Salaam, I’m Zakerah and I have Imposter Syndrome, a condition that I’ve dealt with for much of my life. Over the years, I’ve found ways to combat it and I’m now at a point where I can say “no” to the “imposter” when it makes a rare appearance. If you’re a fellow sufferer, I hope this article helps you.
Do you feel like you’re not good enough, despite being a high achiever? Or filled with doubt when others recognise your achievements and abilities? Then you might just be experiencing “Imposter Syndrome”. As the name implies, it leaves you feeling like a fraud, wondering when your secret will be found out. You’re not alone though, even actor Tom Hanks and former First Lady Michelle Obama have admitted to experiencing it.
According to research published in The International Journal of Behavioural Science, “As many as 70% of us experience it (Imposter Syndrome) at some point in our lives”. Discovered by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, “Imposter Phenomenon” as it was then known, was shown to affect women. We now know that it can affect anyone, regardless of gender, job role or even social standing. Yet, cultural and racial bias play a major part, with minorities more at risk of developing it. For some, Imposter Syndrome is temporary, whilst for others, it’s a life-long experience.
Imposter Syndrome can be a crushing condition that pushes you to self-sabotage. It can look like this:
It’s not just your work/studies that can be affected. Imposter Syndrome can show up in various ways in your practice of the deen too. From feeling too guilty to pray Tahajjud due to missing some of the fardh salah, to the “shame” of being a “Ramadan Muslim”, the condition can limit or even stop you from trying to do better. It can affect the not-so-religious and religious alike, as shown by the late Shaykh Muhammed al-Shareef (may Allah have mercy on him), who experienced it in his early years.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is that there are ways to combat Imposter Syndrome, resulting in increased confidence, a healthier mindset and above all, a happier life. So how can I achieve this, I hear you ask. Keep reading to find out more.
1. Acknowledgement and Acceptance
The first step in the recovery process is acknowledgement. Actively internalising you have an issue and wanting to overcome it, is the difference between someone who perpetually suffers from the condition and another who successfully combats it. Denial may creep in at first, suggesting you have nothing wrong with you, but once you realise and accept that there’s an issue, the clouds of doubt disappear, making change increasingly possible. A senior radiographer explains, “I felt as if I was not good enough. I was praised at work, but instead of accepting that, I responded by saying anyone could do what I had done. I didn’t even know Imposter Syndrome was a thing. When I found out, I thought, ‘I’m going to try and tackle this, in sha Allah.’”
Something to keep in mind is that Allah only makes you go through tests you can handle. He knows the benefits in them, although you may not understand what they are. But stay patient and increase your tawakkul. It will help to strengthen your resolve. As Allah SWT says:
“Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear” (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:286)
“And whoever puts their trust in Allah, then He alone is sufficient for them.” (Surah al-Talaq, 65:3)
2. Value Your Achievements
Sometimes you may ignore your achievements because you either feel unworthy, or you’re trying to stay modest. But this only intensifies the “imposter” feelings. To remedy this, recognise that your talents and achievements are genuinely yours and are God-given blessings. Try writing them down in a journal and give gratitude to Allah for them; this can only open more doors of success. After all, as Allah mentions,
“..If you are grateful, I (Allah) will certainly give you more” (Surah Ibrahim, 14:7)
3. Celebrate The Imperfectly Perfect
Imposter Syndrome and perfectionism go hand-in-hand. As Coach Melody Wilding notes, “People with Imposter Syndrome have unreasonably high expectations of themselves”, leaving them with feelings of inadequacy when they’re unable to complete tasks “perfectly”. A former businesswoman and perfectionist recalls, “I used to think my creations were never good enough, even though my customers loved them. They’d say that others were impressed and would often ask where they bought them from. I’d always think my creations could’ve been better. It took me a while, but I finally started to listen to my customers’ compliments, rather than my self-doubt.”
Remember, perfection can only be attributed to Allah SWT. So go easy on yourself, and know that as long as you’ve worked hard and tried your best, it’s more than enough. It may be helpful to remember this Qur’anic verse:
“And it is Allah’s will to lighten your burdens, for humankind was created weak”. (Surah al-Nisa, 4:28)
Words of affirmation go a long way to quieten the “imposter” voice. Instead of using negative statements like, “I can’t,” or “I’m not good enough”, replace them with the opposite. Take the example of Nadiya Hussain’s powerful speech when she won The Great British Bake Off, “I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say ‘I don’t think I can’. I can and I will.” We’ve all seen how well that worked out, with her fronting cooking programmes and her guest appearances, mashaAllah.
Positive self-talk has many benefits as psychologist Dr Gregory L. Jantz notes, “One of the ways to recognise, promote and sustain optimism, hope and joy is to intentionally fill our thoughts with positive self-talk”. The key here is to centre the positive self-talk around Allah, by adding the phrase “bi idhnillah” (by the permission of Allah) at the end of an affirmation. We know nothing can happen without Allah’s will, so trust in Him to make it possible.
“He [Allah] is with you, wherever you are” (Surah al-Hadid, 57:4)
He always has our back, for He is Al-Wakeel (The Disposer of Affairs).
5. Surround Yourself With Positive People
There’s always that one person (or more) who is a glass half-full type. Observing and interacting with positive people can be inspiring, as Dr Sherrie Bourg Carter explains, “Being ‘infected’ by another person’s happiness or enthusiasm can be a very good thing. Researchers have found that when subjects ‘catch’ positive emotions from others, they’re more likely to be viewed by others and themselves as more cooperative and competent.” With a refreshed mind, the “imposter” thoughts become much more manageable, as long as you remember to steer clear of “Negative Nancies”. This also resonates with the Islamic perspective, as shown in the following hadith,
“The similitude of good company and that of bad company is that of the owner of musk and of the one blowing the bellows. The owner of musk would either offer you some free of charge, or you would buy it from him, or you smell its pleasant fragrance; and as for the one who blows the bellows [ie, the blacksmith], he either burns your clothes or you smell a repugnant smell.” (Sahih Muslim)
As the saying goes, “A problem shared, is a problem halved”. Talk about your struggle to those you’re close to, and more importantly, to those who have your best interests at heart. They’ll help you see things differently. Psychologist Dr Jason Eckerman advises, “When you’re feeling like you don’t belong in these situations, it can be helpful to talk with mentors who are more experienced”.
6. More Than One Imposter?
It might surprise you, but the bombardment of “imposter” thoughts may not always be from yourself. Another sinister entity could be influencing you – none other than the accursed Shaytan, whom Allah describes as the “open enemy” in various chapters of the Qur’an. Hell-bent on your downfall, his waswaas (whispers) prod and poke at your insecurities, inciting you to listen. Of course, the easiest and most effective cure for this is found in the Qur’an, which is beautifully profound in its meaning,
“Say, O Prophet, ‘I seek refuge in the Lord of humankind,
the Master of humankind,
the God of humankind,
from the evil of the lurking whisperer—
who whispers into the hearts of humankind—
from among jinn and humankind.’”
To pray with understanding and conviction will yield the best results. It’ll shoo away the unwelcome “imposter” Shaytan, and leave you feeling calm, making space for positive thoughts. It’s also beneficial to recite Surah al-Nas when Shaytan tries to interfere with your deen. No longer will you feel like you’re not good enough when intending to do a good deed. Instead, you’ll feel energised and grateful that you were able to do it.
7. Seeking Guidance Through Du’a
What better way to ask for help to fight Imposter Syndrome, than to make du’a to Allah SWT? He loves to hear from you, as He mentions,
“Call on Me [Allah] and I will answer you.” (Surah Ghafir, 40:60)
Beseech Allah by reciting His ninety-nine names and especially those that are relevant to your situation, such as Al-Jabbar (The Restorer), Al-Naseer (The Helper) and Al-Wakeel (The Disposer of Affairs). Include du’as for overcoming difficulty, such as the following du’a:
اللهُمَّ لا سَهْلَ إلا مَا جَعَلتَهُ سَهْلا وَ أنتَ تَجْعَلُ الحزْنَ إذا شِئْتَ سَهْلا
“O Allah! There is nothing easy except that which You make easy; and You make the difficult, if You wish, easy.”
And the du’a of Musa (AS) for ease:
رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِنْ لِسَانِي يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي
“My Lord, expand for me my breast [with assurance] and ease for me my task and untie the knot from my tongue, that they may understand my speech.” (Surah Taha, 20:25-29)
These are just some of the ways to fight Imposter Syndrome. Success comes with consistently working hard to banish negative thoughts and actions, patiently persevering through the hard times and ultimately trusting in Allah to get you through. It’s a long road, but it’s worth it. May all those who strive to combat Imposter Syndrome succeed and be left feeling lighter, happier and more confident. Ameen.
Zakerah is a homemaker, based in the UK. She has an English Literature degree, loves to write and enjoys creating modern calligraphy pieces. To relax, she loves nothing better than sitting down with a cuppa to watch anything Interior-Design related.