What Gives Me the Right to Be Here? The Imposter Syndrome
How often have you “should” on yourself? If you have ever experienced impostor syndrome, you’ve probably “should” on yourself quite a bit. According to a KPMG study, “Seventy-five percent of executive women report having personally experienced impostor syndrome at certain points in their career.”
“There are so many more talented people who should be doing what I am doing.”
“I’m a fake.”
“I don’t want my boss to figure out they made a mistake in hiring me.”
“I should work harder.”
“I’m not worthy.”
“I shouldn’t be here.”
It’s so easy to blame or condition yourself into believing that you shouldn’t have the job you have or the family you’re raising. You keep telling yourself you don’t deserve your partner or significant other. Too often, you cling to the idea that your success is because you are lucky and not because you’re talented, intelligent, and hardworking.
People who experience impostor syndrome (IS) often succumb to the idea that they aren’t worthy of their position. You become stuck in a vicious cycle and it’s hard to see any way out of it. What you may not know is that IS is built and nurtured within the confines of your subconscious mind. It’s created by your personal experiences, societal ethos, and the wash and repeat stories saturating your conscious and subconscious mind.
First, let’s define IS and look at what effects it has on people’s lives. Impostor syndrome is the belief that you aren’t deserving of your success. It is doubting your ability and believing you are a fraud. It’s a deep-rooted psychological thought process in which a person struggles with the notion that they don’t deserve the success they are experiencing. And sadly, most people who experience IS suffer in silence.
Impostor syndrome exists within a cycle, a pattern that will keep occurring unless there is disruption in the person’s mindset. This vicious cycle is insidious, and it plays to the lowest denominator in your thinking. First it begins with feeling unworthy. I don’t deserve this. Once that thought has been anchored, next it shifts into the fear of people discovering that you are a fraud. If people really knew the truth…. Then you will compensate and engage the perfectionist within you. I must do this perfectly, no mistakes; I have to prove my worth. In time, you will experience success but consider it conditional. What are they seeing that I don’t see? Finally, when you are celebrated, or people begin to note your worth, anxiety sets in. How am I going to keep this up? Ultimately, when the next project or promotion comes around, the cycle starts all over again.
This isn’t an easy thing to just overcome. We are talking about generations of an ideology that suppresses the belief that you are good enough, not to mention the cultural bias that exists. Some minority groups have been found to be notably vulnerable to IS. When you differ in any way from the majority of your peers, be it by race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or other characteristics, it can perpetuate and heighten the sense of being a phony. But, let’s not boil this down to a single person’s actions or reactions that create IS. Imposter syndrome can also be perpetuated in social or cultural settings. This is best stated by Andrea Salazar-Nuñez, PhD, who said, “There are ways to build resilience to impostor syndrome, but there are also real changes that need to be made to address equity. The problem isn’t necessarily the person; it can also be the setting or culture.”
It’s a constant internal battle that requires the right tools and armor for the war perpetuated in your head. Even though IS isn’t an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, psychologists and others in the field acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt which often leads to depression and anxiety. Thankfully, there are different thought processes and tools to manage impostor syndrome.
What are some ways to work on, and manage IS? Below are some helpful strategies.
Celebrate your accomplishments while letting go of perfectionism.
People who struggle with IS tend to brush off their achievements. They downplay the work it took or the personal sacrifices they made to achieve their success. If someone congratulates you, allow yourself to take it in; don’t move on too fast or brush what they say to the side. You did it, and they saw you. Pay attention to what words you use and how you respond to them. Try to be positive in your answers. Take a moment to reflect on what you did in a positive way. Whether you published a paper, gained a client, solved a problem, received positive feedback, or got a new credential, take time to celebrate yourself. Seeing yourself through other people’s eyes and recognizing your accomplishments can help you internalize your victory.
Recognizing small victories can build upon the foundation you create in managing impostor syndrome. Nothing is perfect—nothing! When you tweak your idea of perfection and adjust your standards, it makes it easier to internalize your accomplishments. Focus on the progress you made instead of the overarching perfection you needed. Failure isn’t really failure; it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s hard to let go when you are a perfectionist, but in letting go of the idea that perfection needs to be the outcome, you can learn to be okay with “good enough.”
Have self-compassion and be okay with sharing your failures.
When you have self-compassion, you use mindfulness to move away from an external point of personal value to an internal focus of who you are. Recognizing the internal power of self-compassion can help you let go of perfectionism. Give yourself grace when you feel those familiar feelings of being an impostor. Take credence in how you deal with them. Recognize the fear and anxiety associated with impostor syndrome and learn how to respond. Having self-compassion is working on mindfulness. Be aware of how you react and where it takes you, emotionally and mentally. It is the energy you give to your feelings that creates value in them. When you consciously work to keep your self-talk positive, it can bring about physical and mental changes within you and your environment. It’s important to remember that your accomplishments are not what creates your value. You are more than your role, job, position, or title. Therefore, when you hear other people talk about their failures and their feelings about being a fraud, it creates an authentic connection between people. It helps you feel like you are not alone. Most people like to feel like they belong. When people communicate about experiencing impostor syndrome, or they create a space to dive into what failure is or means to them, it helps solidify that none of us are alone.
Learn the facts and talk about your feelings.
As with all negative emotions, one of the best ways to manage the feelings that come with impostor syndrome is to identify and address the mental prejudices contributing to them. Try sharing your feelings with others. It can reduce loneliness and also create a space for others to share what they see in you. However, be mindful of with whom you share your feelings. Make sure they’ve earned the right to hear about them. It can be helpful to connect with people in encouraging communities who can provide support, validation, and empathy for navigating the feelings associated with IS.
“It’s important to remember that your accomplishments are not what creates your value. You are more than your role, job, position, or title.”
Talk to mentors or seek professional help
Seek out a mentor to help you recognize that your impostor feelings are both normal and irrational. When you can go and get the feedback you need, it creates a trust between you and your mentor and gives vulnerability a space to exist. Sharing your feelings. Letting them out and having someone who can validate where you are in processing or managing your feelings is transforming. However, sometimes IS has rooted so deeply in your subconscious that you may need to seek out professional help. You may have tried everything, but still, you are struggling. You just can’t shake those feelings. There is nothing wrong with reaching out for professional help. Therapy is yet another avenue that may help you understand where your feelings are coming from and how to compartmentalize or come to terms with imposter syndrome.
Managing your feelings of being an impostor isn’t an overnight transformation or one-hit wonder. Those impostor feelings are so deeply rooted within your subconscious that it will take time. It takes a lot of mental and physical work to live consciously. But remember, you are a work in progress. Growth isn’t something that happens in a vacuum or exists in one doable action. It’s important that you don’t get discouraged or flip the switch to negative self-talk when you take two steps forward and one step back. Every day you build upon the achievements from the day before. Try not to marginalize small victories, but instead, build your foundation upon those moments of true growth—and don’t look back! Eventually you will find your groove. And as you chip away at the lifecycle of IS, you will discover that the power to rise above the self-chatter existed within you all along.
Watch this great session from the 2021 BRMConnect Conference on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome by Nicole Eltom of TELUS.
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