Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome “refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.” defined by

From the form I released, the 8 activists who have experienced Imposter Syndrome before describe it as the following:
  • "A feeling of not being good enough or not belonging or that you don’t deserve to be there"
  • "Sense that I haven’t done a good enough job at activism"

  • "It’s a feeling, a voice inside your head that someone is better, that someone else should be here instead of you"

  • "The feeling of not fitting in and feeling as though you are worthless compared to other activists, always comparing yourself and never being fully satisfied with the changes you’re making"

  • "Feeling like everything good you've ever gotten is undeserved and you're not good enough for everything and anything positive in your life"

  • "Feeling like an imposter in a situation; like I shouldn't be there"

They continue to say they experience imposter syndrome on a daily to weekly basis and experience symptoms (ordered from most voted to least voted) like being never satisfied with their knowledge, being afraid that someone reveal you are a fake, obsessing over flaws, feeling like an imposter in situations, being afraid to ask for help encase they're perceived as weak, being never happy with their work, setting unreachable goals and upset when they're not met, overworking to be as good as everyone else and that they haven't learnt anything from everything they've done in the past even though logically of course they have.

The explains that there are five main types of imposter syndrome which can be experienced and these are:
  1. The Superhero - This type of person overworks themselves to try and account for the feeling of being inadequate to others.
  2. The Natural genius - This type of persons sets very high, nearly unreachable goals and is then crushed when those goals are not met.
  3. The Expert - This type of persons is never satisfied with their level of knowledge and understanding and so they try to learn more and more and continue learning.
  4. The Perfectionist - This type of person is never satisfied or happy with their own work and obsess over their flaws and never recognise their achievements.
  5. The Soloist - This type of person prefers to work alone as they are afraid to ask for help encase they are perceived as weak or incompetent.

For me I have experienced all of those five different types. 
  1. I overwork myself because I look at other activists and see everything that they are doing and I have this feeling that I am not doing enough.
  2. I set very high, unreachable goals within a short space of time to achieve them and get upset if they are not met. This could be like me wanting to read through a whole 200 page climate action plan document in a day.
  3. I have also experienced never being satisfied with my knowledge. With climate change there is so much to know and so many different sectors and problems and solutions and the learning is endless. I would try to read as much as I could without breaks and obsess over learning as much as I could which would leave me burnt out due to not taking any breaks. I have learnt that you are never going to know everything and you learn things naturally along the way by listening to other people, attending workshops and being part of projects. If you don’t know something in a moment when you are asked it is not your fault and you learn from it then.
  4. With the perfectionist type I have many experiences, like spending way too much time fixing documents, graphics, emails, images and articles when they would’ve been okay way before I started obsessing over the flaws. I have also not sent out graphics, documents, articles etc because I would see too many flaws and I wouldn’t have the capacity to fix them in the moment so I just wouldn’t put them out there at all which didn't benefit anyone. Getting the articles and graphics out there and raising awareness is much more important than having a few mistakes on them and not showing it at all.  
  5. With the soloist type I used to be afraid to ask a question, ask advice or ask for help from people because I was worried that people would think less of me or think I am too incapable of doing it by myself and so would judge me. 

Of course, each of these experiences did more harm to me than good as they got in the way of my activism and made it harder to do my activism. Now, I actively try to work on these and make sure they don’t interrupt my work. From my experience I have learnt that I need to accept myself as I am. I need to accept that I am doing enough and even if other activists are doing more than me, I am still at least doing something and still making a difference. I need to accept that I can only know so much and I can’t know everything and to be okay with the amount I know. I need to accept that the reason I have goals is to be able to reach them and I need to be kind to myself to be able to reach these and do good for the planet. I need to accept that it is better to get the articles etc out there instead of worrying about the flaws and not sending them out at all. I need to accept that asking for help or advice is not a weakness, it is a strength.  

And with Imposter Syndrome finding ways to cope can be a personal journey that you have to find what suits you specifically. Here are some ways to cope with imposter syndrome that I found from sources online linked at the bottom of this article:

  1. Learn how to set goals and how to reach goals - this would be setting small daily goals to bring you to your overall big goal instead of just jumping straight to the big goal.
  2. Ask for help - from friends, family, professionals.
  3. Talk to people and voice up about it - many people experience imposter syndrome and by voicing up about it others may feel less alone while experiencing it.
  4. Recognize the thoughts you have when experiencing imposter syndrome and write them down to be able to study them - by doing this you can track negative thought patterns and be able to separate your thoughts from the truth.
  5. Separate your emotions and feelings from the facts - e.g everyone is doing so much more than I am changes to I am doing as much as I can as is everyone else.
  6. Develop a good response to failure and mistake making – we are often told that making mistakes is bad but it is how we learn naturally.
  7. Write down anything good or any successes you have to be able to see all you have achieved - when thinking about everything you're bad at you can write down everything you're good at to flip the narrative.
  8. Know that you deserve to believe in yourself!
  9. Teach yourself confidence - confidence is not something you are born with and is something you have to learn, like riding a bicycle. You can practice confidence by talking in the mirror, trying new things, teaching yourself how to think positively.
  10. Knowing that everyone experiences imposter syndrome at some point in their lives – even famous people and celebrities. 
  11. Try to stop comparing yourself to others - with social media it is easy to compare yourself to the 'perfect' lives of others. But, social media presents the very best side of peoples lives and activists work and you are only seeing one side to a fifty sided thing.
One of the activists advice from the form to deal with imposter syndrome was "Understanding and learning that there is no one way to be an activist, no perfect activist and that we are all constantly learning but are still all needed."

IMPORTANT: One important thing to point out is sometimes people are told that they have imposter syndrome and it is their fault to fix when it can be external influences making them feel as though they are not doing enough, they don’t know enough, they aren’t good enough. These influences can come from past oppression and discrimination experiences or current people around them who are purposefully trying to hold them down and make them feel bad about themselves. To find out more about this read this amazing article.