A few years ago, everyone in my department at work, more than 50 people, took the same written test. I scored higher than anyone. In fact, I had the highest score in the five years that the test had been administered. But instead of feeling proud when my boss told me my results, I felt ashamed. I felt like an imposter.
“I studied for the test and others probably didn’t,” I thought. “Maybe they got my test mixed up with someone else’s.” I obsessed over it so much that I eventually had to take a few days off. I was terrified I couldn’t live up to what I was convinced were outsized expectations of me based on that one test.
I had a terrible case of imposter syndrome.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological condition in which people fail to internalize their accomplishments. Sufferers convince themselves that they do not deserve the praise and accolades that come their way, and they worry that they will be exposed as frauds.
They attribute their success to coincidence, luck or even their ability to dupe others into believing they are smarter than they really are. Often people with imposter syndrome become so anxious that they do actually sabotage their own performance.
Recognizing Imposter Syndrome
Everyone has felt unworthy once or twice in his life. But if you are consumed by thoughts that you’re living a lie, despite evidence to the contrary, or you are convinced that you’re a phony and everyone else will find out about it, you may be suffering from imposter syndrome.
It took me years to recognize this trait in myself, and even once I’d learned that my condition had a name, I wasn’t cured immediately. The first step for me was going to therapy and discussing with my counselor the root of my imposter problems. It turns out that I’d had these issues going back decades. I even remember getting 100 percent on a math test at age 8 and checking over the test afterward, convinced the teacher had accidentally overlooked one of my errors.
Moving On With My Life
Once my counselor and I had traced the roots of my problem, we began to address how it impacted my current life. She had me do lots of self-esteem-building exercises, much like they do at holistic alcohol recovery centers. I felt pretty silly telling myself that I was worthy and writing myself letters listing my own accomplishments.
But soon these techniques began to work. I began to believe that maybe I did deserve praise. I viewed my accomplishments as something to be proud of rather than cringe at. It’s been a long road, but I no longer feel like an imposter. Now I feel like an achiever.
About the Author: Adrienne Erin is a freelance writer and blogger who writes about health and self-esteem.