Firstly, some explanations. Wat even is imposter syndrome? Well frankly, it’s not something that everyone will experience every day. Some people only experience it at certain points in their life. Some will have it every waking moment. At it’s bare-bones, Imposter Syndrome is best described as a deeply held belief that you are simply not good enough, nor up to scratch, for the task at hand.
It can sneak into all areas of a person’s life and creep up on them, niggling away in the background, telling them that they’re going to be found out. Or it can simply hide in the shadows and wait until we go for the big job interview. Some people find it drives a lot of their behaviour and they work twice as hard as everyone else just to prove their worth; some people hide away from every challenge going as a sure-fire way of not failing.
If this sounds like you, read on.
Where did it come from?
So, imposter Syndrome, as with a lot of mental health difficulties has its roots in childhood. It tends to become clear when we consider how a person was made to feel about themselves growing up with regards to academic achievement, sporting prowess, or when they got the most affection from their parents (e.g. only when they did well in school).
It sort of sends this message that “You are only good enough when you are achieving”, or “if you’re not doing well at something then you are not good enough”.
A bunch of stressed out over-achievers striving to climb another rung on the ladder of winning the approval of our inner critics.
Doesn’t this come with a few perks, though?
Well, on the surface it doesn’t seem so bad. Some people do very well from this. They work late, start early, strive for success and refuse their annual leave. They probably will have a big house and nice car.
But what happens when they don’t do well or their efforts are overlooked? Take it from me, it’s not pretty.
Imposter Syndrome leaves a gaping vulnerability in a person’s armour. Either they strive hard for success and fall down when they don’t reach their standards, or, they simply don’t try altogether and shy away from every challenge. If they don’t try, they can’t fail, right?
So, although yes there certainly are some perks – show me someone with imposter syndrome who is happy with who they are. I challenge you!
What can we do about it?
Well, the first step is to acknowledge it’s there. To be gentle with yourself for it did not come from you; rather the messages you received when growing up. We often learn it from our parents, carers, teachers, society, and peers.
Step 2 is bringing about a critical analysis about how useful this is for you right now. Obviously, a good work ethic and dedication has its uses; but how is this serving you right now? Is this getting you to where you want in life? Are you satisfied with all areas, or have you put too many eggs in one basket?
Step 3: Challenging the unhelpful thoughts and feelings you may have about yourself with regards to being adequate. If one of your rules in life is: “I must work hard else I am a failure”, ask yourself – would I wish this rule on someone I care deeply about? Does this feel like a good way to live one’s life? Would I wish this for my children?
Step 4: Ask yourself how you would like to live instead. What would work for you and your wider circle? What would make you happy? We don’t have to give up our careers and live in a shack, but perhaps somewhere in between.
Step 5: Prove it to yourself. Probably the most difficult but most rewarding thing I have witnessed in people who want to make change. They challenge these unhelpful beliefs head on. They will live their life differently. They prove to themselves that they can. They reap the rewards, and yes – they might experience guilt, shame, or lapses along the way, but they understand the necessity of doing so. You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, after all.
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