Overcoming the Impostor Phenomenon

During my first week of NP school, I quickly realized that I was in a class filled with intelligent, high-achieving, and highly motivated individuals. Though I was grateful to be in a program with so many inspiring and admirable peers, I found myself filled with self-doubt as I progressed through the program. I often wondered, "how did I get accepted into this program?" and questioned why the admissions committee would accept my application in such a high-caliber pool of candidates. Even during classes and quarters where I performed well academically, I still thought that "I didn't belong" or that I was "lucky" to have done well. Little did I know that there was a name for this feeling. It's called the Impostor Phenomenon, also known as Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor Phenomenon can be defined as an individual's feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt despite obvious success. Often an individual experiencing this phenomenon will feel that they're an impostor, or a fraud, tricking everyone around them. High achievers, particularly perfectionists, may find themselves afflicted by these feelings. While there are several reasons why individuals may suffer from impostor syndrome, it is important to be able to recognize the symptoms. Do you find yourself thinking or saying any of the following?:

  • "I must not fail."
  • "I feel like a fake."
  • "It's all down to luck."

If so, you may likely be experiencing feelings of impostor phenomenon. Now, what steps can you take to overcome these feelings? I vividly remember when one of my NP colleagues specifically asked me, "How did you overcome Impostor Phenomenon?" This feeling is unfortunately commonly felt by NPs, from what I have seen firsthand. Thus, it is important to be aware of steps you can take to overcome these feelings. Personally, I have found the following strategies to be incredibly helpful:

Therapy

Often times, therapy gets a bad rap. However, when I was a graduate student, therapy sessions were included as part of my student health insurance coverage. That being said, I visited a therapist and did several sessions of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT helps reprogram your mind into identifying and addressing any debilitating negative self-thoughts. Besides CBT, having the ability to consult with a therapist could help solidify the feelings of impostor syndrome you may be experiencing. You and your therapist can cover ways to identify your own feelings of self-doubt, and how to react to those feelings. Sometimes, it also just helps to be able to decompress and talk to someone outside of your social circle about these feelings. It is common to see high achievers keep such feelings private from others.

Call out these feelings

After understanding how impostor phenomenon may manifest in your own thoughts, call these feelings out. Accept what you are experiencing, and journal them out. See if you experience any particular triggers or patterns for when you experience these thoughts the most. The more you understand the impostor syndrome, the more you can understand where the source of the feelings may have stemmed from. Awareness of these feelings is key to preventing them from taking over your thought process.

Track your successes

One of the best ways that I have continued to remind myself I am not a "fraud" is by keeping tangible track of my successes. Every time I receive a compliment, whether it's verbal or written in an email, I store that compliment. Over time, my file of compliments and recognitions has grown significantly. So during the days that I am having a particularly rough shift, I take out my "success file," and review it. It reminds me that I am performing well, and that I am doing something right. If anything, it is my physical, tangible evidence that I am no fake.

Consult your support system

It can be incredibly difficult, especially for a high achiever, to seek advice or help from friends when experiencing impostor phenomenon. From personal experience, I've found it very challenging to confide in even my closest peers about how debilitating it was to have chronic self-doubt. In fact, it's exhausting. However, your support system is there for you. Even among your NP peers, know that you are not alone. I am willing to bet that someone else in your class or your work, or group of friends, has experienced impostor phenomenon at some point in their lives. Also, the longer that you let these feelings of self-doubt ruminate, the greater of a toll it will take on your mind and your wellbeing.

Eyes on the prize

This piece of advice is so simple, yet it helped me immensely as I went through graduate school. When I would suffer from intense feelings of inadequacy, I would suddenly stop what I was doing, relax, and focus. I would then see a clear photo of myself in my graduation gown, smiling with my peers on graduation day. I would then have a feeling of calm, and I would think to myself, "as long as I can see the goal, I can achieve it." And lo and behold, I graduated. I have used a similar technique for my job applications, or other aspects of my life, and it has been an amazingly helpful tool. Humans are visual, and sometimes we need to see things to believe it. Know what your goal is, and visualize it.

 

The brain is extremely powerful. Whatever you feed your brain, you will get out of it. If you feed your brain self-doubt, you will continue to suffer from the consequences of the impostor phenomenon. However, once you reprogram your brain and feed your brain a different message such as, "I deserve to be here," or "I am a successful nurse practitioner," you will be surprised at the difference you will physically and mentally feel. Overcoming self-doubt is not an easy task whatsoever, but the strategies above are a great start to point you in the right pathway to self-love.