The Imposter Syndrome

Know your worth

The Imposter Syndrome - Enough is Enough

By Emma Berry, Monday 17th of December 2018

I recently read an amazing story about a shy man, who was feeling anxious and awkward at a party. When asked, he confided that, compared to the others in the room, he didn’t think he had accomplished much in his life and so would never be of interest to the others there. When the person reassured him that actually, being the first man to walk on the moon would, for the vast majority of us, seem like an impossible achievement, he still wouldn’t have it.

Imagine that? You’re Neil Armstrong, for goodness sake, and you still feel like a fraud!

But that's the thing with the Imposter Syndrome – it really doesn't matter who you are, or what you’ve achieved – many of us can and do fall into its icy grip.

Much was made recently about the seemingly fearless Michelle Obama saying that even she still suffers from it. According to some sources, a whopping 70% of us will experience some form of this in our lives.

So, why does this happen to so many of us, including those who have often been, in the eyes of others, an outstanding success?

There are several theories to explain why this happens. 

One is that it has much to do with our childhood experiences – being rewarded and applauded for academic prowess over other qualities such as kindness, patience, curiosity and playfulness can mean that we grow up with a feeling that life success is determined by intellectual rigour or excelling in relation to those around us.

Another is that we have somehow allowed a normal drive for perfection to get out of hand – this is actually named ‘maladapted perfectionism’ where essentially nothing we do ever seems to be good enough. This features certain unhealthy habits such as setting ourselves unattainable goals, or constantly polishing what we have already done to ensure it’s of the highest possible quality, working ever harder and driving ourselves into the ground in the pursuit of ‘excellence’ to stay out of the danger zone of criticism or failure.

A third one is that sometimes we are subject to an unhealthy working environment.  A climate where there is a lack of what Teresa Amabile calls ‘nourishers’ – the small things which encourage and reassure us on a daily basis – operating in a world where these don’t feature can mean that our own personal insecurities are constantly being reinforced. 

For example, a simple ‘well done’ can work wonders when somebody habitually tortures themselves over their perception that they are not good enough to be there in the first place, or that they have simply been lucky thus far. Any burgeoning sense of self belief and confidence can quickly be eroded by a culture of blame, criticism and judgment. We also should be careful of entering working environments where unhealthy practices such as excessive hours are not just ignored, but at times, positively encouraged.

So – what can we do about this? Here are five simple habits to use which could help?

  1. Consider what you have achieved already – It will be a great deal. Write it down, leave your humility at the door and reflect on how you have moved forward in your own life and in that of others. How risks you have taken have paid off…when we start to truly see what we have already done and are capable of doing in the future, begin to genuinely believe that we are already ‘good enough’, then our inner voice is quietened, and regularly reflecting on this creates a familiar pathway for our brain to go down again when experiencing doubt or fear.
  2. Look at your language – become familiar with what your mind usually tells you and start to work with it to provide a new and different dialogue. Adopt the language of Carol Dweck – I can’t do this yet, becomes the key word. Doesn’t mean you will never be able to.
  3. Don’t take yourself so seriously – start to get amused by some of the outdated, repetitive patterns you’re allowing to get in your way.
  4. Connect to a purpose that is more meaningful than you – think about what you’re really interested in and passionate about, and major in that..
  5. Consider the effect you’re having on others – don’t role model your paranoia and create others in your image. Watch your impact - use encouragement rather than judgement. Tolerance and kindness make for great leaders.

Essentially from these, the 5 key questions to ask are:

  1. What have I already achieved and what am I capable of doing?
  2. What is actually true about what my mind tells me?
  3. How can I finally lose these fears, grow up and focus on something more worthwhile than my outdated, incorrect self- absorption?
  4. What am I actually for, in this world, in this life?
  5. What harm am I causing others by allowing this to continue?

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

When you think about it, the word for this syndrome is right – it is an imposter and it has no right to drive our behaviour and hold us back – so let’s decide right now that enough is enough. In every sense.