Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

by Jessica Lewis

Practicing Self-Care in Forms of Affirmation


Many students, especially those who identify as people of color, low-income, or first-generation, may feel attending an institution like Swarthmore makes them especially susceptible to Impostor Syndrome. Many may ask, “what is impostor syndrome?”.

Two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, gave it a name in 1978, describing it as a sense of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”  Impostor Syndrome is one’s inability to acknowledge their accomplishments, characterized by a deep fear that they will be exposed as a fraud. Many academics who struggle with this condition “are highly motivated to achieve”. They also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.” They establish a false sense of being a fraud and that they are actually less qualified than they really are. This phenomena is not often discussed in the Swarthmore community, though many high achievers struggle every day with a debilitating lack of self-confidence. Even I struggle to keep these thoughts at a minimum as I highlight more negativity than highlighting my academic achievements. However, holding onto this viscous cycle of negative self-talk is a way of inflicting self-harm.

Students who may be struggling with this syndrome can practice various methods as self-care. In a recent article titled “How a Dean Got Over Impostor Syndrome — and Thinks You Can, Too,” Dean of Duke University’s College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Valerie Ashby discusses her own experience. Dr. Ashby advises, separating self-doubt from reality, emphasizing positivity, and practicing a nurturing inner voice.  Dr. Ashby also advises accepting your own self worth and wearing your accomplishments proudly. Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, though most notedly a process that requires patience, emphasizes breaking through a constant cycle, often daily, of negativity. It means battling thoughts that you do not belong here, that you are not qualified enough to attend Swarthmore, and most importantly, that you do not deserve to coexist with others. Tips to overcome the syndrome can further be found here.

Learning to cope with and overcome this phenomena is a form of self care individuals must practice. "Learning how to celebrate every good thing that happens, because we will downplay the good and play up the bad,” Ashby said.  “When you’re playing a tape that’s negative over and over again in your mind, ask someone, Does this make any sense to you? And they’ll say, That makes no sense. What do you mean, you’re not qualified? Changing the tape is critical."