I'm Not Good Enough: Imposter Syndrome
Maybe you've had a dream that you finally made happen. You took that first Japanese class, made a radical career transition, began writing that book you've put off for years, or rented a studio and started painting. You "should" be thrilled, excited, and happy because you're finally living your dreams!
Instead you feel like a failure, ashamed and embarrassed by your actions, and nervous and hypercritical about what you should be doing. Then the thoughts start:
I'm not good enough to do this.
I'm a fake. I'm sure everyone can see that I'm a fake.
I suck at this and someone will figure this out soon.
How did I fool them into giving me this job/admitting me to this program?
Clearly everyone can see that I don't belong here. I'm an imposter.
The Imposter Syndrome
While not an official diagnosis, these anxious thoughts and feelings fall under the concept of imposter syndrome. That experience of not being worthy, not being good enough, or feeling like a fake. I see it often in clients who have started their new dream job and who are out of their comfort zone, or who finally have finally moved forward with some creative endeavor and are feeling overwhelmed by it. They also have some distorted perceptions - paying close attention and comparing themselves to the successes of others (even more experienced colleagues like professors and supervisors) while underplaying their own accomplishments and actions.
Imposter Syndrome is a mix of anxiety and shame.
It's pretty easy to see imposter syndrome as a type of anxiety - you are fearful of what others will think and anxious about your performance in various situations. Often the biggest fear is that you will be "discovered" to be a sham and a fake. These anxious thoughts and feelings can affect your behavior. Maybe you second guess yourself in your new job, quit the Japanese class you always wanted to take, limit your interactions with others, or retreat to a space that feels more comfortable and less anxiety-provoking.
Often shame is involved as well. Those anxious thoughts about how you will perform and what others will think get turned inward toward your concept of yourself. You're not good enough. You're worthless. You're a fraud. You don't belong in the same room as these people you are working with, creating with, or speaking Japanese with. This can lead to further withdrawal, depression, and most tragically, dashed dreams and wasted potential.
What can you do if you feel like an imposter?
If you think of imposter syndrome as a mix of anxiety and shame, that can guide you in how to move forward. There are lots of things you can do to deal with these difficult feelings and thoughts and still proceed with what is important in your life.
Start with some reality testing. Check your performance with superiors, teachers, bosses, peers, or whomever can give you honest feedback about your skill level and abilities. Most likely you will be surprised by the positive feedback about what you are doing. See if you can take this positive feedback in and integrate it. Consequently, if you do get constructive feedback about areas where you could continue to grow, notice if shame comes up for you and see if you can ask for help, training, and support. Then reality test again. Your mind will probably be too harsh of a critic to get an effective reading and continuing to receive feedback from others can be helpful.
Know that a certain amount of imposter syndrome is normal when you push yourself into a new situation where you are learning new skills. Mindfulness can be helpful here. Consider that these are thoughts and feelings related to the situation you are in, rather than a description of who you are. There are lots of things that you can try if you are struggling with anxious thoughts or want to create some space between you and the imposter experience.
Also consider how imposter syndrome can lead to the experience of shame. Shame often leads to hiding behaviors such as keeping your dreams to yourself or removing yourself from situations where you might grow, rather than uncovering and reality testing your internal experience. Having some self-compassion as you embark on an exciting and challenging new adventure can be helpful.