By Dr. Perry, PhD
“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” ~Maya Angelou
At one time or another in life, we all have felt that perhaps we were not worthy of the life we have or the praise and recognition we receive from others. You wake up feeling that the shoes you walk in are too big or the suit you wear daily is too large and hangs on you like a child encased in a three-piece suit. You feel you are an imposter in your own life, an unpaid supporting actor playing the part of a successful adult. Research shows that these feeling are quite prevalent among highly successful individuals and has affected at one point or another up to 70 percent of the population. This is not seen as a mental illness but as a reaction to external stimuli that makes one feel unworthy of their lives. At the root of this belief is an unhealthy perception of the life others must lead. We know our deepest disturbing secrets but we only see others from the outside and perhaps the perfect image they present to the other world. We must realize others are just like us with the same or similar troubles, fears and regrets.
The term Imposter Syndrome was first used by clinical psychologist Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. It affects both men and women in all walks of life. It is an over critical view where you see yourself as a phony and an actor in your life. Besides clear external evidence indicating the exact opposite, one lives life believing that at any moment they are going to be exposed as a fraud and undeserving of the success, they have achieved. The internal view of one’s self does not match up with the external view that others see. It is as if one’s inner child is very much aware that there is no way their 5-year-old self could possibly be the boss of a successful corporation.
The impostor experience can manifest itself in different ways. Some common signs are a prevalent fear of failure, the need for perfection in everything one does, overworking, undermining and talking down about yourself and discounting praise from others. People who suffer from impostor syndrome tend to reflect and dwell upon extreme failure, mistakes and negative feedback from others.
If left unchecked, impostor syndrome can limit the quality of a person’s life. A person’s courage to experience new challenges and experiences will become stunted. The fear of failure and constant thoughts that you will be exposed as a fraud will paralyze you from exploring and enjoying your life.
Some manifestations of imposter syndrome are:
You strive for perfectionism so no one finds out you are a fraud. You work harder than anyone else for fear of others discovering you are not worthy of their praise. This hard work often will lead to more accolades and success which in turn leads to more feelings of being an imposter and anxiety that you will be found out. This need to over prepare and overwork to make sure everything is perfect may lead to a person feeling burned out, anxious and depressed.
2. Overwhelming feelings of being a phony
You feel like an actor in your life. You are a people pleaser and like a good actor often times give answers you believe others want to hear. These attempts to please everyone in order to feel good enough increases feelings of inauthenticity.
3. Avoid displaying confidence
You feel less confident in your abilities and intelligence and avoid displaying any confidence in your work. You fear being rejected by others and convince yourself you are less intelligent and are undeserving of your success. You believe it was all luck.
4. Excessive use of charm
You may appear to be using charm to manipulate others. Often individuals with imposter syndrome will use their charm to gain approval and praise from their supervisors or co-workers. Feeling unworthy, you seek out individuals in power to increase your abilities intellectually and creatively. As a result, you may indeed gain more recognition but will end up feeling insecure that this is not based on merit but from the charm you displayed and not your abilities.
Here are some steps that may help to alleviate these feelings of being an imposter in your life:
Accept that you do have something to do with your own success and it is not all luck. Realize that past failures do not make you incompetent or less worthy of your success. All successful people have failed at one point in their lives. You are not defined by your failures but your ability to get over these fallbacks and continue forward. Often time as we look back on our lives we realize that what we saw as a failure was simply life’s way of slowing us down so we wouldn’t miss the opportunity that was ahead of us.
2. Stop comparing yourself to others
It is important to not compare your life to others. We are all unique entities and we handle life experiences and challenges in our own way. The way others have achieved success or the way they live their life does not dictate the road we should take. For example, just because someone you admire is able to be successful at work and portray the perfect home and social life does not mean you are a failure because you may not be married or may not have children. There is no need to follow someone else’s path to success. It is ok to pave your own unique journey in life.
Write down concrete evidence to present to your inner critic that you are worthy of the praise you receive and the life you live. By writing down your accomplishments you will remind yourself that you have worked hard to achieve your success. Also, write down the nice things friends and family say about you to bolster your ego when needed. Learn to accept praise as a gift from the people who truly know you.
4. Support Group
Close friends and family can share life experiences that prove we all have the same hang-ups, fears, uncertainties and failures in life. By having a mentally and emotionally supportive group of people to rely on you will feel less isolated and know that others feel just like you.
5. Read Biographies
Take some time and read the life stories of others. Often times we only see the outward success and fail to realize that successful individuals are human just like us. By reading about their internal fears and doubts you will see that they are just like you and have the same feelings of self-doubt arise from time to time. Many of the world’s great leaders and thinkers did not always know what they were doing 100 percent of the time but they managed to overcome their fears and attain success.
6. Seek help
If the feelings associated with imposter syndrome are having a negative impact on your daily life it is important to seek help. Often times the fear of being exposed as a phony may lead to the experience of crippling anxiety and depression. You do not have to face this challenge alone and with the help of a qualified mental health professional, you can learn effective ways to challenge these thoughts as they arise.
It is important to acknowledge feelings that we are not good enough and understand that these thoughts are not uncommon. Everyone at some point or another feels this way and it may be part of internal growth. The discomfort we face when experiencing a new life challenge is a signal that we are entering a new area where growth is needed.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to share in the comments section below.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. This post is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis but for educational purposes only. If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation to work with me on your mental health please click here.
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