Fighting the Fraud: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
By Yuri Tomikawa and Gabby Porcaro
Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon in which successful individuals cannot internalize their own accomplishments, and have a persistent fear that they are “faking” their way through, not actually doing enough, and that they are actually a fraud. This syndrome is primarily associated with women, and can be fuelled by misogynistic attitudes in the workplace, schools, or otherwise.
The Zencare team interviewed Gabby Porcaro about her experiences, and how she fights imposter syndrome.
When did you realize you were experiencing imposter syndrome?
I first realized I was experiencing Imposter Syndrome during my Master’s program. Between being a full-time student, working as a full-time graduate assistant, serving on research teams, teaching classes, and more, there was rarely a break in my schedule. Although I was receiving positive feedback about my performance in all these roles, I still felt as though I wasn’t doing “enough.” I felt there was more that I should be accomplishing professionally, academically, and personally. The voice in the back of my mind continued to nag me with sentiments of inadequacy, and ultimately led to an irregular sleep schedule and symptoms of depression. After struggling with not feeling well, I turned to my supervisor at the time, and began to process the thoughts and feelings of inadequacy that plagued my head and my heart. During this conversation with my supervisor, I recognized that I was dealing with Imposter Syndrome.
Are there concerns with imposter syndrome on a societal level?
Imposter Syndrome can show up in remarkably different ways in different people. Speaking from my own personal experience, Imposter Syndrome deeply impacted both my physical and mental health. Additionally, I have recently re-started therapy sessions as a result of resurfacing thoughts and feelings of inadequacy linked to imposter syndrome, which continues to show up in my professional and personal worlds. In speaking to many friends, as well as the students I work with in a college setting, I know the negative impacts on my individual health are not isolated consequences of Imposter Syndrome. Nationally, we have seen an increase in health concerns related to college-aged individuals misusing stimulants such as Adderall, including increased heart rates and other cardiovascular issues. Although there have not been research publications citing a direct link between the two to date, it is not a stretch to hypothesize that the pressures created by Imposter Syndrome are one of the reasons young adults misuse these medications.
How did you overcome your own Imposter Syndrome?
Although it was and continues to be scary, the best way to begin working through Imposter Syndrome is through self-reflection. I asked myself questions such as, “Who was the first person that told me I wasn’t good enough?” and explored the impact of these thoughts and actions on my current life. Tracing negative self-believes back to the source provided an incredible sense of empowerment for me, because for the first time, I recognized that the discouraging voice in my mind was not my own. This voice was created by external pressures and people in my life. Once I realized that this voice was not my own, it became easier for me to push against its harmful message and to feel at peace with myself and my work. Additionally, identifying the source of my feelings of inadequacy allowed me to begin unlinking personal worth from professional achievements. I am so much more than a “Like” on an Instagram post or a professional milestone. I am a whole human being deserving of love and respect regardless of what I do or do not “achieve.”
Wow, that’s deep! Can readers do the same exercise on their own?
This type of self-reflection can be painful. So, it is crucial that you do not force yourself to complete this journey entirely by yourself. Starting to do your own personal reflection could actually begin with an external processing conversation. Reach out to a trusted friend, mentor, or family member, and ask them to help you on this journey. Additionally, as you dive deeper into self-reflection, you may begin to unearth experiences or traumas from your past that still have a significant impact on your overall well-being. If this is the case, I strongly encourage you to seek a mental health professional. I’ve returned to therapy at various points throughout my life and it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
How do you manage imposter syndrome today?
Self-care isn’t something you achieve in one minute. It’s something you have to constantly check-in with yourself about. Learning to understand the signs of my own unwellness has been crucial. If I experience interrupted sleep for a few nights in a row, it serves as a reminder to myself that there is negativity or toxicity present in my world that I am not dealing with. Similarly, if I recognize that I am becoming reclusive from those I love, or lose interest in making plans with friends or going to the gym, that is an indicator that I am not doing as well as I might tell myself. Learning to say no to certain professional opportunities in order to give myself time to rest and reconnect with those I love has been incredibly helpful, too.
Setting and maintaining boundaries around systems or individuals that detract from my wellness has also been crucial; however, this is one particular area of my wellness and self-care journey that I do recognize I need help with. As a result, I actually very recently started a new therapeutic relationship after taking a break for some time. After experiencing some turmoil in my personal life, I recognized that feelings of inadequacy were being to take shape in a major way. (Un)fortunately, since this wasn’t the first time I’ve experienced this, so I knew that I needed help in reclaiming my sense of worth and validity. I was able to find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who is working with me to ensure I develop strategies to protect myself and my wellness above all else.
What is your message to millennials who are experiencing imposter syndrome?
I mentioned the idea of “Revolutionary Selfcare” my TEDx Talk two years ago, and it’s something I still strive to practice on a daily basis. Society will consistently find ways to undermine you and your wellness. It is so important to remind yourself that you must serve yourself before you can hope to serve others. We must not be ashamed to listen to what our heads and our hearts tell us we need, and pursue those things with fierce love. We are constantly told that taking time to heal ourselves is “selfish.” Well, sometimes being “selfish” and taking care of yourself is actually the most remarkable thing you can do for yourself and those you cherish.
Gabby Porcaro is Coordinator of LGBTQ Programs at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI. She has personally struggled with Imposter Syndrome, and gave a TEDxUNCAsheville talk on the subject that can be found here.