Is impostor syndrome damaging you?

Feel like you’re blagging your way through life and that any moment you’re going to get caught?

Or that your popularity on social media is undeserved and you could never match that adoration in real life?

You’re not alone. The phenomenon that has come to be known as ‘impostor syndrome’ is the persistent belief that you aren’t really as talented, clever and brilliant as you appear to others, and that one day your mask will slip and reveal a fraud.

Psychologist M Wallace reports: "Research (from Totaljobs, February 2019) estimates that up to 70% of people will experience impostor syndrome at some point, so it’s a feeling that many of us can really understand."

These feelings of self-doubt and insecurity can hold you back at work or study and stop you reaching your full potential, but is there also a chance it affects how you feel in a relationship?

Wallace says yes, there is: "Impostor syndrome is something that we have generally associated with professional contexts, or achievements/successes, but it is something that we can experience in any domain in our lives." She numbers a few ways that impostor syndrome can rear its ugly head in relationships, for example: "We may wonder how we got so lucky, or wonder how someone might feel once they get to know the 'real us'. We may worry that we disappoint our partner or let them down, or that we can’t possibly live up to an ex. We may have had relationships in the past which weren’t as good and wonder if this one is 'too good to be true'."

Whilst there may be no single reason why you might feel like an impostor, or that you're ‘punching above your weight’ in a relationship, the important thing is to recognise what those feelings are and understand how to cope with them.

Signs you might have impostor syndrome

  • You feel like you aren’t worthy of being in your friendship group
  • You feel you’re less attractive or worthy than your partner, no matter what they tell you
  • You feel like you don’t deserve what you have achieved
  • You think asking for help means you’re a failure
  • You feel the need to succeed at everything and when you struggle you think this means any earlier success was a fluke

How to overcome impostor syndrome

  • Recognise you aren’t alone. Talk to your friends and family and you’ll realise just how many people are going through the same thing!
  • Make a list of your achievements and great qualities. It’s hard to argue with facts! When you feel doubt creeping in, this list will remind of what you can accomplish.
  • Get feedback. It is often easier to believe in yourself through the eyes of someone else. Reassurance from friends, family and your partner can be a great confidence boost.
  • Try not to compare yourself or your relationship to others. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others but a more useful benchmark for success is to compare yourself to you last year.
  • Accept 'failure'. See mistakes as an opportunity to learn and not a reflection of who you are.

M. Wallace has these gems of wisdom for you if you are currently dealing with impostor syndrome in your relationship:

"Remember, the person you are in relationship with chose to be with YOU, and that choice is often based on so many things, not just how we looked one night, or that funny thing we said that time. Think about why you like being with your partner, it’s not just one thing, right? Don’t forget that we all have our own individual tastes and preferences, and not one person is the same!"

"We can often be self-critical and focus on negative things that no one else has ever noticed or thought about, so we worry about things that will never cross anyone else’s mind! Try to remember that worrying and negative self-talk achieves very little, so if you notice that going on, replace the thoughts with something positive. Talk about these feelings with your partner. Reassurance is a great thing and an important thing to do for one another in relationships."

"Be aware of the impact of past relationships, especially if these were negative. It may be that your confidence was affected and this is making you feel a little more insecure. Try not to doubt or second guess the positive things your partner says, and remember every relationship is different."

And finally, know that impostor syndrome isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. The best thing to do when the negative thoughts creep in and tell you that you can’t do something, it to do it anyway... That’s the key to building your confidence! So, impostor syndrome can help you check yourself and strive to be better - just don't let it hold you back or stress you out.

Where to find support

If you have concerns about your relationship, visit Relate for more information about relationships, and to message a counsellor for support.

If you’re feeling like your mental health is deteriorating, we strongly advise having a chat with your GP or health professional as they can put you in contact with the right people who can help. You can also visit Young Minds for more information about mental health and how to get support, or the NHS.

Talking about the way you feel is always the best thing to do, no matter how big or small the issues are that you’re facing. Although it can be hard opening up about mental health, it’s something that affects every one of us. If you are experiencing difficulties, never feel ashamed or different or like you need to keep it to yourself. Talk to someone or find some support.

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