Re­fram­ing the im­poster con­ver­sa­tion

No mat­ter how suc­cess­ful some peo­ple are, they can end up feel­ing like a com­plete fraud at work, says Lau­ren Tay­lor

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Health -

NOV­EL­IST and poet Maya An­gelou once fa­mously said: “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’.”

While Meryl Streep has said: “You think, ‘Why would any­one want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act any­way, so why am I do­ing this?’”

How do you know if you’ve got im­poster syn­drome or just self-doubt?

“Most peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence self-doubt when, say, start­ing a new job or open­ing a busi­ness or do­ing some­thing new,” says Va­lerie Young, au­thor of The Se­cret Thoughts Of Suc­cess­ful Women: Why Ca­pa­ble Peo­ple Suf­fer From The Im­pos­tor Syn­drome And How To Thrive In Spite of It.

“Self-doubt is cer­tainly a part of im­pos­tor syn­drome, but peo­ple who feel like im­pos­tors have a dif­fi­cult time in­ter­nal­is­ing their ac­com­plish­ments. In­stead, they at­tribute them to things like luck, tim­ing or per­son­al­ity.”

As well as feel­ing un­wor­thy of their achieve­ments, peo­ple with a case of im­poster syn­drome of­ten have un­sus­tain­ably high self-ex­pec­ta­tions around com­pe­tence as well.

Young says: “They ex­pe­ri­ence shame when they fail, which, depend­ing on how they de­fine com­pe­tence, can mean any­thing from not know­ing the an­swer to a ques­tion, strug­gling to master a sub­ject or skill, hav­ing to ask for help, to some mi­nor glitch in an oth­er­wise stel­lar per­for­mance.” How does it de­velop? Hilda Burke, psy­chother­a­pist, cou­ples coun­sel­lor and life coach, says im­poster syn­drome traits can be in­grained from child­hood: “Most of us in­herit a script from our par­ents about what we’ll amount to whether ex­plicit or im­plicit. Some may have been en­dowed with the be­lief that they won’t be very suc­cess­ful, that they’re des­tined to just scrape by. If some­one in whom those be­liefs have been in­stilled does go on to earn mil­lions, they might still feel that their suc­cess doesn’t quite fit.”

It can also de­velop later, peo­ple have reached what they thought was the ceil­ing of their ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“The ego holds lim­it­ing be­liefs about one­self; when those be­liefs are shat­tered when we sur­pass what we thought was pos­si­ble for us, that’s when the sense of be­ing an im­poster can creep in,” says Burke.

“It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that what we tell our­selves about who we are, what we are ca­pa­ble of, is cre­ated in our heads.”

Are some groups of peo­ple more likely to suf­fer from it than oth­ers?

“Many men feel like im­pos­tors — some painfully so. I’ve known of en­gi­neers, physi­cians and at­tor­neys [who have im­poster syn­drome],” says Young.

“How­ever, women as a group are more prone to set­ting the in­ter­nal bar ex­ces­sively.

“[There’s] the well-re-af­ter searched ten­dency for girls and women to blame them­selves when they fail or make a mis­take, whereas boys and men, as a group, are more likely to blame fac­tors out­side of them­selves.

“Crit­i­cism is more per­son­alised for many women. Tell a wo­man her work is in­ad­e­quate and what we hear is, ‘I’m in­ad­e­quate’. [But] when­ever you be­long to a group for whom there are stereo­types about com­pet-just ence — whether based on gen­der, race, age, dis­abil­ity — you’re more sus­cep­ti­ble to im­pos­tor feel­ings.”

What can you do to move past it?

Aliya Vigor-Robert­son, co-founder at Jour­ney-HR, sug­gests: “Some­thing as sim­ple as a ‘feel good’ folder, where em­ploy­ees can file all their pos­i­tive feed­back, can make all the dif­fer­ence.”

It’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that what you thought was pos­si­ble 10 years ago may have been true then — but things have changed since, and you’re prob­a­bly ca­pa­ble of far more than you were in the past.

Hilda says: “It’s healthy to keep re­fresh­ing our self-be­liefs. By stay­ing frozen in an old ego state, we deny our­selves [the chance] to re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence what is hap­pen­ing to us in the now.”

Ul­ti­mately though, it’s about chang­ing the way you think. “Peo­ple who don’t feel like im­pos­tors are no more in­tel­li­gent or ca­pa­ble than those who do,” Valarie says. “The only dif­fer­ence between them and us is they think dif­fer­ent thoughts.”

This is good news though, be­cause it means it’s pos­si­ble to change. “Pay at­ten­tion to the im­pos­tor con­ver­sa­tion go­ing on in your head and then re­frame it the way a non-im­pos­tor would,” sug­gests Valarie.

“It’s the dif­fer­ence between think­ing, ‘OMG I have no idea what I’m do­ing!’ And, ‘Wow, I’m re­ally go­ing to learn a lot’.”

SELF CRIT­I­CAL: Women are more likely to blame them­selves for a mis­take than men.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.