Do you ever feel like you’re a fraud? Like you aren’t worthy or deserving of success or anything good in your life? You aren’t alone. This feeling is often referred to as “imposter syndrome.” While anyone can experience this feeling, it seems to be rather common among students. Think of the number of times you might have heard your classmates or friends put themselves down for academic-related stress or anxiety. Sometimes the feeling can rise from repeated instances of failure, like receiving a poor grade, but it can also occur if you do well but feel that you aren’t worthy of the achievement, or that you simply aren’t “good enough.”
Graham F. Scott from the University of Toronto Magazine writes, “U of T is known for attracting some of the smartest, most ambitious achievers in the world. New research conducted at the university suggests that imposter syndrome is widespread but rarely discussed here.” It is rather common for students to hold extremely high expectations on themselves. It’s possible that there are more people experiencing symptoms of imposter syndrome than there are people talking about it as a real issue.
The term “imposter syndrome” was coined by psychologists in 1978, when they found that “despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have,” says Megan Dalla-Camina from Psychology Today. Those experiencing this feeling often dismiss success as pure luck and good timing, and consistently point out that others are better, smarter, or more capable than them.
So, what’s the problem? Dalla-Camina goes on to say that a “tendency toward perfectionism, fear of failure, continually undermining one’s achievements […] are all indicators that you might be prone. And it can be debilitating, causing stress, anxiety, low self-confidence, shame and in some cases, even depression.” While imposter syndrome is not a psychological disorder, it can potentially lead to more serious mental health struggles. Life as a student is already difficult enough as it is, and a wave of anxiety and depression among students is almost expected during peak times of the semester.
To avoid further complications from the effects of thinking of yourself as an “imposter,” consider the number of ways to combat this feeling based on research from U of T’s Student Life. First, try sharing your situation with people you trust who can sympathize and potentially reassure you as needed. Nick Feinig, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology, says, “When you’re left to your own devices and it’s all in your head, you typically imagine worst-case scenarios. A sense of isolation from your peers really skews your perception of your performance.” Also, try to get involved in activities outside the classroom. Research shows that students who participated in extracurricular activities felt less anxious about their academic performance since they had other ways of measuring success.
Imposter syndrome is a valid, common experience that could lead to worse emotions than it initially provides. Remember to value your worth, celebrate your accomplishments, and credit yourself for your efforts.