May 22, 2020 | Belonging
Catherine A. Wood
If You Struggle With Imposter Syndrome, You’re In Good Company. Try This.
You may find that the stakes are higher these days. Being stuck at home with family, you might be extra hard on your husband or lose your patience a littler sooner with your children than you’d like. Perhaps you haven’t yet mastered a new routine since transitioning your whole life into the confines of your home and honoring the need to physically distance ourselves.
Even worse, I imagine you may be beating yourself up for all the ways in which you’re not meeting your own expectations of yourself….
I get it, this is a common experience of those who struggle with imposter syndrome. We are, without a doubt, our own worst critic.
And in this time of uncertainty and fear, I imagine we would all benefit from being more compassionate with ourselves and focus on what is working rather than all the things that are not. On that note, I’m excited to share with you this excerpt below from Chapter 15 of my book Belonging: Overcome Your Inner Critic and Reclaim Your Joy.
Many high performers share this dirty little secret. We feel like complete imposters and like we do not belong. We operate with a story that we are complete frauds and experience a fear of being found out. Believing ourselves undeserving of our successes, we attribute our accomplishments and wins to luck, chance, happenstance, or some other fortuitous cause.
One study showed that an estimated 70 percent of individuals experience these imposter feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
Stephen Brookfield, PhD is an expert in imposter syndrome research. In an interview in Psychology Today, he suggested that while both extroverts and introverts experience imposter syndrome, “introverts are less likely to talk publicly about this and to ruminate internally on it. Extroverts are more likely to let slip their sense of it when talking with others, which means that they are more likely to get reassurance from colleagues that they too suffer from it.” We must allow our voices to be heard. Brookfield goes on to explain that the way to overcome imposter syndrome is “by going public about it. Once someone in a position of prominence names impostorship, it becomes normal, natural, and predictable. When a senior leader admits to it, you can see people relaxing and being ready to own up to it too. It’s as if a weight of unrealizable expectations has been removed from their shoulders.”
While we may not feel comfortable or ready to relate to ourselves as senior leaders, there are communities where we can practice. We must start leaning into the edge of our comfort zones and allowing ourselves to be seen and our voices to be heard. A well-known introvert herself, Susan Cain shares the following in her book Quiet: “If there is only one insight you take away from this book, though, I hope it’s a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself. I can vouch personally for the life-transforming effects of this outlook.” I share similar sentiments.
It only takes one person to share vulnerably in a gathering to set the foundation for everyone to open up. It only takes one person willing to allow themselves to be seen in order for all to see. In romantic relationships, it only takes one person to feel vulnerable and express their hurt versus defaulting to that familiar, “he said, she said,” place of blame. It only takes one person to break the norms of competition over collaboration and remember there is more than enough for all of us. It only takes one family member at the Thanksgiving table to shift the table conversation from one of gossip to gratitude. It only takes one female entrepreneur to own out loud her experience of feeling like an imposter to create space for a more connected and authentic conversation for everyone.
This experience is not uncommon. The term ‘impostor phenomenon’ was originally coined in a study of high-achieving women in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. The findings uncovered that many of their female clients found it challenging to internalize and accept their accomplishments. Results showed that the women were “more often than not likely to attribute their successes to serendipity, luck, contacts, timing, perseverance, charm, or even the ability to appear more capable than they felt themselves to be.” Since then, much research has confirmed that both men and women experience impostor feelings. Clance and Joe Langford later published a paper acknowledging that impostor syndrome is not limited to women, and a survey of several populations “found no differences between the sexes in the degree to which they experience impostor feelings.”
Many of my clients have shared that they find it increasingly hard to share their wins or successes in an authentic way that doesn’t come off like gloating. Maintaining a sense of hyper-vigilance on what’s not working or what’s wrong with ourselves or with others becomes a common replacement for many. For this reason, I often tell my clients, women and men alike, that they rarely share successes or accomplishments on our calls. On one call, I told Betsy, “Focusing on the never-ending laundry list of what’s wrong or broken seems to be more comfortable for you than acknowledging what is working or what you can celebrate.”
Betsy began crying as she realized how loudly the volume of her inner critic tended to play even as she was undergoing some significant transitions in her life. As she began to bully herself and make herself wrong for having an inner critic, I reflected that this was more of the same pattern.
I asked, “What is one thing different you could practice instead?”
She shared, “I would like to begin each call celebrating with you my wins or successes since our last call.”
Realizing the significance of this conversation for Betsy, I remained quiet, waiting for her to begin sharing. Eventually, Betsy told me she was proud of herself for finally leaving a loveless marriage of nearly ten years. She trusted in her ability to love her sons and knew they would be ok. She had already located an apartment for herself and was excited to decorate it according to her own tastes. She already knew her desired color palette and noted how easy it was to find the apartment, a close drive from her former home.
For all of us who struggle with celebrating ourselves and acknowledging our wins, may we begin to feel proud of ourselves, focus on what is working, and take up more space in our lives. Our ability to share openly about ourselves and embody our successes is a perfect mirror for our internal reality.
TAKING ACTION: A TOAST TO YOU
Today, we will practice what I love exploring with clients at the beginning of our coaching sessions. What wins do you have to share? What would you like to celebrate yourself for?
If you’re anything like me, your default is to focus on what’s not working or what’s next. We so often find ourselves looking backward or looking to what’s next that we rarely stop to celebrate what is or what we can acknowledge ourselves for.
Take out your journal today, and journal on the wins you’ve accomplished or what you would like to celebrate yourself for.
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, Belonging: Overcome Your Inner Critic and Reclaim Your Joy. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed what you read, let’s connect. You can reach me via email, my website, or connect with me on social: Instagram, LinkedIN, or Facebook. Also, you can also find my book on Amazon — here is the link to buy it.
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