You mostly hear people mention imposter syndrome in reference to professional insecurities. Valerie Young, PhD, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, defined it as that "secret belief that deep down we’re not as bright, capable, competent, or talented as other people seem to think we are, and therefore have this fear of being found out," in a previous interview with Refinery29. Turns out, these intrusive thoughts can happen in our romantic relationships, too.
"This is when there's this internal false belief that you're not enough [for your partner]," Moraya Seeger DeGeare, licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-owner of BFF Therapy in Beacon, New York, tells Refinery29. "It's the thought that, 'If I show up as my authentic self, this person is going to reject me and I'm not deserving of this relationship.'" Another common relationship imposter syndrome situation is the feeling that you're not attractive enough for your partner.
This feeling stems from a place of insecurity, DeGeare explains. And it doesn't just hurt your own psyche; it can actively harm your relationship. "Because you have this false belief that you're not enough, you're going to show up differently," she says. "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."
DeGeare gives this straightforward, four-step guide to help you begin to break free from your relationship-related imposter syndrome.
Start to listen to your thoughts
Before trying to change anything, start to notice when you start having imposter-style thoughts, such as "I'm not good enough for my partner" or "I'm not successful enough to support my partner." After you start to pick up on how often those thoughts come up, ask yourself how these thoughts are impacting you and your relationship, DeGeare suggests. Do your fears about being "not enough" cause you to seek validation excessively? Withdraw and become emotionally unavailable? Pick fights?
"We often want to blame a relationship's end on a tangible thing," she explains. "But a lot of times someone is really emotionally unavailable because they haven't done the work to realise what their blocks are to intimacy." And this kind of imposter syndrome is one of those blocks. Start by asking yourself, 'Am I actually available to have a relationship or are my own insecurities going to get in the way and what I'm afraid could happen?'
Practice daily affirmations
Most likely, it will feel awkward and silly at first. But DeGeare says that exercises involving daily affirmations — or some other daily ritual that's designed to help you let go of these negative thoughts — are key to overcoming your imposter syndrome.
Here's an easy way to start: Find a quiet spot, maybe in front of a mirror, and tell yourself that you're enough: that you're a good partner, that you're deserving of your relationship, and that your partner cares for you too. You can speak out loud or recite these affirmations in your head. The important thing is to push past the discomfort and keep it up; it can take time to work.
If you can afford it and have access to it, therapy is a great way to get additional support. "[You need] to get to a place where you can let go of these negative thoughts that say that you're not enough so that you can really show up to a relationship and know 'I'm enough with or without you, I'm enough for this relationship,'" DeGeare explains.
Talk to your partner
So much of relationship imposter syndrome happens in your head. So actually addressing your insecurities directly to your partner can be useful. "Bringing up your fears and allowing [your partner] to comfort you is intimacy," DeGeare says. "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,'" DeGeare explains. "That really helps to battle that."
Worth noting: What DeGeare is suggesting is not asking your partner for reassurances day in and day out. "As you bring it up, you also have to listen to them and accept what they're saying and believe them." Being at a place where you can accept your partner's (or even your friend's or family's) reassurance is essential. If you find yourself asking some variation of "Am I enough for you?" repeatedly because the relief you feel at being reassured only lasts for half a second — you may have more work to do.
We all have our own insecurities, but it's important to recognise when they're actively hurting us and our relationships. Remind yourself that you are enough — even if it sometimes doesn't feel like it.