Are you a 'Victim' of the Imposter Syndrome?
The imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalise their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their abilities. People remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. They constantly wait for the tap on the shoulder that says ‘you’ve been found out’.
I’m all for people talking openly about their experiences in order to be honest, share and potentially connect with others, as so often we keep things to ourselves and then think that ‘it’s just me that feel this way’
It’s one of the reasons that I talk about the imposter syndrome with clients and during workshops.
"The imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalise their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their abilities. People remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved." They constantly wait for the tap on the shoulder that says you’ve been found out.
If you are reading this and thinking, ‘yep that’s me’ well you are not alone!
I thought I was alone in feeling like this years ago, until I discovered that there was a name for this feeling and well if it’s got a name, then that is proof that more than just you experience this. That's one of the reasons I believe that it is important for us to talk openly about what we experience, in order for us to connect with others. Not in a wallowing way. In a way supportive ‘well it’s not just me’ kind of way. So to help others over the years I have been describing the imposter syndrome and the thoughts/behaviours linked to it. My intention was to encourage people to accept that it was there and learn how to live with it.
In Linda Kelsey’s Telegraph article on the topic, after describing herself as a sufferer of this syndrome, she concludes “if the likes of Emma Watson and Sheryl Sandberg can feel frauds and yet achieve what they have, maybe there are worse things than thinking you are an imposter”
So there you go. Now that you know it’s not just you and that have this syndrome, you can battle through anyway, doing all that you can, still achieving great things that you will never give yourself the credit for. You can be the victim of this knowing that you will possibly spend the rest of your life waiting for that tap on the shoulder, that lets you know you have been ‘found out’, you are a fraud.
*screech of breaks*
Now hold on a cotton picking minute.
Just accept it and be a victim of it. Really?
I’m not sure that I want to live that way.
What other perspectives could there be on this that can help move beyond living as a bunch of thoughts/behaviours and symptoms that happen to appear together?
I looked for others ways and found things that worked. Until now I had only shared this with clients. Recently though I heard a sound bite of a radio interview with the talented actress Meryl Streep talking about singing. And read the Linda Kelsey article and thought, I need to share this with more people as I believe that there are other, possibly more helpful perspectives.
Whether you like the movies or not, it is clear that Ms Streep can certainly hold a tune…or at least that is my view. The lady herself doesn’t appear to agree.
In the sound bite interview that I heard she said (in a nutshell) “ I can’t sing. It’s the characters that sing. I’d never sing in public. That’s too scary.”
Her comment stopped me in my tracks.
“ I can’t sing. It’s the characters that sing. I’d never sing in public. That’s too scary.”
This for me is the perfect illustration if the imposter syndrome in action. Meryl, as all actors do, creates a character. This character has the permission to think & behave in ways decided on by the writer, director and actor. Behaving and possibly saying things that she - Meryl herself - would not usually say or do. Hence why she credits the character with the singing voice and not herself. (I worked in theatre and TV backstage for a decade, Meryl is not the only actor to think this way) As non actors, we can see this very clearly, actors create characters. What we tend not to realise is that we create characters all the time too:
the confident colleague
the happy worker
the jolly parent
the great presenter
the all knowing expert and so on
The challenge that we have when we create characters is much the same as what Meryl Streep is talking about, whatever the character does successfully the character gets the credit. When we create that character we are disassociated with it. We know it’s a character. And even though it may look and sound like us from the outside to others, we know the truth and so any praise or accolades that are offered go to the character and not us. We do not make the connection. Ironically though, if the opposite is received, e.g. negative feedback, we assume it’s because we are pretending, acting and blame ourselves for being a phoney! So we unknowingly become a victim of our own creation. Our own doing.
So what can we do?
Is there a way beyond the imposter syndrome?
I believe so…
Firstly, what we (you, I and Meryl) can start to do to help ourselves is collect that praise. Even if we have been pretending or acting. We (you, I and Meryl) must have that skill, ability, gift, talent, knowledge within us somewhere to have been able to access it as the character, so WE must still have it even when we stop acting. So those accolades do belong to you, they are yours to collect and remember, even if it’s been tough, you were there and therefore, you can still take the credit! It may be the witch that sings, however she 'uses' Meryl's vocal chords!
Secondly, if the feedback you get is more critical. Take a deep breath in and ask yourself, ‘What can I take from what’s been said that can help me learn?’ If the answer is nothing then, thank the person for the feedback and move on. If the answer is something then great, how can you put that into practise?
Thirdly, we, (you, I and Meryl) all need to remember that self criticism in any way shape or form does not create lasting supportive change. If it did, we would all have the figures, finances and families etc that we want, as most of us spend our days self criticising!
In my personal experience the more that I have collected the accolades, even when I have been pretending, the more inspired I have felt to have a go at things. Things that maybe out of my comfort zone. By collecting this praise I have also developed my self confidence. When I practise the art of listening for the learning in feedback, I feel stronger and able to discern what is relevant for me and what to thank the person for and move on. Self criticism is like back ground music, it’s there. Now though I don’t always hear it and therefore engage with it less and less. When I do engage I simply ask myself, whether this is a supportive way to speak to myself and would I speak to anyone else like that? If the answer to either of these is no, well, I change the thought to one that is supportive and that I would share with someone else.
There is no need for you, I, Meryl Streep, Linda Kelsey, Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg or any other woman, man or child to be a victim of the imposter syndrome. When you notice it happening, stop and use the above three steps to help you get back in the drivers seat and take control of how you feel!
To find out more about Jules and her journey with self confidence head to www.juleswyman.com