What is Imposter Syndrome? How can you make changes that last?

The topic of Imposter Syndrome has been suggested for our next NLP Practice Group (2nd July) so I thought it would be useful to revisit this issue.

Imposter Syndrome is a fairly new label and you could argue it replaces older labels of low self-esteem or low self-confidence. I believe it is a little more than that.

I often hear Imposter Syndrome described as feeling like you are a child who is pretending to be grown up and afraid that someone will see through your disguise. I usually hear this from people who are perceived as talented, successful, clever, skilled and accomplished.

Do you ever feel like that?

What causes Imposter Syndrome?

Our modern Social Media driven world is swamped with images of people proclaiming their success, happiness and brilliance. Even if you look at all the shiny posts with an air of cynicism you might find it hard to ignore this subtle pressure to judge or be judged.

You may not be surprised that in my private practice and when talking to students on my personal development courses I often hear confessions about a fake Social Media life. In most cases the confessor is a lovely person feeling pressure to project success to the world. The isolation felt by the drive to project this image of success leaves them feeling like an imposter.

The second version of Imposter Syndrome is related to the first in some ways and has been around a lot longer. In the business world there is a similar culture of admiration for the successful. There is a need to keep performing at higher and higher levels. When you do achieve success and approval of your peers it can often be accompanied by a sinking feeling. This can often be self-doubt, anxiety and a fear of being found out.

The paradox I often encounter is that you are successful and achieving in your field and despite this you end up feeling like an imposter.

So why doesn’t everyone have Imposter Syndrome?

Good question. You will probably not be surprised when I tell you there is a childhood connection. Within family systems there are often unconscious and sometimes conscious pressures on children to succeed. There can be a generational aspect of this where the same drive is transmitted from one generation to the next.

If is worth noting that often family cultures driving a focus on success are born out of positive intention for the child to live a happy and secure life.

The problem occurs as the child internalises messages both direct and indirect from family systems. The translation into the child’s perception may lead to feelings of inadequacy and reduced worth. The child develops that familiar script of “not good enough.”

As an adult no matter what you do to feel “good enough” it is never enough because that internal critic is never satisfied. Praise from others is ignored or discounted and Imposter Syndrome is born.

What is the solution?

I’m not sure there is just one solution. The first step you need to take is to increase your self-awareness. Acknowledge all the influences that forced you to feel driven to project success.

Photo by frank mckenna

Take stock of the evidence by stepping back and acknowledging your skills, talents, achievements etc. Appreciate what your strengths are.

You also need to discover the truth about “weaknesses”. I don’t like to use that term but it is a common source of anxiety. No one knows everything, no one is good at everything, no one is without issues at some point in their life (both large and small).

If there are gaps in your knowledge or capability the truth is if you want to you could put some energy into learning more. Alternatively, you could just acknowledge it is a gap and evaluate if you even need to do anything about it. It is okay to have gaps.

One of the most powerful signs of self-confidence and self-worth is when you feel comfortable admitting you don’t know something or don’t know how to do something or even that you made a mistake.

You don’t need to plaster it all over Social Media in doing so just acknowledge to yourself and those you trust. I say this because others may criticise you born out of their own anxiety.

Your value as a human being has absolutely nothing to do with your achievements and success. It has everything to do with knowing you were born worthy and that you can accept that are others are worthy too.

Imposter Syndrome
Photo by Ekaterina Kartushina

Changing how you think about something is not often easy. If you start by challenging your thinking and looking for alternate perspectives you can make a start.

When I work with people in my private practice I use approaches such as Core Transformations, The Wholeness Work and NLP to help my clients make deep changes. I sometimes share models such as Transactional Analysis and Emotional Intelligence to provide some new ways of thinking.

Taking some kind of personal development training can often help you make these shifts quickly particularly if you make developing a stronger sense of self-worth your focus.

What I love about helping people do that is watching the transformation that follows.

You will have so much more energy to make a real contribution to the world when you no longer bother about how people see you. It will give you the freedom to truly follow your dreams. You really will make a difference in the world.

Melody Cheal MSc MAPP
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