Imposter Syndrome

This podcast was requested by a listener who feels that she has lost her self confidence to the point where she feels like an imposter or a fraudster when she is doing her job. This has led her to becom over alert, vigilant and anxious to the point where she is now beginning to make mistakes. The feeling of being a fraudster or an imposter is much more common than we maybe realise and I often deal with. I see GPs, consultants and surgeons, directors, chief execs, actors and performers feeling that they cannot do whatever it is that they do or have done for years. It is as though logically they know they are okay but emotionally they feel that they just can’t do it.

Self-doubt may be a good thing

I believe that a healthy level of self-doubt is not only a common thing but, I would maintain, is a positive thing. It is powerful to question what we do, to review and improve. It is that mindful magic of being able to observe ourselves positively, with kindness and compassion, not critically, and respond and change as is appropriate to better who we are.

Arrogance is not confidence

When we feel that we are always right people can then see us as confident. Those that need to be always right usually lack the confidence to be questioned or to question themselves. It can be short journey of confidence to arrogance. Once we feel that we know it all we have no where to go and nothing to learn. At that point we become emotionally and mentally stunted and tend to disconnect from those around us. If I know everything then you have nothing to tell me or show me, therefore whatever you say is really meaningless.

Of course there are people who are genuinely confident and people who do genuinely know a lot of things. The truly confident person is secure enough to question themselves and to allow others to question them without feeling insecure.

Are you confident?

Where does your confidence come from? Or where does you lack of confidence come from? For me, I think it is all down to the parents and that early time in life when we establish the foundation of who we are. Unless something happens to make us review and reprogram then we just carry on the same story line for the rest of our life.

Reactive anxiety

We may lose confidence in who we are or what we do at any time in life. This is often a reaction to an event. It could simply be that after a car accident we now question our ability to drive, or for a surgeon following a patient death, an actor who gets bad reviews, a sales person who fails to hit their target, a mother who can’t stop her baby crying. The stimulus will vary but it happens when what we thought we could always do, or when the things that we did without even thinking are called into question.

This sense of failure happens to most of us at sometime and then we question our own ability and we can then feel like an imposter. Everybody else sees us and the situation as business as usual and they do not see what is going on inside us. If we dare to share with others what we are actually feeling we often get a ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘don’t be so stupid’ message.

Emotion and mind

A developing sense of imposter syndrome can develop from a conflict between thinking and feeling. The thinking self knows that we are qualified, experienced and capable but the emotional self adds in that little pinch of doubt. It is now that we can begin to feel like a fraud.

Mindfulness

I am in danger of sounding like ‘mindfulness fixes all’ though it is usually true. When we have imposter syndrome it is an anxiety and anxieties are learned behaviours which if left alone become our habits. We may begin to learn the concept that we are a failure or that we got it wrong through direct experience or from other people that are influential in our life such as parents, partners, bosses and so on. When we engage in mindfulness we can observe what we are thinking, feeling or doing and we can decide whether or not we want to feed this idea with our attention or starve it by letting it go. ‘What you feed grows and what you starve dies’.

The observer self can also observe what other people are saying to us and how we react to it. We then have choice and we can choose to respond rather than react and decide whether or not we want to own the feedback other people are giving to us. When we have choice we have the potential to change.

In the extreme when we can’t shift the negative feelings that make us feel like a failure or an imposter we may need to see a therapist or do a mindfulness course. Most importantly we do not have to put up with it we can change it.

Take care, be happy and be yourself.

Sean x