How do you overcome impostor syndrome? What are some tips and tricks to help your logical brain overcome your emotional brain?
Dear Miss Possible,
“I don’t belong here.”
“Someone is going to find me out.”
“What if I really don’t know what I’m doing?”
“Do I even know what I’m talking about?”
These thoughts have probably crossed the minds of many of us, some more than others. We may be knowledgeable professionals in our fields and still wonder how we got to where we are. We may be in a room of peers and feel like we don’t belong, don’t fit in and have no right to be sitting at the table.
I’m gonna get technical here for a minute (no yawning!). Although the term “imposter syndrome” was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes and was thought to uniquely affect women, it has become clear that this syndrome can affect anyone “who isn’t able to internalize their own successes” (Abrams, 2018).
Ooof, am I right?
And worse than that, research indicates that people who suffer with imposter syndrome are usually those who are (Abrams, 2018):
- Experts in their fields.
- People who tend to work best on their own.
Culturally, imposter syndrome is really a manifestation of the way that society tells us (most especially women and people of color) that we lack value, worth and quality. And that the action of dismissing our accomplishments and downplaying our abilities is a type of currency needed to gain entry into the worlds we wish to be a part of, whether professional or personal or somewhere in between. These ideas, just like other bad habits and harmful thoughts, become embedded in our psyches.
People like Maya Angelou, Kamala Harris, Lady Gaga and even Michelle Obama have spoken about the reality of experiencing imposter syndrome (Edwards, 2016) (Geall, 2020). These are women, who by all accounts, have successfully and gracefully changed the landscape of their respective professions. And they still experienced feelings of not being good enough.
So it’s pretty clear, at least on the surface, that people who generally suffer with imposter syndrome are actually the people who not only know what the hell they’re doing, they know how to do it well. But as we know, there is more to it than logic, as your letter indicated.
There’s that pesky thing we call emotion gumming up the works.
Let’s recap: We know imposter syndrome exists, we know it is painful and distressing, we know it’s often not based in logic but rather loitering in the dark corners of our emotional selves, seemingly impossible to grab ahold of.
But there are actually some really positive, constructive and helpful ways we can rethink this whole experience of imposter syndrome. So here are some interventions to retrain ourselves, our brains and our emotions.
Our thinking patterns need to change. Easier said than done, no doubt, but give these ideas a try:
Write Down the Reasons You actually ARE Qualified
How much experience do you have? What is your educational background? What have you already accomplished in this particular area (or other areas)? How, in fact, did you get to where you are right now? The chances of it being purely accidental are extremely slim. Make a timeline if you have to and see how the choices, work and focus you’ve had have brought you to the place you are right now. It’s not by chance.
Write Down What You’ve Got That Other People Likely Don’t Have
Here’s a personal example. I attend graduate classes in addiction counseling. I don’t work in addiction counseling and have very little experience in the field to begin with. But I do have experience in teaching, mentoring and coaching. Plus, I’m usually the only burlesque dancer/belly dancer/comedian in the group.
I know that these skills translate into the realm of counseling in a very real way. How do your skills and experiences translate into your work? I think you’ll be surprised by the connections you can make.
Verbalize Your Accomplishments
This can be a tough one, especially when we find ourselves struggling to even admit that we’ve accomplished anything. It can be good to select a trusted friend to do this exercise with. Speak what is true about you. Give it power. Hell, you’ve already done those things, so what’s there to lose? You might even end up just a little bit amazed by yourself, what you’ve done and who you are.
Spend Time with Your Mentor/Find a Mentor
Sometimes having a respected colleague or peer provide some validation works wonders. It also helps when that same respected colleague will likely share their own experience of imposter syndrome.
Don’t have a mentor? Start looking for one. This can be a person working in the same field as you or another field, but must be someone who provides a safe, supportive, and most importantly, honest space for learning and growth.
This might take a little legwork and might not happen right away, but even spending time looking at the histories and experiences of people you admire will provide support, insight, and oftentimes, a greater understanding of your own experiences.
Dissect Negative Thoughts
There is barely a person on earth who believes they are completely capable, utterly brilliant and without fail 100% of the time. What we know for sure is that negative thoughts will still pop up like little angry weeds in our glorious flower bed.
That can’t be stopped. But what can be changed is the way we deal with those pests. One constructive way to process negative thoughts is to ask ourselves a few questions about them. Take this thought, “I’m sure I’m the only person here who is confused.” Say it out loud. That already takes some of the power away from it, because if we are honest, it’s illogical from the onset.
Next, you might think of how you would respond to a friend who said this about herself. You’d likely feel compassion and understanding for that person, right? So who decided you don’t deserve the same compassion and understanding? Oh, that’s right, no one did.
Recognize That Good Enough is Exactly Good Enough
Look around. Name one person who is absolutely perfect. Someone with no missteps, no mistakes, no cringe-worthy moments, nary an imperfection to be found.
Wait, what? You can’t think of anyone.
Let me say this loud enough for the people in the back: You are perfectly imperfect, good enough is good enough, and you are exactly who you are and where you are at right now not by accident, but by your perseverance, resilience, dedication, hard-work and even your times of discomfort, fear, and unknowing. Come on and sit down, I saved you a seat at the table. A seat you deserve.
Your confidence consultant,
About Rachel Micheletti: Rachel Michelettiis a counselor, burlesque/belly dance instructor and the lead singer in Rachel and the JellyCats. She is also a Curvicality columnist, writer and brand ambassador. To learn more about Rachel, check out her website.
P.S. You can submit your questions to Ask Rachel here.
Abrams, A. (2018, June 20). Yes, impostor syndrome is real: Here’s how to deal with it. Retrieved February 11, 2021, from https://time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/
Edwards, M. (2016, November 11). 16 celebrity quotes on impostor syndrome. Retrieved February 11, 2021, from https://www.marieclaire.co.uk/entertainment/celebrity-quotes-on-impostor-syndrome-434739
Geall, L. (2020, October 15). 12 successful women ON imposter syndrome and self-doubt. Retrieved February 11, 2021, from https://www.stylist.co.uk/entertainment/celebrity/imposter-syndrome-quotes-celebrities/307473