This feels like a big post to write. Like I can’t do a topic like this justice because my teeny blog and I have no real influence over anyone or anything, and I don’t know what I’m talking about. Like I’ve wound up writing this by accident and that my readers are going to kindly tell me to stick to dreaming up fiction.

In spite of the fact that I actually do know exactly what I’m talking about, my opinion does carry validity, and that I have every right to take up this space talking about it. That feeling, right there, is impostor syndrome. And it affects a lot of successful women* I know.

In a nutshell, impostor syndrome is the ongoing psychological war between external success and internal self-doubt. It’s the voice in our heads that tells us that our 100 percent in an exam was a fluke, and that our bosses are going to fire us in spite of our recent glowing performance review. Or that the friends we love are going to turn around and drop us out of the blue, no matter how much their actions and words say otherwise. It’s posting that newest chapter and feeling convinced that this one is the one that reveals to fans that you’re a shit writer and they should unsubscribe (just me?). It’s feeling like an impostor, like you’re faking it in the role you’re in, and that very soon someone is going to find out. It worms its way in and undermines our self-confidence, whilst whispering in our ears that we’re no good and that we’re setting ourselves up to fail. It isn’t necessarily a lack of ambition, drive, or self-belief. You can have all the self-belief in the world, but a good dose of impostor syndrome can machine-gun that in a heartbeat.

Sound familiar? I bet.

It’s yet another thing in a long line of mental health concerns that can be easily dismissed as attention seeking (thanks to social pressures, social stigma and a lack of understanding) when, in reality, it’s crippling self-doubt that seeps into every aspect of our lives. It can be a pesky inconvenience or, when combined with anxieties, depression, BPD, and other mental health issues, can become very serious and have an impact on our daily life, our ability to progress in school, relationships, and in our careers, and can have a physical effect on health. Sleep disruption, isolation, and living in a constant fear-like state are stressors to anyone, so it’s important to recognise impostor syndrome for what it is and to combat it in any way we can. It doesn’t have to be affecting your life for it to become a problem, so don’t downplay how you feel. That’s lesson one.

Some starter tips:

  • Positive affirmations. Positively reinforcing that you deserve to be where you are, and that you deserve the respect of your peers – which is normally right in front of us.
  • Relive the best bits. Remember that exceptional review, those great exam results, the achievements that have got you where you are now. Those moments of YES! I did that!
  • Talk plainly. Tell your friends why you appear to be constantly seeking validation. It dismantles the incorrect assumption that you’re either compliment fishing or that you just don’t believe in yourself, and you may find some incredible conversations come about because of that first initial step.
  • Look around you. Look at those you admire and at why you admire them. Nobody got to where they wanted to be without trial, error, and hard work. Nobody got there without self-doubt. If they can push through it all and succeed, so can you.

Just know that you deserve to be where you are. We may not know each other but regardless, I believe that. It’s all too easy to downplay ourselves and to overanalyse the tiny mistakes that make us human, but in the long-run it’s our successes that matter, no matter how small they may be. And if you’re thinking they’re small, here’s an affirmation for you: they probably aren’t. You’re not giving yourself the credit you deserve. Take it, because if you don’t then someone else certainly will.

Believe in yourself, first and foremost. Other people do, so why don’t you?

Buzzfeed recently ran a community poll on what impostor syndrome feels like, and some of the responses are familiar, upsetting, and just plain shocking. If this is something you feel like you experience and struggle with, I’d love to hear from you.

*I say women because I know of very, very few men who are affected by Impostor Syndrome, although I’m sure they’re out there. If that’s you, come and talk because I’d love to discuss and hear of your experiences, too.

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