Self doubt seems to be the new lockdown lurgy.
I have working with so many people who over lockdown that have lost their self confidence. The fear of going back to the workplace can make people feel vulnerable. Their role and the position they have held in the organisation, often for many years, seems daunting to the point where they feel like they are an imposter or a fraudster. For some this has not only been about doing their job but now simply living their life. This is the seed of anxiety that can lead to them becoming over alert and vigilant leading to feelings of anxiety. When we develop anxiety it can get us to the point where are now beginning to make the mistakes we were fearing we would make in the first place. It is that age old principle that ‘thoughts become things’.
What we think about we bring about
The feeling of being a fraudster or an imposter is much more common than we realise. I deal with it all the time as people feel that they are living and unreal or dishonest lives. Right now as we are trying to come out of lockdown it is on the increase. I have seen GPs, consultants, surgeons, directors, chief execs, actors, performers and worriers in a variety of industries feeling that they cannot do whatever it is that they have been doing for many years. There is an internal conflict and inner doubt. It is as though logically they know they are okay at their job but emotionally they feel that they just can’t do it any more.
Self doubt can be destructive and is often intimidated by other people or circumstances as we have seen from the effects of online trolling and domestic abuse. It can happen after redundancy, divorce or even retirement. The prolong absence from the workplace in lockdown has, for some, had a similar affect. However it is not all bad.
Some 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 things. It is powerfully useful to question what we do so that we can review and improve ourselves. It is that mindful magic of being able to observe ourselves positively, not critically, and respond and change as is appropriate to be a better version of who we are.
Arrogance is not confidence
We can mistake the ‘knobby know it all’ for someone who lacks self doubt. However, when someone feels that we are always right some people can then see this as confidence. Sadly, 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 believe that I know everything then you have nothing that you can 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 other to question them without feeling insecure or reacting emotionally.
Are you confident?
Where does your confidence come from? Or where does you lack of confidence come from? For me, I think that in the first instance it is down to the parents and our upbringing in the early time of life. This is 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.
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 get bad reviews, a sales person who fails to hit their target, a mother who can’t stop her baby crying, the list is endless. The stimulus will vary but it happens when what we thought could always do, or when the things that we did without even thinking are called into question or simply no longer work.
This sense of failure happens to most of us at sometime and then we question our own ability and that is when 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 inside us. If we dare to share with other people what we are actually feeling we often get a ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘don’t be so stupid’ message. ‘There’s nothing wrong with you’. This does change how we are feeling.
Emotion and mind
A developing sense of imposter syndrome can develop from a conflict between our thinking and feeling. The thinking self knows that we are qualified, experienced and capable but the emotional self adds in just that little pinch of doubt. It is then that we can begin to feel like a fraud, that we stupid, incapable.
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 we know that 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’.
Perhaps most importantly in mindfulness our observer self can observe our thinking self and our feeling self. Also it can observe what other people are saying to us and how we react to it. It is this observer self that gives us the ability to choose to respond rather than to react. We can then decide whether or not we want to own the feedback that other people are giving to us. Most importantly we have choice. It is when we have choice that we have the potential to change. If we cannot see the choice then there will not be any change.
In the extreme when we feel unable to 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 or self development course. Most importantly we do not have to put up with it we can change it.
If you are going back into the workplace try and go in with an open mind and pre-empt what might happen. Remember that most of the workforce will be feeling exactly the same things and may need our support to get back into it.
If we all look after each other we will al be okay!
Take care, be happy and be yourself.