“I couldn’t even value getting a good grade in my Final Degree Project. I’m studying my second degree and it seems like it’s never enough.” These words from Natalia, a 23-year-old student, concretely exemplify what the impostor syndrome or phenomenon is, a concept recently coined but that refers to a reality that, according to some research , she experiences throughout her life until 70% of the people.
This psychological phenomenon (it is important to note that it is not recognized as a mental disorder or illness , and therefore is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM) consists of the inability to internalize one’s own achievements and constant fear to be discovered as a fraud, to disappoint those who have high expectations of us.
“I don’t even think it’s going to amount to anything.”
As Natalia explains to 20Minutos , she currently has a bachelor’s degree in Audiovisual Communication that she obtained with good marks, and she combines studying a master’s degree in Marketing with a degree in Psychology at a distance, all while doing paid professional internships. Despite this, he says “when people who seem ideal to me tell me good things about me or that I work a lot, I don’t believe it. I don’t even think I’m going to get anywhere, not even doing 20 races.”
Nacho, a 27-year-old web programmer, expresses himself in a similar sense. “I feel that I am deceiving my bosses and collaborators because I am not good enough or because I do not work enough,” he confesses, despite the fact that “I have been with the same company for three years and I have never had any problems with my bosses.”
Imposter syndrome goes beyond these uncomfortable thoughts, and can have direct effects on the quality of life of people who suffer from it. “Feeling like this generates a feeling of helplessness, disgust, anxiety, stomach pain … And it goes beyond work. I did martial arts and I had to quit because I felt that I was not doing it well and that it bothered others”, Natalia tells. “It increases my stress and it makes sleeping difficult for me,” explains Nacho.
“There is a requirement that leads us to toxic competition”
The causes of this syndrome are not clear, although a number of factors have been pointed out that could greatly influence its development. Some of them are explained by Elena, a 26-year-old who also experiences this phenomenon: “There is a demand to ‘be successful’, to ‘reach perfection’, which leads us to toxic competition between people and leads to this feeling of feel like an impostor. ” It also affects the high expectations and the difficult economic situation: “I started to feel this way when I came into contact with the job market, when you study a university degree and you see that perhaps you do not achieve everything that you have previously proposed “.
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“To be able to work, fortunately from what I studied,” he continues, “I have had to go through several scholarships and internship contracts that generate frustration due to the current precarious situation. And I have been able to become independent this year, but a large part of the salary has gone away. to pay the rent, which in a city like Madrid is suffocating. “
Competition is something Natalia also mentions. “I think it comes from comparison. Since I was little I thought that maybe I was smart, but not as smart as the others . Or even that I was not as thin as other girls.”
“I was feeling so much pressure that I couldn’t sleep”
Another trigger may be to adopt a new role, especially if it is different from what you have been doing. “When starting work, with a new technology that I had not worked with before, I felt so much pressure to do things well that I could not sleep. That feeling has been mitigating, but it is still there,” admits Nacho, who studied a university degree of Videogame Design and Development and later a Web Programming course.
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Instead, sometimes it does not have a clear trigger. “Every time I got a good grade at school, I told myself that it was because it had been easy,” says Natalia, who does not know how to place in time when she began to feel the typical signs of this syndrome.
In fact, psychologists also point to childhood events as a possible origin; Facts such as comparisons with siblings or other children by parents or teachers, having had difficulties with studies, having an excessively perfectionist personality, developing low self-esteem or having been the subject of frequent criticism can contribute in one way or another to generate the imposter syndrome.
“Most of my friends feel the same”
Be that as it may, the fact is that a huge part of the population will feel in a way similar to that expressed by these young people at some point in their lives. “I know many people who, even without talking about it, I have been able to see how they continually undervalue themselves in their work,” says Elena. “Above all, I think that it happens more to women , that feeling of fear of failure and the need for perfection due to the social mandates that we receive from childhood.”
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“It happens to many people around me. They have taught us not to feel enough and to be afraid of doing things wrong because of some punishment we may receive, be it social or not,” adds Natalia.
“Most of my friends feel the same or similar,” Nacho adds. “I would say that it is a very general feeling among our generation.”
“I try to get rid of perfectionism”
Faced with this perspective, one wonders how it is possible to deal with the frustration and stress generated by the impostor syndrome. The most obvious possibility is to discuss the matter with a psychotherapist , something that will always be a valid and useful option in the face of any type of emotional discomfort that we may feel.
Beyond this option, which Elena and Natalia resort to, there is no clear method, and each of these young people has their way of doing it. For example, Nacho states that “I don’t apply a specific strategy, rather I try to get on with my life and do my job as best I can . “
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Similarly, Natalia explains that “I don’t usually have strategies, I just let it happen or if I see that it paralyzes me a lot in something I have to do I try to concentrate on that task.”
Elena, for her part, says that “when I have some type of negative thought or I underestimate myself, I stop for a moment, accept that thought and become aware of it so that I can change it. Later, I try to be kind to myself and look for other possible solutions or thoughts. in this regard that are not negative or catastrophic “.
“In short, accept and acknowledge how you feel, get rid of the ego, perfectionism , and avoid comparisons with other people,” he concludes.