A big 100 is circled in red on your test, but you can't help but think, "I don't deserve this. I'm not smart."
If you can relate, you may have imposter syndrome like millions of teens around the world. Imposter syndrome, or IS, is feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness that cause a fear of failure, and it can be overcome by following several steps.
Examples and Signs
Associated with low self-esteem, IS causes those with it to feel less competent than those around them and as though they don't deserve their achievements, like they will be "caught" at any moment. It affects up to 30 percent of high achievers, including remarkable celebrities like Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, and Emma Watson.
"Now when I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an imposter. Any moment, someone's going to find out I'm a total fraud and that I don't deserve any of what I've achieved."
-Emma Watson, award-winning actress
Signs of IS are not only seen in people who are famous, but also in everyday life. In schools, for example, many students feel they don't deserve their high grades or downplay positive feedback. Athletes are also likely to experience it with the high-pressure atmosphere in sports.
It is perpetuated by society's tendency to associate worth with success. When someone makes a mistake, they are immediately labeled as a failure, all their past achievements suddenly invisible. This overwhelming pressure to be "perfect" stacks onto the brunt of world problems that falls on young people, not to mention the already-existing stress of being a teenager.
Though IS is not a diagnosable mental disorder, it has distinct signs that are often seen in patients with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. They include:
- Overachieving - setting unrealistic and stressful goals
- Constant self-criticism
- Constant comparison to other people
- Fear of failure
- Lack of self-trust
- Negative self-talk
- Inability to move on from failures
- Diagnosed anxiety
- Diagnosed depression
There are other factors that can cause increased risk, such as:
- Lack of access to mental health resources
- Family members who experience IS or mental diseases associated with IS
- Living in a high-pressure household
If you relate to multiple signs above, you might have imposter syndrome. However, you aren't alone, and you don't have to live with it.
How To Overcome It
Learning how to confront my IS can allow you to find peace and genuine enjoyment in trying new things. Here is a guide to do so:
1) Educate yourself further on what IS is and its signs.
2) Make self-care an integral part of your daily routine. Find what works for you, such as going for a morning walk, spending time with friends, or getting more sleep.
3) Reflect on your accomplishments, and allow yourself to feel pride about all the amazing things you have done!
4) Talk to people you feel comfortable with, like a friend, teacher, or sibling. You can also find IS support groups or online forums for teens.
If you are experiencing more severe signs, consider seeking professional help and/or getting tested for linked mental disorders, if possible.
5) Identify your triggers. By this step, you should have a general idea of where your IS stems from, like a certain activity or person(s). If possible, reduce your time spent with your triggers.
6) Explore yourself by trying new things, like picking up a new sport or learning a new language. Do it purely for fun, and remember that failure is part of the growth process.
Imposter syndrome causes those with it to undermine their accomplishments and deter themselves from growth. By knowing the signs and following the guide above, teens can reach their full potential and fight the normalization of IS, pushing us towards a world where a 100 is not an opportunity for self-doubt, but to celebrate what we are capable of.