When delivering a talk recently I asked the audience to guess which actress said the following:
“Why would anyone want to see me in a movie, and I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this”?
There were gasps of shock when I revealed that Meryl Streep, one of the greatest and most awarded actresses of all time, had said this.
Many high profile and successful women have spoken about their feelings of being exposed as not good enough. Among them the world famous author Maya Angelou and Oscar winning actress and director Jodie Foster.
In my clinic, Susan*, a highly regarded lawyer who had been awarded a national leadership position, began sessions with me, due to her stress at feeling inadequate and the enormous emotional energy it took for her to ‘keep up the pretence’ that she is as good as her reputation. The facts were – she was that good but she just couldn’t believe it. I see many clients, mainly women, who experience these very un-comfortable and frequent feelings which often spill over from work and mess up other areas of life too.
If you feel like this, you are not alone. Studies have shown that up to 70% of people have experienced significant fears about being a fraud and being found out. The term was first coined in 1978 by psychology professor Pauline Rose Clance and psychotherapist Suzanne Imes in their paper, “The Impostor Phenomenon Among High-Achieving Women.”
Since then, there have been many studies dedicated to understanding and coping with the Impostor Syndrome and it has been found to affect people at all levels of success, age, occupation and affects both males and females.
Now, to add a bit of balance here, unless you’re a complete tunnel- visioned narcissist, it’s perfectly normal to have some self- doubt and uncertainties from time to time. With a healthy mind and positive emotions, these contemplations can help to motivate you to improve, get support, make a better decision or just get on with the task. These outcomes produce feelings of satisfaction.
*Name changed to protect identity
If you are suffering from the Imposter Syndrome however, you are much more likely to:
1. Have difficulty with internalizing your own accomplishments, and attribute external factors eg. luck, other people, right place at the right time etc
2. Feel that you don’t deserve your success and fail to acknowledge, your skills, abilities, creativity and dedication and the direct contribution of your assets to your own success.
3. Find it difficult to accept compliments, and brush them off or minimize recognition. Giving the “ oh, it wasn’t that big a deal” response.
4. Feel stress, anxiety, fear and dread and fail to enjoy your successes.
5. Over achieve – this is where perfectionism rears it’s “impossible to achieve” head, ensuring that you never feel satisfied no matter how good the result of your efforts. The bar always seems higher than your achievements. Your mind creates this elusive, unachievable ideal.
6. Underachieve – too afraid to try, insecurities rule your world.
7. Have trust as an issue.
The paradox here is that we (consciously or unconsciously) use Imposter Syndrome thinking “ I’m not good enough, they’ll find out I’m a fraud” as an armour to protect us from being hurt or criticized by others, whilst in reality the very process ensures that we will be criticized and undervalued where it really matters most – by ourselves.
So, what can we do? Here are some tips.
Remember that some self -doubt is normal, and if you experience it, use it as an opportunity to get clarity and create growth and learning. Imposter Syndrome, on the other hand, keeps you in a stuck state. Say to yourself when the doubt rises “this is an opportunity to get clear”.
Acknowledge the value you are bringing to the situation. This is not all about the doing. For example you might add encouragement to the team/client, or wisdom from your experience. Write down these values. Chances are that you have previously dismissed them in your rush to do do, do perfectly.
Have awareness of the thoughts that you are thinking that cause you to be miserable or stressed – 90% of our happiness and satisfaction is linked to our internal thoughts. Most Imposter Syndrome sufferers have faulty thinking about themselves, and ignore or minimize the positive evidence from measureable results, colleagues and clients.
Develop an appreciation mindset. What do you appreciate in others. What do they appreciate about you? What’s going well in the day/project. Training your thinking positively will stimulate more ’positive’ brain neurochemistry and enhance satisfaction as well as performance.
Focus on your wellbeing and revitalization and be willing to bring uplifting energy to others and to YOU.
Tric Gibson is a Psychologist, Speaker, Corporate Trainer and Presenter who specializes in helping women revitalise their connection with their authentic self so you can avoid burnout and have the relationships, careers and love YOU choose. Tric consults at the Park Road Medical Centre in Brisbane and can be contacted on 0407 876 867 or firstname.lastname@example.org.