As we grow older and begin to develop our own ideas about ourselves, we often begin to adopt these feelings.

It’s wonderful to have drive and to want to improveourselves, we need that in order to have purpose in life. But oftentimes itgoes too far and we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, whichinevitably leads to failure. When we experience this failure, it can be sounbelievably detrimental to our emotional wellbeing that we lose all sense ofourselves, our self-worth, and our self-esteem. This can in turn lead to adownward spiral of feeling anxious and depressed.

So how do we stop this cycle? Well, it’s not easy. Most ofus have spent our whole lives believing that we need to be perfect and gaugingour self-worth on our accomplishments in life rather than our character orintegrity as people.

This is a complicated issue, but I’ve broken down some tipsthat you can use to help be your own Valentine this February and give yourselfsome love.

Give YourselfPermission to be Imperfect

Everyone knows that logically, none of us are perfect. Weall make mistakes. But social media and the expectations that others put on us(and we put on ourselves) can cause us to lose sight of that. We only see whatother people want us to see; typically, the positive things in their lives, andtheir successes but not their failures.

When we stop comparing ourselves to those around us, we giveourselves permission to be imperfect. It’s okay to make mistakes; in fact, somewould argue that it’s necessary in order to grow and improve in life! Youcannot improve or learn if you don’t fall down or fail sometimes. So the nexttime that you make a mistake or recognize that you should/could have donesomething better, give yourself permission to make that mistake, learn from it,and move on.

Which brings me to my next point:

Look at the BigPicture

We often get really upset with ourselves when we make mistakes.We can’t believe that we forgot to do this thing, or didn’t get a good enoughgrade, and we’re mad at ourselves for it. But what does that get us? If youfail an exam and get angry at yourself and beat yourself up, that’s probablynot going to give you the confidence to do well next time.

In addition from accepting our mistakes and learning fromthem, we also have to put things into perspective and really see the bigpicture. So you fail an exam, and your mind automatically goes into panic mode,thinking you’ll never amount to anything. But think about it: is one exam goingto make you flunk out of school? Probably not.

Even if it does, does that mean you can never get a job? No;perhaps not in your desired field, or you may have to return to school. Doesthat mean you’re going to be homeless? Again, doubtful. You can likely get ajob somewhere and support yourself, or get some help from friends and family.Mistakes feel like failure and they make us question our worth, but we are notdefined by any one, two, or even three events in our lives. We are defined byour character and our ability to grow, learn, and bounce back from adversity.

Have RealisticExpectations of Yourself

Having said that, we also have to have realisticexpectations of ourselves. Sure, on the surface it may seem like a given thatyou expect yourself to pass your exams. But what if you were battling somefamily, financial, or personal issues at the time? What if you had a millionthings on your plate and couldn’t concentrate to study?

We don’t want to make excuses for negative behavior, but wedo need to be realistic. We can’t take on the whole world and come outunscathed (not even the Avengers could do that; spoiler alert).

So the next time you’re beating yourself up because youdidn’t work out after coming home from a 12-hour shift, making and eatingdinner, helping your kids with their homework, and spending time with yourfamily – remind yourself that you can’t do it all. No one can, and THAT’S OKAY!You can work out tomorrow. The world will not end (and you won’t get fat)because you missed one workout.

Let Yourself FeelNegative and Positive Emotions

While it’s all fine and dandy for me to suggest that yougive yourself a break, inevitably those negative emotions are going to pop up.‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I’m a failure’, ‘I never do anything right’, ‘I’llnever amount to anything’ – sound familiar? If so, you’re certainly not alone.We all have these thoughts that pop up once in a while, and that will probablynever change. Without some of these thoughts, it may make it difficult for usto grow. But what we can do is decrease their impact on us by not allowing themto take control of us.

The next time you’re feeling down because you made amistake, let yourself feel that disappointment. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean thatyou ARE a disappointment, it just means that this event was disappointing toyou, and next time you want to do better. Rather than trying to get rid ofthese feelings, embrace them and learn from them.

Embrace Your Flawsand Your Strengths

Not only are we not all perfect, but we all possessdifferent skills and strengths. As they say, it takes all kinds to make theworld turn.

We often see certain thoughts, feelings and skills andnegative or positive. Happiness, excitement, empathy, and selflessness areoften seen as positive. Sadness, anxiety, grief, feeling down, and selfishnessare often seen as negative. But can you think of any instances in which theopposite is true?

What about someone who is so selfless that they don’t takecare of themselves? We likely wouldn’t see this as positive. What about someonewho is feeling down because they haven’t slept well and they’re tired andoverwhelmed? While this may not feel good, I doubt most of us would blame theother person for feeling down.

The point is, emotions, thoughts, feelings, and even skillsdo not have to be positive or negative, each one has their place in society andin life, and we need all of them to make the world turn. Even things like anxietyand worry can be extremely beneficial in some circumstances, like the worrierwho always checks traffic before they leave the house to ensure they don’t runinto a backed-up highway (and they never do).

What Would You Tell aFriend?

Sometimes when negative events come up, or we make a mistake, we get so caught up in all of our negative feelings that it can be difficult to put things in perspective in the moment. One of my favourite techniques to use in these instances is flipping the situation and imagining that a friend was in your shoes and telling you what you’re telling yourself.  What would you say or how would you respond to a friend in the same situation? Would you tell them the same things you tell yourself? I’m guessing not. We’re often extremely hard on ourselves and much more kind to others. It can be helpful to write some things down to give you better perspective, and Self-Compassion.org has some wonderful writing prompts to help you do so.

This Valentine’s Day, treat yourself to some internal love and self-compassion, and be your own Valentine for once!

Jennifer Thomson

Registered Psychotherapist

RP, MACP