Does this post’s title send chills up your spine, give you a headache, or roil your stomach? You are not alone. Many people have moments of Imposter Syndrome in which they feel an intense sense of inadequacy for the task at hand. Dread. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Such times can propel you to your greatest achievement—ever. Or they can demoralize you to the point of inaction toward your dreams, visions, and goals.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is the fear you are not as competent as others believe you are. You are certain that, at any moment, someone will find out about you, figure you out, and you will b crushed under the humiliation. Past and current achievements, however stellar, are not enough proof of your capabilities. You believe your success results from luck or an error in judgment by the other party. A dichotomy of imposter syndrome is you crave external validation in whatever form of recognition is available while living with a debilitating fear of ineptitude. You have worked hard but cannot accept that you contributed to your success. Praise from others feels unnerving as you may question their judgment or motive, unable to hear their honesty in sharing with you. Raises. Awards. Other forms of recognition. They feel unattainable at the outset and embarrassing at the conclusion.
Where does imposter syndrome come from?
Family dynamics and early childhood experiences often start the imposter syndrome ball rolling. Little or no praise for doing well, coupled with punishment for inadequate performance, cement the belief that one’s abilities are lacking. Important people such as parents/caregivers, teachers, school peers—bullies, conformity pressure—employers/coworkers may all contribute to low self-esteem and fear of humiliating failure. We live in a culture that values perfection based on perpetually shifting definitions and representations. Add in social media and innate shyness, and the ball grows exponentially until a person’s identity becomes entangled with performing according to the demands of others rather than being who they are. In 2019, a research project found that imposter syndrome is prevalent across gender roles and ethnicity but suggested more arduous experiences in educational and workplace environments.
Imposter syndrome invades your life when you are facing different responsibilities or decisions. Facing unfamiliar territory can evoke fear and anxiety in anyone. When your lived experience includes factors named above, imposter syndrome can become quite strong and difficult to undo.
What does imposter syndrome look like?
In the throes of imposter syndrome, you have difficulty deciding your best option, which can add frustration to your already uncomfortable situation. You second-guess your options with self-doubt and fear of the wrong choice in a fatalistic manner. There are no both/and choices—only either/or, both of which could be the wrong one. Fear of failure leads to the self-sabotage behavior of lack of follow-through on commitments to yourself and to others. “I am not enough” is a major message, so you perpetually look for more of what you believe you lack to be on equal footing with others—education/training, credentials, overworking. But none of these achievements are ever enough.
Conversely, you may strive for years to convince others of your abilities, while existing in a place where you are afraid their assessment of you may be correct. The more accomplished you became, the more they punished you with ever increasing and more unrealistic expectations. In situations where you suffered substantial loss such as integrity, credentials, and therefore, career, bouncing back may require immense courage and energy. You may be in a state of bewilderment coupled with anxiety and depression.
So, how do you claim your life and live and work in harmony with yourself and others?
Loosening the grip of imposter syndrome is challenging and well-worth the effort and time. Self-compassion is a must. Like everyone else, you are a human with wants and needs, and who makes mistakes. Own responsibility if necessary and deal with consequences as required.
Commit to a time every day if only for five minutes for the following journaling exercise. Consistency will keep your mind on your goal: To the extent possible, to mitigate the occurrences and effects of imposter syndrome in your life.
- You may want to use your regular journal or decide on a dedicated notebook. The project here can be extensive. You can use this approach anytime imposter syndrome enters your life;
- You will make five lists, in the order shown;
- What scares me about moving forward with this project or decision? What are all the reasons you believe you will fail? What will happen if you are unsuccessful;
- What are my qualifications? Include education/training; certifications/licenses; personal and professional development; innate skills honed or enhanced. Are your skills adequate? Why or why not;
- What are my achievements? Details. Details. Details. For example, “finished a short race,” becomes “trained for a year and completed a 5k race—my first ever!” Notice the difference in the power of the two statements;
- What did it take for me to accomplish my successes in Item (c).
- Internal fortitude, such as willingness to try something new, belief in myself at the time;
- Innate skills, such as organization of people, people, data, logistics, information, math, writing, etc.; Learned skills also are important;
- Ability to work autonomously or within a team or both together seamlessly;
- Diplomacy, ability to deescalate volatile situations;
- Critical thinking. Problem-solving, macro-picture, micro-picture perspectives.
- Focusing on lists #3 and #4, write how you can use the skills involved in your past successes to apply to your current decision or project. Look for unusual ways to combine skills and credentials;
- Celebrate all the successes you identified, regardless of how insignificant they seem or how someone else responded. The reactions of others do not eradicate your achievement. Smile, laugh, sing, dance, and cheer as you reread them;
- Assess your comfort level for safety. If you feel comfortable, discuss your situation and experience with someone you trust. Reach out for professional help if necessary.
Imposter syndrome is an internalized belief system of feeling inadequate and vulnerable. The possibility of ridicule, discounting, blaming, and shaming limit how, when, and with whom sufferers discuss their fears. Imposter syndrome symptoms may range from mild discomfort to debilitating emotional distress. With time and practice, you can harness and leverage this phenomenon to help you turn your visions into a fulfilling life.
Author bio: Billie Wade is a writer living in central Iowa. She is the creator and founder of Journaling to Heal, a program she designed to help people as they travel their journey of healing from emotional stress and trauma. Her background, education, and experience enhance her innate compassion and reverence for other human beings. She shares her strength and wisdom on www.journalingtoheal.com.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org