Imposter syndrome is defined as “a psychological phenomenon where people feel they don’t deserve their accomplishments. Internally, they feel like a fraud, or they worry that one day someone will find out that they are not good enough.”
A lot of us see this in our professional and academic lives. We often wonder if we’re deserving of getting a promotion or good enough for getting a good grade on an exam, leading us to doubt ourselves and feel like frauds.
Unfortunately, this is a common phenomenon, especially among women. Some of the most successful women in the world like Serena Williams, Maya Angelou, and Tina Fey have been open with their experiences with imposter syndrome in their careers. It didn’t matter that they’re some of the best at what they do, for nobody is immune to experiencing low self-esteem and self-doubt.
Since imposter syndrome is rooted in self-doubt, we can also experience it in our relationships by feeling like we’re not good enough.
My Experience with Imposter Syndrome in Relationships
In my late teens and very early 20s, I had a horrible habit of being attracted to toxic guys. I would call them "toxic situationships" over relationships because I never officially dated any of these guys, but we’ll call them toxic relationships for the sake of simplicity.
Those with imposter syndrome worry that one day someone will find out that they’re not good enough.
These guys were expert gaslighters. They would tell me I was crazy and overreacting for asking simple questions and wanting to be treated with respect, and they were successful at altering my perception of reality, myself, and my self-esteem. In my mind, I was the horrible things they told me that I was. I was crazy, ugly, dumb, not good enough, too difficult to handle, expected too much from other people, etc.
Even though I got out of these relationships, the gaslighting stuck with me. Whenever I’ve been in a healthy romantic situation or on a date, I can’t help but think, “How long until he figures out that I’m crazy? I’m not good enough for this guy; he could do so much better than someone like me.” It’s embarrassing to admit because I know deep down that this isn’t true, but this is how imposter syndrome affects relationships.
How Imposter Syndrome Affects Relationships
Whether you have a history of toxic relationships or not, it’s common to experience imposter syndrome in your relationships by not feeling good enough for them. It can be as simple as having low self-esteem, as Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT writes, “When we’re self-critical, our self-esteem is low, and we lose confidence in our abilities. Our critic also makes us sensitive to criticism, because it mirrors the doubts we already have about ourselves and our behavior. Moreover, we imagine other people think what our critic thinks. In other words, we project our criticism onto other people. Even when questioned, they deny our assumptions, we likely won’t believe them.”
Lancer continues, “Healthy relationships depend on self-esteem. These imposter fears can cause us to provoke arguments and assume we’re being judged or rejected when we’re not. We may push people who want to get close to us or love us away for fear of being judged or found out. This makes it hard to have a committed, intimate relationship. We might settle for someone who needs us, is dependent on us, abuses us, or in our mind is in some way beneath us. This way we’re assured they won’t leave us.”
These imposter fears can cause us to provoke arguments or assume we’re being judged when we’re not.
In short, experiencing imposter syndrome in relationships often drives us to self-sabotage and mess up a good thing out of fear of getting hurt. It also prevents you from experiencing the best parts of a relationship like emotional intimacy and having someone who brings out the best in you. Even worse, it can lead you to a relationship with someone who gaslights you because you believe you don’t deserve better (spoiler alert: you deserve better than anyone who gaslights you).
Family and relationship therapist Moraya Seeger DeGeare echoes a similar sentiment and believes that imposter syndrome can ruin intimacy. She writes, "Because you have this false belief that you're not enough, you're going to show up differently. It's actually going to limit your intimacy in your relationship if you really aren't addressing this idea that this person deserves someone better."
Lucky for you, there are ways to overcome imposter syndrome and get your relationship and self-esteem back.
How To Cope with Imposter Syndrome
If you’re experiencing imposter syndrome in a healthy relationship, it’s a good idea to tell your partner how you feel. DeGeare writes, "Bringing up your fears and allowing [your partner] to comfort you is intimacy. If you say your insecurities out loud, then that partner can reassure it, and now that negative self talk has a new voice, that's like, 'Oh but they said this.’ That really helps to battle that."
Though talking to your partner about it can be helpful, it’s important to not make that a habit but to talk to a professional about it. A therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy can help you get into a healthier headspace by teaching you ways to rewire your negative thoughts.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you to rewire your negative thoughts.
Another way to cope with imposter syndrome in relationships is to practice self-care and positive affirmations. Working out and taking care of your mental and physical health will also help you get into a better headspace and realize that there’s no validity behind your negative thoughts.
Lastly, you might want to reevaluate your relationship. If you’re in an unhealthy relationship with someone who makes you feel like you’re not good enough, realizing you’re worth more than that and leaving the relationship is the first step toward healing. It’s much easier said than done, but a wound like this can’t heal if you continue to poke at it.
Whether it’s in work, school, or relationships, nobody is immune to experiencing imposter syndrome. Lucky for us, imposter syndrome is treatable through therapy, talking to your partner if you’re in a healthy relationship, leaving a relationship if it’s unhealthy, and practicing self-care and positive affirmations.