Digital Only: Young Adults
Overcoming Spiritual “Imposter Syndrome”
Do you ever feel like you’re not measuring up? So do I. This is how I have learned to overcome spiritual “imposter syndrome.”
I have a friend who is liberal with compliments. We faithfully emailed each other while we served our missions, and almost every week she’d tell me she hoped to be like me. Every time she said that, I cringed. I appreciated the compliment, but I couldn’t help but feel that if she knew me better, she wouldn’t think of me so highly. In her eyes, I was a missionary of the same caliber as Alma the Younger—in my own eyes, I still had a lot to learn.
My friend didn’t see the parts of my mission where I felt like I fell short. I wanted to be more like her! Imagine my surprise when I learned of her own feelings of inadequacy; she also felt the immense pressure of being a missionary and was too hard on herself when she couldn’t meet her own high expectations.
Sometimes when I’m given a compliment, I assume it’s exaggerated or inaccurate. I feel like my best isn’t enough at times. My little failures hit me hard because they “prove” I’m not good enough. Sometimes I think God is disappointed in me.
Does this sound like you? Having a mindset like this can be caused by “imposter syndrome”: “It is the nagging sense that no matter what you have accomplished, sooner or later someone will discover that you simply are not good enough, that you do not belong, and that your qualifications really are a sham.”1
In a spiritual context, this might mean that you struggle to feel that you belong in the Church and sometimes wonder if you’re as righteous as the people around you. But don’t worry, you’re far from the only young adult who feels spiritually inadequate in life. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we hold ourselves to high standards. However, when we demand immediate perfection, we might feel discouraged and forget our worth and potential as divine children of Heavenly Father.
Overcoming Feelings of Inadequacy with the Lord’s Help
Focusing on these practical tips and principles of the gospel helped me shift my perspective from feeling like I’m not measuring up to feeling like a child of God.
1. Tell others about your feelings
As Sister J. Annette Dennis, First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, taught, “When we seek to empathize with others who also experience challenges and imperfections, it can help them feel that they are not alone in their struggles. Everyone needs to feel that they really do belong and are needed in the body of Christ [see 1 Corinthians 12:12–27]”2
You’d be surprised how many other great people you know have experienced similar feelings at some point in their life.
But we can remind each other of the Savior’s enabling power in our lives. We’re all agonizingly aware of our own imperfections, but Christ knows how we feel—He understands our afflictions, temptations, and pains. Because of His Atonement, He can forgive and empower us to move on from our mistakes as we repent and follow His example.
Sharing your feelings and struggles with others—especially with Heavenly Father through prayer—can help you to feel less alone and help you support others as you strive to follow Jesus Christ and move forward on the covenant path.
2. Praise the positive
Share genuine compliments with others, focusing on character or effort-related compliments instead of things outside someone’s control. Praise their work ethic, kindness, listening abilities, or the comments they make in Sunday School.
Compliment yourself too. You have strengths and successes that you miss because it’s easier to focus on weaknesses and failures. Remember what our Savior has promised us if we come unto Him. As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “I believe the Savior Jesus Christ would want you to see, feel, and know that He is your strength. That with His help, there are no limits to what you can accomplish. That your potential is limitless. He would want you to see yourself the way He sees you.”3
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also taught, “The Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them.”4 Your desires and efforts and divine identity say much more about who you are than any achievement, title, or grade.
3. Change your mindset from perfection to progression
“Perfection is pending,”5 says President Russell M. Nelson. Understanding that perfection doesn’t come in this life can be freeing. Instead, focus on progression. Elder Michael A. Dunn of the Seventy also recently taught us that doing just “one percent better”6 and focusing on small improvements can help us reach our potential.
Quoting Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1926-2004), Sister Michelle D. Craig, Second Counselor in the General Young Women Presidency, calls our desire to be better “divine discontent,” saying that it “leads to humility, not to self-pity or the discouragement that comes from making comparisons in which we always come up short.”7
I would add that there is no such thing as divine despair. If you think that your feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy are humility, you’re misunderstanding what humility is. Humility is holy; despair is not. God wants us to be humble enough to acknowledge our dependence on Him, but He also wants us to see ourselves as what we can become: exalted beings like Him.
4. Study how the gospel applies to you individually
The gospel is for everyone, but it’s also specifically for you. Jesus always showed His love for the one while He was here on earth, and that hasn’t changed. Take the time to read your patriarchal blessing and understand your unique gifts, responsibilities, and blessings. Develop a personal relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ through prayer, scripture study, and attending church. You’ll realize They love you as an individual.
So, if you read this article believing you’re not good enough or you’re not measuring up, please know that your worth is inherent; as sons and daughters of Heavenly Father, we each have divine potential. As President Russell M. Nelson taught: “Your potential is divine. With your diligent seeking, God will give you glimpses of who you may become.”8