It’s the first day of class, and there are so many emotions coursing through your body that you feel unstoppable. You can’t describe the way you feel, but it’s an overall positive feeling. The first day morphs into the first week, and then the first month. Little by little, you feel your attitude change for the worse. You start to question yourself and your place in the world. Usually, doubt usually pertains to a singular aspect of your life; this time it feels as if you are doubting yourself as a whole person.
I am alluding to a condition called imposter syndrome. As defined by Psychology Today, imposter syndrome is “a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” Although it may seem extreme that somebody could see themselves as a fraud, the emotions associated with this syndrome are valid and can disturb your mental state.
There have been studies that suggest “minority status” is a predictor of imposter syndrome. Periods of transition, such as coming to college, can influence the development of imposter syndrome, particularly for students of color or financially disadvantaged students who are unconsciously comparing themselves to their peers. This condition is not merely feeling bad about yourself; there are real repercussions to living with imposter syndrome. Psychology Today states, “it can be debilitating, causing stress, anxiety, low self-confidence, shame and in some cases, even depression.” This, tied into the stigma that continues to surround mental health, can make it feel like there is no exit — you are trapped in your own mind.
Moreover, imposter syndrome is more common than expected, with about 70 percent of all people experiencing at least one episode throughout their lives. Therefore, it’s likely you may know someone who is also dealing with imposter syndrome, or that you may experience it yourself.
From personal experience, I know what it’s like to fall into the trap of constant doubt while questioning your place at Binghamton University. For me, freshman year was a year filled with personal growth. As someone who knew what imposter syndrome was and was aware of the possibility of developing it, I still fell into it. If I were someone who hadn’t heard of the term prior to developing it, it would have been difficult to get out of that mentality. Prior to coming to college, I received tips on how to deal with anxiety as I was entering a predominantly white institution, as I was not accustomed to my peers being mostly white. I consistently was the only person of color in a classroom, and for me, this was an intimidating experience. Additionally, contrary to what I was accustomed to, I was no longer the smartest person in class.
Through my experiences, I’ve compiled ways to help prevent and overcome imposter syndrome. Understanding that something is not right is a good way to start. Pay attention to how you feel and pay attention to your actions. Some seem small at first, but may increase in magnitude as time passes. Understand that these negative thoughts are not okay. If you realize that you are having negative thoughts, you should attempt to talk to someone about how you feel. This person doesn’t have to be someone you met in college, but should be someone you trust. Comprehend that it’s not your fault. Realize that you are not the only person going through this and that someone can give you advice. At the end of the day, be kind to yourself and recognize that it’s not your fault. Don’t punish yourself. You should do the opposite and have self-care days where you rest and introspect about where you are in life. Lastly, if you are ready to seek professional help, there is nothing wrong with doing so. You deserve to feel better and a professional can help you. BU provides multiple resources to help you improve your mental state, including the University Counseling Center, helplines and connections to external counseling. Additionally, BU has a vast network of programs to improve health and wellness.
There are also many communities that you can join to diminish the effects of feeling marginalized. Personally, I wasn’t active on campus. I’ve learned from that mistake and now am a part of multiple organizations. Currently, I attend Thurgood Marshall Pre-Law Society meetings, where I surround myself with fellow pre-law students of color. Additionally, PRISM gives me a platform to discuss topics that affect the minority community at BU. I also participate in other organizations that allow me to meet new people and immerse myself in new experiences.
The suggestions I have given don’t only apply to imposter syndrome, but all mental health issues. You are 100 percent responsible for your achievements and luck has nothing to do with where you are now. You earned your place at BU, so go treat yourself in Marketplace, and fight on!