How do I get over "imposter syndrome"?

I'm dealing with imposter syndrome in graduate school. I know that by all accounts I am a phenomenal graduate student, and that I am well-published. I am well liked by students and faculty alike. And yet I cannot shake the feeling that I'm going to be found out as a fraud.

How can I get over this feeling?

Marianne Cook, EdD, LICSW
Marianne Cook, EdD, LICSW
Psychotherapy for Higher Education

Impostor syndrome is such a common experience in graduate school and other high-pressure, competitive settings. I am glad to hear that you have some sense of your accomplishments, but I understand that it can be quite hard to internalize and truly believe them. Here are a few suggestions for overcoming impostor syndrome:

  • Check your standards. Impostor syndrome is often connected to perfectionism, and you may be holding impossibly high standards for yourself. Do you believe you need to know everything, excel at everything, or be liked by everyone in order to succeed in graduate school? If so, nothing you accomplish will ever measure up to your ideals. Try shifting your focus away from achievement and onto development: what are you learning about yourself and your research, and how are you growing as a person and a scholar? This can help you appreciate yourself as a work in progress -- which all of us fundamentally are.
  • Own your uniqueness. It can be easy to compare yourself to peers based on number of publications, fellowships, conferences, etc. But you are not a number. You are the only person in your program with your specific background, interests, and point of view. The more you own what makes you special and distinct from others, the more you're likely to feel that you have something to contribute to your program and to your field.
  • Celebrate your successes. Positive psychology has demonstrated that we can retrain our minds by paying more attention to positive information. I recommend keeping a success journal and jotting down anything (large or small, concrete or abstract) that you feel proud of. Aim to make a few additions a day to it. You may find that through pointing out these daily victories to yourself, you start to accept more positive feedback and believe in yourself in a deeper way.
  • Talk to trusted peers and mentors. Impostor syndrome flourishes in silence. If you have an advisor or colleague you can open up to, you will likely find that this person has experienced similar feelings, and that can be tremendously reassuring, because it shows you that impostor syndrome is a common phenomenon, not a manifestation of your inner unworthiness.
A therapist can be an excellent resource on your graduate school journey to help you examine, challenge, and let go of your self-doubts. I wish you the best of luck in graduate school and beyond!
The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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