How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Imagine constantly being afraid you’ll be discovered as a fraud even though others see you as a success. That’s the root of a condition called imposter syndrome. It affects men and women from all walks of life. In fact, if you experience it, you’re in famous company. Award-winning actor Michelle Pfeiffer has been quoted as saying, “I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a big sham.” She isn’t alone. Albert Einstein, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and best-selling author Neil Gaiman have all claimed to feel the same way.

Plagued by Doubt

After many years of planning and working for an interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a career journalist was informed that she’d landed her dream interview. She had several reactions: euphoria, disbelief — then self-doubt. “What if they made a mistake and you aren’t competent as a writer?” she asked herself. “What if you let people down? What if you freeze?” Her response was, “You wouldn’t have been tapped to do this if you hadn’t proven yourself.” Two weeks later, she sat in the presence of the man who embodies compassion. In the nearly seven years since, she’s written several pieces about the experience. She’s said she still isn’t certain that she hasn’t fooled readers.

Origin and Impact

Self-doubt can come from external comparisons to siblings or peers. When pressured to succeed despite long odds, some people rise to the occasion but feel inside that they barely made it. Those who struggle with this condition don’t internalize their accomplishments. Inner doubts speak louder than the truth. Children who grew up in families where addiction was present might be more prone to this problem. Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, coined the term “Imposter Phenomenon.” She’s said those who experience it, including herself, believe their success comes from “mysterious fluke or luck, or great effort,” not because of their ability. They fear they can’t repeat their achievements. She created the Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale to determine the phenomenon’s level of impact.

How to Silence Your Inner Critic

If you experience these feelings, they don’t have to inhibit your success or keep you from enjoying it. The following steps can help you put your self-doubt into context:

  • List your achievements. They can be small — such as tying your shoes — or large —such as entering recovery and sustaining sobriety.
  • Consider the steps it took for you to achieve your successes.
  • Have a written or spoken conversation with those fearful voices.
  • Imagine accomplishing your goals. How does it look, feel, smell, taste, and hear to have what you want? Repeat until this visualization feels ingrained.
  • Take credit for your achievements. Thank people who compliment you.
  • Practice bragging. Acknowledge at least one talent a day. It could be as simple as saying, “I know how to whip up a wonderful dessert.” It might be less intimidating to do this privately.
  • Exude confidence, even when you don’t feel it. Embody the feeling you want to have. The mother of the journalist used to advise her to “Walk in like you own the joint” – with head held high, making eye contact, and offering a firm handshake.
  • Re-write your script. What have you been taught about success? How would you like to feel about it? If you were someone else, would you see yourself as a success?
  • When you receive constructive criticism, recognize it for what it is: redirection, not bashing. If the feedback is delivered harshly or with the intent to misuse power, see it as an opportunity to re-evaluate.
  • Create or join a support group in which you share your successes and challenges. Find accountability partners with whom you can check in regularly.
  • Claim and celebrate your successes. You have earned every one of them.

By Edie Weinstein, LSW Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1

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