"I shouldn't take this class, it's too hard."
"I'm a fraud, I'm just faking it. I don't deserve to be here. I’m not good enough."
"Do I even deserve my paycheck? I feel unqualified for my job."
Do any of these thoughts strike a chord? If the answer is yes, then chances are you have or are currently experiencing imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a feeling of decreased self-worth or inadequacy without any factual evidence. For many, despite being successful in their field, it is common to face this unnerving feeling. The continued feeling of imposter syndrome can cause depression, anxiety, and other psychologically degrading conditions, especially in youth.
This post will explore imposter syndrome with a licensed therapist who works with youth and their families, as well as proactive tips that can be used to combat these feelings.
Q: Do you see imposter syndrome come up in your clients? If so, what kind of feelings come up when someone is dealing with this?
A: Yes, because I work with youth ranging 12-26, I see it happen especially regarding school. Being under pressure to do good for themselves but also meeting their parents’ expectations. Many of my clients often experience anxiety and depression that stems from their school performance, how well they get along with friends, how they are thinking about themselves as a person. They often say things like, “I’m not likable,” “I’m not good enough to be here,” “I don’t deserve these good things.” I also see imposter syndrome coming up when people are in a transitionary period: making new and big decisions and changes.
Q: Why do you think imposter syndrome creeps up on young people, especially in today's age where social media is such a huge factor in our lives?
A: It’s important to remember that people generally post only happy things on social media. Nobody really posts, “oh, look at me, I’m so depressed in bed today.” Many of my clients talk about using Instagram or Discord as their primary media sources, both of which are places where people can be very mean. It can seriously affect someone’s health because it can change the way you perceive yourself. The most important thing anyone can do in these situations is to set boundaries: turning off your cell phone for a few hours, protecting your privacy and data sharing, and talking to someone you trust that’s outside your social media platform.
Q: What kind of things do you think trigger imposter syndrome? What kind of language or things can we say to ourselves when thoughts of negativity approach someone like this?
A: Focus on understanding and repairing your self-advocacy. It is about defining your own perception and capability of doing something. Certain events or results can trigger the feeling of imposter syndrome, like not doing well on an exam or making a mistake at a part-time job. For some, this could affect their self-advocacy because they think, “oh I can’t even do this easy job, I must be stupid.” And when you create that negative self-belief, the next time you make a mistake, you will continue this negative cognitive pattern. Repairing your self-advocacy requires you to be honest with yourself and setting up realistic standards that are not fueled by anxieties.
Q: When someone is feeling this, how can they get out of that mindset at the moment so they can get back to what they were doing?
A: A quick mindset I like to use is the “So What” method. When you’re knee-deep in negative thoughts but you’re in a situation where you must act or make a decision, just say “so what” and continue. “So what if I won’t do well in this interview. If I fail, it’s not the end of the world; it’s the end of this interview maybe, but not my world.” It’s about reminding yourself about what you have control over at that moment and appreciating the work that got you this far.
Another way to sort of, subside these thoughts at the moment is to do the superman pose for a couple of minutes before starting the task. It has been scientifically proven1 that when people have lower self-esteem, they shrink posture-wise. When you have imposter syndrome, your brain is clouded by negative thinking which ends up being expressed in your physical stance. Try the superman pose in the mirror and tell yourself that you’re capable in that moment.
Let's just put it right on the table: imposter syndrome is not your fault.
You can start combating your imposter syndrome right now by being selective of your social media intake, understanding and writing down your strengths, talking to someone to help you process what you’re experiencing, and repairing your self-advocacy.
It is a feeling many people, regardless of where they are in their lives, feel. Next time you are about to step into an interview and that unnerving feeling creep up on you, just breathe and remind yourself to have courage. You don’t have to be confident all the time, no one is.
You just need 20 seconds of insane courage to start. That’s all it takes. Everything else is just diligence.
Therapy resources for youth:
'What's up' Walk-in Clinic - within the GTA and is free for all youth! https://www.whatsupwalkin.ca/
Friends of Ruby - free for all youth and is specific for LGBTQ+ https://www.friendsofruby.ca/
Zarin Bari is a recent Master of Aerospace Engineering graduate from Ryerson University. Zarin is a Youth Hub member of EYC who is an educator, as well as an advocate for youth education, specifically in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) disciplines. She believes everyone should have the access to education regardless of their age or situation.
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