“I had enormous self-image problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing... I really felt so utterly inadequate.” David Bowie
Numerous people have talked openly about their fears of being found out for being a fraud, struggling to believe they are good enough for the jobs they do. A 2018 survey of over 3000 adults in the UK shows 62% of us have suffered from imposter syndrome.
People who experience Imposter Syndrome often perceive an internal voice whispering (or shouting sometimes) things like:
‘You’re a failure’
‘You aren’t good enough’
‘People are going to find our you’re not good enough at this’
Thoughts like this may be a new experience, but if we dig a little deeper, we may find that this voice has been around since we were young.
Often in my counselling work I will ask clients if they can remember a comment or phrase someone said to them as a child / young adult. I have yet to meet anyone that can’t remember at least one negative comment.
This internal monologue is sometimes out of awareness, and sometimes it is all we can hear. It is a like a constant critical parent voice gnawing away at us, depleting our resources and self-esteem as it goes.
There are other factors that may be at work here too.
Maybe you are a perfectionist and set your goals really high? Making it impossible to achieve them. Even if your results are extremely good, you feel bad for not living up to your own high standards.
Do you think that a real expert would know everything about your role? You’re afraid to ask questions because you think you should already know the answer.
Do you usually think quickly and learns things easily? You might start feeling awkward when you come across something that’s not easy for you to learn.
Do you think you have to do everything by yourself? You may feel that asking for help is the same as saying you have no idea what you are doing.
Do you feel the need to prove yourself in your personal life? Hobbies, parenting, relationships, etc. You take it very hard if you’re not accomplishing what you want in every aspect of your life.
So, how do we overcome imposter syndrome?
We can live in fear of change, failure, new experiences, even ourselves. Or we can embrace these parts of life, fear thrives on us not trusting our resources. When we feel we aren’t good enough to do something what we are really telling ourselves ‘I don’t believe I can cope if this goes wrong, so I won’t do it’ and yet, if we look back in time, we can find many instances where bad things have happened and we have coped, and sometimes even, thrived.
A good perspective to adopt would be to get to a place where you have imposter moments, rather than constantly feeling like an imposter in your own life.
Reframing negative thoughts is a good step towards changing how you feel about you.
‘You’re a failure’ try reframing this to ‘Sometimes I might fail’
‘You aren’t good enough’ = ‘I’m OK as I am!’
‘People are going to find out I’m not good enough at this”
= ‘Does this thought help or hinder me?’
We have thousands of thoughts every single day, and yet we focus on certain ones. The reason for this is that negative events have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones. This bias towards the negative leads you to pay much more attention to the bad things that happen, making them seem much more important than they really are.
Research shows that our brains evolved to react much more strongly to negative experiences than positive ones, to keep us safe from danger. But now, we don’t find ourselves in physical danger as often, so these thoughts very often, just get in our way.
Next time your internal critical voice pipes up, have a go at challenging it and see how your mindset changes. These thoughts are not facts, they are just thoughts,