Are you among the many people who are stuck because they don’t believe in their own accomplishments? Do you feel that you will be ‘caught’ when someone realizes you really don’t know what you are doing? Do you tell yourself that you are not successful, or that the success you’ve had doesn’t count because it’s not real? Are you saying no to success? You are showing signs of the Imposter Syndrome.
According to Wikipedia, the Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It is not an officially recognized psychological disorder and is not among the conditions described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it has been the subject of numerous books and articles by psychologists and educators. The term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978.
There was a time when it was felt that more women suffered from the Imposter Syndrome than men. Unfortunately, time has shown that no one is immune to these feelings. It happens to the writer, to professionals, to politicians, to tradesmen, and to housewives.
Remember when Sally Fields accepted the Oscar with a statement along the lines of, “You like me. You really, really like me! ” Yup. That’s a sign of that Imposter Syndrome. Aw, you say, she’s an actress, she doesn’t count. So how about Albert Einstein who said, “The secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. ” Or Woodrow Wilson when he said, “I use not only all the brains I have but all that I can borrow. ”
What’s that I see? Are nodding your head? Are you an imposter? So am I. There are many of us who often feel that we don’t deserve the praise we receive. Like these highly successful people quoted above, we feel like a fake, despite our successes.
Where does it come from?
Perhaps you came from a home where your caregivers were hyper-critical. You know, the ones who looked at your grade card with four As and a B and focused on the B instead of congratulating your for a job well done. Or, you could have developed impossibly high standards, as in, if it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough. Then there’s luck. Sometimes luck seems to play a strong role in our lives. “I was just in the right place, at the right time.” And if it’s luck, then it can’t be because you worked hard to be in the right place at the right time, that you deserve it, can it?
We are certainly surrounded by things that are fake: false eyelashes, fake trees, fake grass, and more. There are fakes who are found out: a plagiarist, a doctored image, falsified documents, etc. Some of these have legal consequences. We sure don’t want to be in that group! So we hide our fears. And because we hide them from others, we often hide them from ourselves as well.
Signs of Imposter Thinking
What are signs you might be limiting yourself with imposter thinking?
- You diminish your accomplishments by saying something like ‘it wasn’t that big of a deal.’
- You quit your job soon after a promotion that you felt you didn’t deserve.
- You procrastinate on things to be done. If it isn’t done, then you can’t be ‘found out.’
- Insomnia and migraines have been called symptoms of imposter syndrome as well. (Though please, if you are having physical symptoms such as insomnia or migraines, seek medical attention to rule out other causes for those symptoms.)
- Finally, in extreme cases, there are some who take refuge in more destructive behaviors like addiction to alcohol or drugs.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
First, learn more about it from reliable sources like Psychology Today’s The Imposter Syndrome and I Hope Nobody Finds Out. And this one by Judith Beck on Huffington Post, The Imposter Syndrome
The next step is to name it. Recognize your ‘imposter’ behaviors and thinking.
Then begin replacing those scripts you’ve played over and over in your head. Realize that you don’t have to be perfect to be successful. Take in those compliments. Stop the ‘yes, but’ parade. Replace it with a positive statement, “Even though she sold more books than I, I still sold a lot of books.” Focus on your strengths. When you finish a task, look at the strengths you used to bring this project to completion. And know that this isn’t a one-and-done type of thing. You’ll have to practice these new scripts many times.
You’ll find more tips on how to change your thinking in this gallery on How to Break Free from the Imposter Syndrome on Forbes.
Being an Imposter
Hello, my name is Lynette and I’m an imposter. Yes, I’ve felt like a fake most of my life. I tend to self-sabotage. It’s been a longtime habit that I’ve struggled to overcome. I thought I’d done pretty well, until recently when I realized I would not make my writing goals — again.
Then I realized, reaching my writing goals means that I’d have to put my work out there for someone else to read. Scary stuff. Someone might read it and not like it. I know the cure for this one: do not care what someone else thinks. That’s hard for me. I want so badly to be liked.
Whew. That paragraph was hard to write. And because it’s so hard, I’m going to leave it in. I’m not leaving it in as a plea for you to comment and say you like me. I’m leaving it in because it was hard for me. That need, that fear that I won’t be liked because I’m just not good enough, is an eternal struggle for me. Feeling that way is a reminder for me to take off the fear glasses I sometimes use to look at myself and my accomplishments. When I take off the fear glasses and put on the fact glasses to examine what I’ve done, I know I am good enough. You can know it, too. Take off your fear glasses. Face the Imposter Syndrome head-on.
Are there areas of your life where you feel like an imposter? Are you saying no to success? How do you combat it? I am so glad you’re here. Thank you for stopping by. And if you take the extra time to post a thoughtful comment, I thank you even more deeply.
Not caring what someone else thinks is SO hard. I am working on it, but it is not easy. I don’t even have any suggestions, other than keep putting yourself out there. Ugh, right? But I guess the alternative–not doing what you love–is worse.
Great post Lynette!
It amazes me how difficult it is to not care about what someone else thinks. Yes. I think you’re right, the alternative (not writing) is much worse. So, I keep writing. 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Coleen!
I have an entire section of Write It Forward dedicated to this topic as it is the most interesting when I present.
Yes. I’ve been working through my first read of your book Write It Forward. Something I’m certain I’ll have to read again. I’m really enjoying it and finding it full of good sense. I am honored you read my post. Thanks so much, Bob.
This is such a hard piece of work, Lynnette. Ironically, writing my blog helped me alot. I’ve had success at work and as a theapist but as a writer? Hmmm not at all. So blogging helped me feel like a successful writer. And then I heard some negative thoughts and I thought “Why not me?” and that is my new mantra. Why not me?
thanks for a thought provoking post.
You know, Louise, I think you’ve hit two things that are helpful at putting those negative thoughts aside: writing the blog and the feed back from that; and the mantra, “why not me?” Exactly. Why not? An excellent mantra!! Thanks for sharing.
This couldn’t have come at a better time for me since today’s the day my first book is officially out there and I’ve never been so scared in my life. Like Louise I’ve had successful careers so why the icy lump in the belly?
It’s the constant gremlin in my ear that ‘you’re not good enough’ and that’s come from a childhood that wasn’t pretty for much of the time. But I’m taking a leaf out of Louise’s book ‘ Why not me?”
Congratulations, Christine! Why not you? You are an author! Tell those icy lumps and nervous thoughts to look at the facts. You’re published! Great job!
I’m very afraid to succeed. What if it’s a one time fluke? What if I can’t sustain it? What if my next effort is a flop? And my most common one is “well my early stuff isn’t that good. Wait until my new one is out, it will be so much better because I’ve learned so much” which is true, but the early ones were the best I could do at the time. And I have gotten many glowing reviews.
I hear you, Asrai. I feel that way every time I start a new novel. But, look at you. You haven’t let your fear hold you back. You’ve gone forward. And got glowing reviews. Hang on to that! It’ll help through the rough patches!
That’s it, Lynette, I want to read something you’ve written; we all do. So, stop stalling and cough up an excerpt or a short story. 🙂
Aye! Aye! Captain. I have to learn how to put stuff into e-book format. I’m hoping I can do that over the next 6 months (or less, but trying to be realistic since this is my busy season at work.) By then I
hopeplan to have two previously published novellas and a novel soon after that.
Oh Lynette, I can so relate to this. I’m a perfectionist and even though I’ve learned to let some things go, there are some things, like my writing, which mean so very, very much to me that it’s hard to keep that ‘fear of failing’ at bay.
I’m my own work in progress.
Yes. I understand. I am a work in progress, too! Thanks for, commenting Ginger.
Imposter Syndrome… At last I have a name for it. It’s kept me from actually applying for the full time positions I used to work as a temp. It has kept me from actually dressing up in nice clothes or accepting invitations from people I enjoyed talking with…
I’ll be looking into your links. So far, the only upside in this I’ve found is that I desperately try to learn as much as I can about all the things I think I should know to be the person I want to be but never feel I am. So it does support my “forever learning” mentality.
But I have to wonder, if something similar was the cause of Joyce Carol Vincent’s death… 🙁
I hope, Eden, that you are making positive strides forward, and not allowing feelings of being imposter keep you from doing things now. I think a “forever learning” is a fantastic mentality.
Very interesting thoughts about Joyce Carol Vincent. I hadn’t heard of her until you mentioned her. Her story is terribly sad and it does make you wonder what really happened.
Thanks for reading & commenting, Eden!
You know…I’ve found a paradox in dealing with these issues. The reality is that I can’t stop caring what people think of my work because to succeed as a writer the way I’d like to, it’s essential that thousands (ideally, hundreds of thousands) of people think highly enough of what I do so that they’ll buy more books and allow me to keep writing for a living. But what I’ve found, somewhat surprisingly, is how much it helps to have more feedback, not less. Confidence in our work, it seems to me, might be a skill we can learn by more exposure instead of less. Because some feedback is very, very negative and sometimes downright nasty. If I wallowed there, I’d be hiding under the bed right now. And I’ve begun to notice that everybody gets pierced by those arrows, even authors nominated for Pulitzer Prizes! On balance, there’s more feedback that’s positive enough to encourage me to keep going. So after a while, I started to think, “Huh. I guess I need to stop focusing on people who don’t like me and focus on the people who do; how can I find more of them?”
Fantastic comment, Diane. I think you and Louise have found the secret to beating the imposter syndrome. I’ve certainly found I have a lot more confidence thanks to the feedback I get here on the blog. Thanks so much for the comment!
Such an insightful post, Lynette! It drives me bonkers when I hear artist friends downplaying their work. Then, of course, I notice myself occasionally doing it. lol I really try to avoid this habit, because it doesn’t help anyone, or our work. I think we’re also afraid of seeming overly confident or self-absorbed—women in particular. I’m so crazy about writing, that I began proclaiming my career shift loudly. Sharing my work always brings jitters, but making that an exciting part of the process and committing to continual growth helps tremendously. Thanks for inspiring us!