Could You Have Student Imposter Syndrome?

Just like that summer is coming to an end. The fun care free attitude is now being replaced by the anxieties and what if’s of the fast approaching school year. If you were like me as a high schooler, the excitement of the new school year was often over shadowed by self-doubt and worry as to what the school year will bring. Will I get good grades? Who will I hang out with at lunch? Will my friends be in my class? Will I make varsity? Behind these what if’s is often an underlying feeling of self-doubt and questions about your own ability to cope and manage the demands of the upcoming year.

Having gone to University High School, a high school in the shadow of a 4 year University the demands of school work coupled with navigating the ever so sticky high school social landscape was a recipe for high levels of self-doubt and anxiety. This self-doubt often expressed itself in what could be called the “student imposter syndrome.” The “imposter syndrome” is nothing new, it’s the idea that one can look good on “paper” or in this day and age “Instagram” but still suffer from high degrees of self-doubt and anxiety. The inability of one to internalize previous success and pull on your inherent strengths to boost confidence is a culprit behind the student imposter syndrome. Hence, as images and thoughts of the upcoming school year swarm they are often tainted by the failures of times past or imagined failures of what’s to come. This in turn leads to a feeling of “faking” it and high degrees of self-doubt, self-criticism and anxiety. Luckily this school year doesn’t have to be full of self-doubt and worry; instead this chronic questioning of yourself and the future can cease to control you if you change a couple of thinking habits that keep you stuck.

Turning “What ifs”, to “Then whats”– Let’s start with the anxieties…the “what if’s”. Often we stop at the “what if” and forget to finish the thought. For example the thought “what if I don’t have a friend in my class” may leave you feeling anxious. However, if you go on to complete the sentence with some problem solving you may be able to change that feeling to concern. You can do this by asking yourself “then what?” For example “what if I don’t have a friend in my class, THEN I can find an acquaintance and start a conversation or try and make a new friend” or “what if I don’t have a friend in my class, THEN it will be uncomfortable but I am sure with some time I will find it’s not as bad as I think.” Pulling on times in the past in which you expected the worst and the outcome was not nearly as bad can help you to de-catastrophize the “what if’s” you may have with the upcoming school year.
Now that we’ve tackled the what if’s, it’s time for the self-doubt. Self-doubt is a tricky one because it loves to creep in especially in your most vulnerable moments and times of high stress. It also can be very convincing. The problem with self-doubt is not that it exists as sometimes it is healthy to question ourselves, it’s when it becomes chronic and we start to believe what it is telling us. If you are feeling that “faking it” feeling or all small and big triumphs are followed by self-criticism or discounting (it was just luck) you may be dealing with chronic self-doubt and hence may be considering yourself a “student imposter.” To combat the self-doubt it’s time to start accepting yourself and challenging it in the moment it strikes.

Go for an A in Acceptance– You are not perfect nor should you be, accepting yourself as a human and therefore imperfect can help reduce self-doubt and help you to have more realistic expectations for yourself. With this comes dropping the comparisons which with Instagram and Facebook may be no easy feat. It’s okay to look and notice something you like in someone else but comparisons go array when you think you are less than who or what you are comparing to. Reminding yourself that your friend with the good looks or the classmate that easily gets A’s may have their own struggles just like you helps. Zooming out and objectively looking at others helps remind us that although they may have something in one area we admire it doesn’t mean they have everything. An objective look at their lives may often reveal that they may even be suffering from the same anxieties and self-doubt as you.

Settling on Strengths- Another way to combat the self-doubt is to settle on strengths as this helps boost confidence and beat self-criticism. It may be a good time before school begins to start up a list of all your accomplishments big and small to help put yourself in perspective. This is best as an ongoing list you keep through the school year. If it’s hard to get started try asking a friend or family member to help, they tend to have archives of your successes. Throughout the year as self-doubt strikes, take time out of your day to review the list.

Now is the time to set the tone for the approaching school year and set the goal of managing the anxieties and self-doubts before they manage you. Start with some of these anxiety-hacks and should you be interested in learning more feel free to call Cassandra Moore, LMFT with The CBT Institute of Southern California or e-mail at