Maybe you’re familiar with the anxiety that shows up when you start to wonder how long it will take before someone “catches on to you”. You can’t help but feel like you “have them all fooled”, but are convinced that before long someone will realize that you are not as competent as they had believed.
If this has been your experience, you are not alone. An estimated 70% of people struggle with this at some point in their lives according to this article in the International Journal of Behavioural Science.
WHAT IS IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
Impostor syndrome, is not really a syndrome or a medical diagnosis, but you’ve likely heard of this phenomena. These painful thoughts and emotions often lead people strive for perfection, set unrealistic goals and feel paralyzed by negative judgements and self-doubt.
It was initially defined by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. Through this work, Clance noticed that struggling with profound feelings of self-doubt can lead to anxiety and low self-confidence.
In a more recent book, Unlocking Your Authentic Self, the author Jennifer Hunt, notes that “people with impostor syndrome under value and under appreciate their own skills and talents”
Women (and men!) who struggle with impostor syndrome may feel like they are always wearing a mask and hiding their more authentic selves.
Valerie Young, author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women” notes that people who struggle with impostor syndrome can have trouble putting their thoughts and feelings into perspective. They magnifying their view of themselves and their mistakes and fail to recognizing that others make them, too.
To make things worse, people who struggle this kind on negative self-judgement will also attribute often their successes to luck or other factors beyond their control.
Talk about a no win situation!
In her work with people struggling with impostor syndrome, Young created a ‘rule book’, helping people to identify the unconscious rules in their mind that they hold themselves to in order to feel competent. These rules tend to begin with “should,” “always,” or “never.”
Which of these ‘rules’ do you identify with?
These rigid rules and fixed ways of responding can keep us stuck in unworkable, draining behaviours. These behaviours persist, because in the short term they serve a function; perhaps they decrease our anxiety or silence our inner critic. However, in the long term they lead us to increased emotional pain and exhaustion.
Wonder if you are experiencing Impostor Syndrome? ,
Take the quiz here .
HOW TO COPE WITH IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
Feelings of never being good enough and not measuring up not only impact the workplace, but can spill over in to your relationships and home life. A 2019 study published by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology found that employees who experience persistent thoughts of feeling like a fake were emotionally drained and struggled to maintain family and work demands, even though they were highly accomplished individuals.
This is because it is emotionally exhausting and discouraging to feel stuck struggling to measure up. rapped in this way of thinking and judging yourself,ese unworkable ways of responding, you can easily become exhausted, discouraged and stuck. There is evidence pointing to a connection between impostor syndrome and burnout, and in my work with women at my counselling practice, I see this happening for many women; from stay-at-home moms to all kinds of professions .
1)Notice how you feel
According to Dr. Jennifer Hunt, people that struggle with impostor syndrome may have a harder time with emotion regulation. She states that people internalize their emotions and believe them to be 100% true rather than recognizing them as temporary and changeable. They may be prone to holding onto thoughts and feelings from the past, overthinking, forecasting into the future.
This reminds me of ‘The Sushi Train’ metaphor by Russ Harris.
The better we get a noticing our emotions, naming them and allowing them to come and go in their own good time, the less emotional energy we expend on trying to fix or get rid and the less impact they have on us.
Try: Keeping a journal to help you connect your thoughts, emotions, body sensations and how you have been coping with them. Here is a journalling page to get you started.
2)Notice your Inner Critic
When was the last time you heard from your inner critic? You know, that voice in your head that constantly judges you, puts you down and compares you to others. The one that tells you you’re not good enough or smart enough and says things you would never dream of saying to another person.
Now you may think this inner critic, while annoying, is relatively harmless. But this is simply not the case. This inner critical voice limits you and stops you from living the life you truly desire. It hinders your emotional well-being and, if left unchecked, can even lead to depression or anxiety.
Here are some ways you can silence that inner critic and stop beating yourself up.
Give it Attention
That’s right, in order to gain control over your inner critic you have to know that it exists. Most of our thinking is automatic. In other words, we don’t give our thoughts much thought. We barely notice a critical thought has passed. Give attention to your thoughts, all of them. This will help you recognize the critical voice.
Here are some emotional clues the critic has reared its ugly head: whenever you feel doubt, guilt, shame, and worthlessness. These are almost always signs of the critic at work.
Separate Yourself from Your Inner Critic
Your inner critic is like a parasite, feeding off you. You were not born with this parasite but acquired it along the way. Your inner critic hopes it can hide and blend in, and that you’ll think ITS thoughts are your own.
You have to separate yourself from this parasite. One way to do that is to give your critic a name. Have fun with this naming. You could call your inner critic anything from “Todd” to “Miss. Annoying Loudmouth.” It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you learn to separate it from your authentic self.
4) Face the REAL Reality
Are you someone that generalizes your self-criticisms? By that I mean, do you make generalities about yourself such as, “I’m an idiot,” when you make a mistake? The truth is, we all make mistakes from time-to-time, and this mistake does not make you an idiot. The sum of who you are is greater than this mistake.
If you’re going to work on stepping out from the grip of impostor syndrome, you need to first recognize that you might be keeping yourself stuck with these generalities.
To see this more clearly, make a list of 10 of your strengths and 10 weaknesses.
When you’re done making this list, ask yourself if any of these things are true about you 100% of the time. I bet not. Remind yourself that these are behaviours you can choose to engage in (or not) but they don’t define you. That way, you can choose to respond more flexibly rather than out of these generalities.
4) Practice self-compassion
If you want to defeat an enemy, you need to have a powerful ally on your side. It’s important at this juncture to create an even more powerful inner voice. One that is on your side and acts as your BFF.
To create this new voice, respond to yourself the way you would to a good friend or someone you love very much. Acknowledge that this is a difficult moment and that it is painful. Offer yourself some kind, encouraging words.
Life is short. To have the most fulfilling one possible, we have to stop wasting time on beating ourselves up.
To learn more about self compassion, check out some of my other blogs on the topic.
If you are struggling with impostor syndrome, anxiety or self doubt and need support and guidance, don ‘t hesitate to reach out. I offer free 15 minute consultation appointments so we can make sure we’ll be a good fit. All of my appointments are being done online through a secure video platform or by phone for people who live anywhere in Nova Scotia.
Marcy is a Clinical Social Worker in Halifax, NS who specializes in helping women who are feeling like impostors develop new ways to see themselves and find balance in their lives. If you’d like to book a free 15 minute consultation with Marcy click here. Or call (902) 702-7722 to schedule.