I’m moving up a division and I feel like I don’t belong. Despite the years of training, I’m dealing with imposter syndrome. What can I do to shake this feeling off?
What exactly is the imposter syndrome? This syndrome is the internal feeling and belief that you’re not as good, as smart, as talented or as skilled as people believe you are. Moreover, it’s the constant dread that people will find out you’re a fake. Athletes who carry this belief are more interested in not looking bad than in winning.
Why do they feel this way? The brain just keeps reiterating that you’re not good enough. Ever hear someone say, or think to yourself, “I’m just tough, it took no talent to win,” or, “It was all luck,” or, “I was just in the right place at the right time?”
The imposter syndrome was originally coined by two psychologists from the United States in the 1970s. Doctors Clance and Imes noticed that many women in high-achieving positions had feelings of incompetence, self doubt and not performing up to expectations. This led to further studies that ultimately involved athletes.
The understanding of this syndrome has come to highlight people’s difficulty taking ownership of their abilities and accomplishments. They see the objective reality of their situation but can’t connect the effects to their talents. Whatever they ultimately attribute the success to, they feel like fakers — almost like a movie set that presents a beautiful picture on the outside with nothing behind the facade.
Furthermore, many athletes become emotionally handicapped and enveloped by fear. This situation is due to the fright of being found out. Consequently, these athletes focus more on their mistakes, real or perceived, as examples of who they really are. As part of this psychological continuum, the anxiety and stress follow close behind.
Why are some athletes and not others impacted by this syndrome? The exact causes are truly unknown. It’s felt that, like many other conditions, genetics, personality and family dynamics all play a part. Certain environments also feed the syndrome more than others. For example, in some high-pressure surroundings, certain individuals get caught up in competing to be the cream of the crop and, depending upon their personalities, can develop this syndrome.
How does one heal and deal with imposter syndrome? Of course, speaking with a sport psychologist or psychotherapist can be of great benefit. However, there are other ways to deal with this situation as well:
- Speak constantly with someone you highly respect. Talk and discussion are at the core of dealing with this pattern of symptoms.
- Set clear, small, measurable and realistic goals.
- Question negative thoughts and do affirmation work to replace them.
- Meditate to help develop coping techniques and accept thoughts that might not always be positive but aren’t consuming.
- Focus on one’s own abilities and avoid comparisons.
- Address things and accept accomplishments one at a time.
Imposter syndrome is not a permanent state of mind; it’s psychological, and perspectives are changeable. If approached correctly, imposter syndrome can be used to open a new mindset that allows for growth and enjoyable attainment of goals.