Cultivating Self-Trust: A Way Out of The Imposter Syndrome
Are you a multi-talented, creative person suffering from anxious, incessant mind chatter? Doubting yourself by saying, ‘you’re going to mess up!’,...
Are you a multi-talented, creative person suffering from anxious, incessant mind chatter? Doubting yourself by saying, ‘you’re going to mess up!’, ‘are you *sure* that’s right?’ or (my favorite) ‘one day you’ll get caught, and everyone will know you’re just a mess!’
That inner voice isn’t an alien phenomenon, but a side effect of being unable to internalize your achievements, aka ‘Impostor Syndrome’.
Do you easily dismiss your intelligence as luck or fraud? Here’s why you shouldn’t…
Impostor syndrome isn’t unique to women, though we experience it more. We’re also not the only ones who experience it. In fact, about 70% of humans do. But we, the creative, multi-talented, high-achievers experience heightened ‘intellectual phoniness’ more often. We find ways to downplay our talents, or struggle with getting caught as imposters, despite proof of our achievements. This internalized fear leads to a cycle – the slightest criticism is *proof* of our incompetence despite our capabilities, and undeniable evidence of our successes.
How many degrees do you have? Distinctions? Praises? Professional recognition? Courses and trainings you’ve undertaken? *Not enough* would be my guess, at least not according to you!
Having imposter syndrome means trying to work with crippling perfectionism, over-preparation, and a tendency to keep yourself small or people-please, while lacking self-esteem to freely share your opinions and safeguard your boundaries.
The truth is – in Tanya Geisler’s words (expert on the Impostor Complex): actual impostors don’t feel like impostors.
From Tanya (who I’ve had the pleasure to attend a talk by on this very subject a few years ago) I also learned that all these traits – perfectionism, people-pleasing, keeping yourself small, etc… – are not always bad. They’re part of our evolution as humans. We want, and need to belong. So depending on the environment we live in they can be life savers.
Issues arise, though, when these behaviors show up to *avoid* feeling like an impostor. When that happens, feeling like a fraud actually gets amplified.
What are the elements of impostor syndrome?
In my life, the impostor syndrome manifested most (and still does sometimes) by telling me I’m a fraud, that I have nothing interesting to say or that I don’t know what I’m talking about. This, paired with the fear of saying something wrong, is the perfect cocktail to keep myself small, take on the opinion of others, people-please and procrastinate. I mean, why would I even try? If I do they’ll find out I’m worthless… The problem is, deep inside I know I have something to contribute.
The impostor syndrome shows up when things matter.
Have you ever feared being found out for how you do the dishes, put on your shoes in the morning, read a book? I haven’t. The impostor syndrome shows up when the opinion of others about your abilities becomes important to you. If you don’t care, *it* doesn’t care.
The way the impostor syndrome manifests in your life will be different to how it manifests in mine, but there are a number of situations in which it’s almost certain to show up:
- Change – Change is constant. It’s the foundation of all things, what allows us to create our own reality, and evolve as humans. It’s also one of the triggers of the impostor syndrome. When trying something new – often at work – or going after our dreams in general, when facing a difficult situation, especially in a higher position, we’re bound to encounter change in how things are done. The impostor syndrome doesn’t like that. At all. That’s why it makes us believe that anyone else who is successful *doesn’t* experience the feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, uncertainty that we’re plagued with when facing change.
- Fear – Achievement always makes us visible. This makes it impossible to protect ourselves from the judgement of others. (Even if we’d love to do that more than anything else.) The potential of being *found out* feels catastrophic to anyone dealing with the impostor syndrome. This translates into fear. The biggest issue – again – is that we believe we’re not good enough. That we’re not ready or don’t have what it takes. “What if I take this job, and I can’t do it?” or “What if I start this project, and I get stuck?” are some of the questions my clients deal with on a daily basis.
- Failure – The conditional nature of society, that credits worth and success to high-achievement, also creates anxiety and doubt. Not achieving exemplary results is associated with incompetence and failure, even when this isn’t the case. You might find it difficult to try new things because of fear of failure, especially if you struggle with the impostor syndrome.
Can we liberate ourselves from the impostor syndrome? If so, how do we get started?
The good news is that, yes, there are ways to learn to recognize, and move passed the impostor syndrome. I’ll get into that in a minute. First, I want to address an important aspect of our culture that I believe influences women (more than men) when it comes to feeling like a fraud: patriarchy and the role we’re meant to play in it.
The patriarchal, white, capitalist culture we live in makes women perform a gender role that is vulnerable to the impostor syndrome. Conditioning primes us for not taking credit for our successes, for being sweet and humble, not too proud of who we are, for staying small, not being too loud, and certainly not wanting too much. Far from the best conditions to teach us how to internalize our achievements, it actually feeds the impostor syndrome the nutrients it needs to grow.
In a way, the impostor syndrome is a symptom of the systemic oppression that patriarchy imposes on us. It’s predominance in work environments where highly qualified women are driven to achieve doesn’t come as a surprise. That’s where the capitalist, patriarchal ethos of endless growth, and success without failure is most present.
Liberation from the impostor syndrome can therefore never be achieved without liberation from our cultural programming: we must stop trying to be what we’re not, and instead get absolutely clear about who we are, and what we believe in.
We must cultivate self-trust.
Acceptance of what is, allowing mistakes, trusting that everything will be OK are all part of the awakening process we must go through.
Being a high-achiever, you might not always embrace imperfection. In fact, if you’re anything like me, chances are you passionately hate it. What I’ve learned is that making mistakes, falling, getting back up, and dusting yourself off, learning and moving forward is all there is.
The moment you’ll finally be good enough.
Waiting until you’re ready.
Succeeding without years of practice, perseverance and shit happening while you’re trying.
None of it is real.
In order to be approved of, and loved, you don’t need to achieve anything. What you need is waking up to the fact that you’re good enough right here, right now. Nobody’s going to find you out, because there’s NOTHING to find out.
If you step into the fullness of who you are, what the world will see is more of your greatness.
It all starts with cultivating self-trust by questioning what you believe about the world, and your place in it. Is what you’re telling yourself *really* true? Are you really the fraud you think you are? Once you’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that, no, you’re not a fraud, and, yes, you’re very capable, a world of endless possibilities will open up for you.
Trust yourself. You’ve got this.