Impostor Syndrome: Do You Doubt Yourself All the Time?
I remember the first time anyone told me their fears of feeling like an impostor, what can be know as Impostor Syndrome.
I had begun a psychology internship at Terrell State Psychiatric Hospital outside of Dallas. My new male supervisor said it, only adding to my nervousness.
“I think every day someone is going to come in here and tell me that my diploma is no good. They gave it to me by mistake.” He laughed, but not very convincingly.
What’s the Definition of Impostor Syndrome?
My own personal favorite, since I said it to myself, upon entering graduate school, was “If I could get in, it must not be that hard.”
I changed my mind four years later, by the way, when writing my dissertation.
Women and Impostor Syndrome
Many have written that women are more likely to struggle with this. Dr. Valerie Young, an expert on the topic, states, “The thing about “impostors” is they have unsustainably high standards for everything they do.
The thinking here is, If I don’t know everything, then I know nothing. If it’s not absolutely perfect, it’s woefully deficient. If I’m not operating at the top of my game 24/7, then I’m incompetent.”
Dr. Young’s website quotes everyone from Maya Angelou to Kate Winslet, each of them saying that they have struggled with just such thinking.
How to Get Over Impostor Syndrome
There seems to be a good deal of controversy about what to do about it. Brené Brown says quite clearly, “Vulnerability is not weakness.” Sheryl Sandberg says lean in hard for one another, create a circle of peers for support, and focus on building each other’s competence.
I don’t see these as contradicting one another. It takes vulnerability to join a circle. By doing so, you’re asking for help, revealing yourself to others in an open way.
In 2012, I was considering putting my thoughts out on the Internet for all to read. Jeannette Balleza Collins, an entrepreneurial specialist, and at the time my lean in circle of one, was guiding me through a dizzying array of new terms, like link, URL, and domain. (I know, I know… I was a bit behind the times.) I was balking, as I’m more of an introvert, and frankly, was unsure of myself.
“But I haven’t written a book, or been on any talk shows.”
“Margaret, do you know how many years it takes before someone is considered an expert in their field? Five. Five years. How many years have you been practicing psychology?”
“Almost twenty,” I smiled, laughing at my own reticence.
My mantra in my early 40’s was, “If not now, when?”
In that moment, it changed. It became, “Why not me?”
It takes swallowing hard sometimes, realizing you’re opening yourself up to criticism. Or worrying that your post will miss the mark. Of course, I know rationally that this is inevitable. I’ll be scooting along, feeling okay. Then, all of a sudden (or so it seems), I can hear the insidious whispers of an ugly, snide little gremlin in my ear. “Who are you to do this? Shut up and crawl back into the safety of your office.”
If that’s not impostor syndrome, I don’t know what is.
If I spend a little energy attempting to connect the dots, I can usually see what triggered my insecurity. I’m not sleeping enough. I’m beating myself up with old, painful memories. I have a patient that isn’t progressing, or that I feel like I’m not getting something important. I’m not exercising enough.
I do my own version of what Brené Brown and Sheryl Sandberg suggest. I reach out to others for support and reveal my vulnerability, but I don’t let it devour me.
Then, I turn around and write about it. That would never have happened before three years ago. And it feels empowering. I couldn’t agree with Brown more, that being honest with yourself and others about who you really are is freeing.
So, here’s the question.
“Why not you?”
What could you confront in your own life that is keeping you from believing in and acting on your own potential? If you listen, you can hear the invasive whispers of your own unhelpful gremlin.
Please don’t let those whispers control your life.
Looking for more advice from a therapist? Read Doctor Margaret’s other articles about What to Do When Your Friendship is Over, Is it Dementia or Just Midlife Memory Fog, and Are You Hiding Your Depression from Everyone?