There was absolutely no room for failure for me, not even a little mistake. I began to feel like if I failed at something, then my friends were now going to see me as a phony who didn’t deserve any of the achievements, recognitions, awards, et al.
I grew up with overly strict parents who doubled up as serious perfectionists. My parents placed a huge emphasis on overly excelling and achieving success in any endeavour. Now, you may think, “But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that?”. I know and I agree with you that this helped by making me a goal and result oriented person on the upside but the downside was, I was always feeling as though my efforts would never be enough nor appreciated. Growing up, my grades were not very good enough for my parents, though I was a very good student and to make matters more worse for me, my siblings were excellent students; who were always acing their exams. This made me feel like I didn’t belong and a little out of place. It made me very shy, intimidated and a lone-wolf until Senior High School. I became extra serious in class, spent hours and hours with my books; they became my greatest companions and I indeed began reaping the fruits of my hard and tireless labour. I swept awards all the time and was an inspiration to a lot of ladies in my class. My parents were finally satisfied and I was still tirelessly working hard to keep them so. Unbeknownst to me, Perfectionism had set in. There was absolutely no room for failure for me, not even a little mistake. I began to feel like if I failed at something, then my friends were now going to see me as a phony who didn’t deserve any of the achievements, recognitions, awards, et al. I could never seek help, even when I needed it and so I’ll spend so much time obsessing over details of a work I did, just to make sure that it was perfect and would be able to meet the standards I had set for myself as well as those others had for me. Gradually, I began developing these overwhelming feelings of not deserving all I had achieved and it was all due to some luck and at any given moment, my cover was going to be blown and everyone was going to see me as the impostor, fraud or phoney that I was. There was this constant and gripping fear of being exposed and rejected. I just couldn’t help it but I kept all of it to myself and life was going on.
Fast forward, I gained admission into the University, where I was equally excelling but I still had those feelings. I was just so sure that I wasn’t successful by my achievements at all but rather by some good timing or luck. It became so grave to the extent that, the success that others would have killed for or considered the zenith, meant absolutely nothing to me. For me, there was always some unseen and imaginary level I was expected to get to. These feelings were a propeller to work harder, so that I’m not ‘exposed’, hence, resulting in more successes and recognitions and more feelings of being an impostor. I was practising self-sabotage; always convincing myself of how I had achieved nothing by my own doing.
A turnaround came for me when I decided to boldly enter the School’s psychologist’s office one afternoon after lectures and confide in her about what I was going through. I didn’t know much about psychologists but I had heard at least, that they are confidential so I could trust that what I was going to say, was not going to hit the ears of anyone else. I was completely honest with her about everything I was experiencing and her conclusion or diagnosis was that I was experiencing something called the ‘IMPOSTER SYNDROME’, also known as the Imposter Phenomenon, Impostorism, or the Fraud syndrome. You can imagine the shock I had on my face. I was panicking because I thought I was going to die or something. At that moment, I had forgotten what the word imposter even meant as it sounded so strange to me! Mrs Thompson (I still remember her name so well) who was laughing uncontrollably at my ignorance calmed me down and assured me that it wasn’t something to be alarmed about, because with effort it could be dealt with and I could live a normal life, devoid of it, and enjoy all my achievements. She explained that this syndrome is a psychological pattern which is frequently experienced by high achievers and it affected all kinds of people no matter their social status: women, men, students, actors, managers, executives etc. The Impostor Syndrome or IS for short, is an overwhelming belief internally, that you are not as great or competent as others think you are, hence leaves you feeling like a fake or an impostor who would soon be found out. Victims of this, feel inadequate, doubt their abilities, strengths, skills, intelligence, qualifications etc. even though there is a lot of external evidence of these qualities they doubt. They usually feel undeserving of all they have achieved and that they tricked others into thinking they are competent and so chalk their achievements up to mere luck and downplay them.
She went on to say that IS can lead to anxiety, depression, frustration, lack of self-confidence, shame, and more. She lauded me for speaking up and seeking help because if IS is not combatted soon enough, it could have a severe overall impact on one’s mental health.
I was very happy to have opened up to her because she helped me a great deal. I didn’t think it was possible to overcome such feelings since they were so overwhelming and daunting. She made me see how if I wanted to overcome this syndrome,
· I had to take go through the process and achieve things gradually instead of being so bent on perfection. No one is perfect and so I needed to stop focusing on perfection and rather, do things well enough.
· I had to also start practising gratitude. Being grateful for my achievements, as not everyone was getting such rather than seeing them as nothing or easy.
· I also had to learn to take mistakes well. Everyone makes mistakes and I am no exception. Mistakes are part of life and very normal. Making them help you to make progress because then you get to learn something new which you didn’t know.
· I needed to come to terms with the fact that, I was not less of a human being by asking for help from someone when I need it, rather than trying to figure out everything for myself.
· She made me come up with rewards I could lavish myself with when I achieved a great feat alongside keeping good records of feedbacks and commendations I got from people.
· I also started nurturing self-confidence that stated that I was competent, intelligent and my achievements were not by mere luck.
· Finally, I just had to be kind to myself! I was no impostor for being an overachiever. I worked hard for them and I had to enjoy them.
Here is my IS journey! I was able to get through it and now, I’m living a good life without it! I enjoy my achievements and I appreciate myself much better! You can too if you’re going through this. You can use these solutions I was given or just get help as soon as possible! It won’t be easy, but it will be so worth it. I wish you the very best!
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