Have you ever been in an environment or a situation where you felt that you were not good enough to be in it? Or a situation where you felt unworthy? Oftentimes when I am awarded, praised, or have accomplished something great, I can’t help but feel it is too good to be true. This feeling is known as imposter syndrome. I’ve felt this way several times in my life, primarily when I got into UCLA for my undergraduate studies. I felt like a lottery winner versus authentically getting in for my academic advancements. I felt that I got in through sheer error, despite acing all my courses before getting into UCLA. I was a top performer but under difficult circumstances mentally, financially, and spiritually. Although my peers and mentors always told me I was capable, a little voice in my head told me I wasn’t worthy and all my positive outcomes were sheer luck. If I found that someone thought I was less capable, I would feel hurt and believe them.
I often felt like when I was walking around campus, I compared myself to everyone. I assumed everyone was more intelligent than me and that I was entering the big fish territory. I believed I would be coral, not even amounting to a little fish. I did not feel qualified enough, and I was scared people would figure out that I wasn’t. No matter how many credentials or physical proofs said I was in fact ‘good enough’ to attend my university, I still felt I was either not fully qualified or ‘the least qualified.’
I studied psychology as an undergraduate at UCLA, the #1 Public University in the US. I got in a couple of years after I lost my brother, and my mental health was not in the right place. I felt I didn’t have the right mental health to be in an environment requiring rigorous work. I felt in general that I wasn’t smart enough and that everyone else there would always amount to much more than I ever could. All of which was not true and was reflected as untrue when I graduated. Nonetheless, these insecurities were real. They were painful and caused me to panic and have severe anxiety around my success. I psyched myself out, and I felt I would not even be able to complete a single course with a passing grade because the insecurities completely took over.
Everyone I know has felt at least one moment of imposter syndrome or imposter experience. I’ve had friends obtain jobs they feel underqualified for (that they are often overqualified for), enter relationships with magnificent and successful people where they feel it is too good to be true (when they’re absolutely great too!), or similar to my situation, get into academics and feel out of place when they accomplish things and do well (even if they’re perfectly fitting for the academic challenge). All of these individuals always proved themselves wrong without fail. It is just deep-rooted insecurity that inhibits us from believing in ourselves and accepting the success and beauty brought into our lives, often through hard work.
A few tips I use for myself when I feel insecure about my progress:
What would you say to your son/daughter if they accomplished something great?
Being gentle with yourself is important when it comes to accomplishing something grand, especially if you’re someone who deals with imposter syndrome often. You will have thoughts like: ‘How did I end up here?’, ‘I just got lucky,’ ‘Someone else would deserve this more than me.’ These are intrusive thoughts that will certainly hold you back from realizing the truth. The truth is, you are more than capable of reaching great academic feats, dating an incredible person, or obtaining an amazing job. Think of the type of development you would want for your child. What would you feel or think if you heard them say the above statements? You’d be devastated that they’d ever think so. You may even wonder where the idea came from. Regardless of whether you gave them a pristine upbringing or not, we live in a competitive world, where we feel we have to strive to be the best to get by. We live amongst social platforms flashing ‘perfect’ people in our faces every minute of every hour. It is no wonder that any person could feel these insecurities, but we need to keep that gentle voice in our heads. We need to provide affirmations that we’d tell our kids. Statements such as:
I am worthy. I have worked hard to be where I am today.
It is not sheer luck to be where I am and who I am with because I am a kind and gentle person who deserves good things.
I am thoughtful in my decisions. If I have made mistakes, they do not define the position I am in right now. My successes outweigh my faults. I am allowed to be imperfect and do well.
Defining the root of imposter syndrome and using logic to break it down
When you do realize you are feeling out of place and the flooded thoughts that I discussed above begin to take over your mind, it can help to trace back where these feelings came from. For me, it started when I was a child. I was placed in reading courses because I grew up in a bilingual household. I spoke Arabic and English, and my school required me to be placed in ESL (a program that helps integrate students who had English as a second language). I often was pulled off to the side during class to do reading lessons, had to do reading tests under a minute, and often felt singled out from the rest of the students for not having adequate English exposure through my school’s perspective. I was often taught more artistic skills, and school was not as important as it seemed for girls as it was for boys growing up. I felt the pressure was different because the system in place enforced these beliefs. Additionally, I was told by a couple of classmates that I should take it easy and that I would fail in undergrad because I am a generally anxious person. I was told I was better off attending a less rigorous school.
I ended up proving those people wrong. I soon realized that these were insecurities they were projecting on me. The difference between the situation I had in elementary and the situation I had with these individuals is that I have no control over what a school system will do to me as a child: I was a child, and I was not emotionally developed enough to not feel insecure about myself and my reading abilities. I am an adult now. I can acknowledge that the people telling me I won’t do well are likely projecting. All in all, they’re not within my body, they do not know how my mind works and the willingness to learn I have. I did incredibly. I didn’t need anyone placing their opinion on my abilities. Neither should you. Pinpointing these instances can help you understand where the insecurity stems from, then you can ask yourself: Does this make sense? Is this a logical reason for me to be insecure? Is my environment a determining factor in my ability? NO! You are as capable as you wish to be. You can excel with practice and diligence. Nobody can tell you otherwise.
Don’t fight imposter insecurity with negative words and statements (easier said than done, but practice makes perfect!)
So you’ve realized you have imposter syndrome, now what? If you’re like me, you probably have done this. ‘I can’t believe I feel like I am not deserving of being in X situation. Of course, I am! I am a hard worker, why am I such an insecure idiot?.’ Please avoid doing this at all costs. It is just creating and reinforcing the idea that you are not enough. Calling yourself names and getting angry with yourself for not feeling secure IS NOT going to help you. Instead, make affirmative statements like the ones above. It should go something like this: ‘I understand that some of the situations I have been in made me feel like I was not enough to amount to what I am today. These instances are not to define me, I am worthy of flourishing. I believe that I can be more accepting of my efforts and realize they resulted in something good, something I rightfully deserve.’
Avoid anyone who puts you down, and if you can’t: limit communication
Sometimes we have colleagues, parents, teachers, and acquaintances that put us down. It can be sneer comments about your performance in athletics, school, relationships, etc. I have seen it often where someone gets into a relationship and the person their with is deemed, ‘out of their league.’ That type of behavior is hurtful and can cause imposter syndrome. I view imposter syndrome in this manner because you feel out of place in your relationship, and what is worse than someone indicating you are not good enough for your partner. Comments such as these are not always avoidable because they can come from people in our permanent surroundings such as work or home. I know that running away from home and quitting your job are not feasible options, so I limit my communication whenever someone makes comments that don’t serve me in my development. If you have to communicate, limit it. Do not allow the person too much room for communication. It is not worth it.
I am a firm believer in healing and rewiring certain thoughts. It took me years of therapy to break out of my intrusive thinking habits that diminished my self-esteem. Remember that nobody outside of you knows what you are capable of. You are the only person you have to be sound 24/7, so learn to be kind and gentle with yourself. You deserve confidence in your accomplishments and in your relationships.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ghada Morad of Los Angeles, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram, her Poetry Page, and her Justice Page. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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