The Art of Anxiety: The Reality of Impostor Syndrome
“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.” – Denis Waitley
The mental health world loves terminology. We love to put the human emotion into catchy phrases and terms that people can sink their teeth into. Enter: Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is rooted in perfectionism – that we are never as great, beautiful, connected, smart, gifted, or other positive traits that people perceive us to be. The core of imposter syndrome is a distortion of our mind called Mind Reading. It’s our mind’s perceived understanding that we KNOW what other people are thinking – and it’s a coping strategy that gets us in lots of problems because it simply is not true.
Imposter Syndrome is a “fake it until you make it” mentality, but not really believing we will ever “make” it. At the age of 23, I became a nonprofit manager and spent the next 20 years wondering what in the heck people saw in me that they kept promoting me up the chain of command. Looking back, I probably accepted the positions because I was a people pleaser, not because I thought I could do the job. I had a very successful nonprofit career as a leader, executive director and vice president, but I was constantly waiting for people to find out that I didn’t actually know what I was doing, which is exhausting.
Imposter Syndrome is just regular-old anxiety. An unfounded fear that you are not as good enough, smart enough, (fill in the blank) enough as people think you are and when they find out, you’ll be fired, laughed at and then the whole world will end (because that’s where anxiety typically takes us). So, what does this look like in real life? Here are a few examples:
You are asked to take on more responsibility at work and you feel completely unqualified, creating a lot of anxiety.
You decide to go back for an advanced (or bachelor) degree and sit in the classroom wondering why you think you can pass these classes when everyone around you seems so confident and smart.
You go to a conference and avoid talking to people because they seem more knowledgeable, creative, smart, <insert all the things> than you are.
What now? “Fake it until you make it” doesn’t really work because you will never think you “make” it. Here are some ways to begin the journey of stepping into your unique you-ness with strength and confidence.
Write It Out
Make a list of all the things you do well. If you can’t think of anything, write out all the things that other people say you do well. Once you have the list, write out the evidence to support your strengths – it’s much easier to step into your uniqueness when you write out the evidence and can think “Oh yeah! I do that well!”
THEN, write out the evidence of how you’ve been successful in your life. Graduated high school? Check. Graduated college? Check. Got the job? Check. Made the sale? Check. Write out all your success stories, no matter how large or small, to remind your brain that you DO know what you’re doing.
And just a note, actually writing these out instead of typing on a computer or phone makes a HUGE difference. The act of writing forces the two sides of your brain to work together, and that’s when the magic happens.
Stop and Reframe
Pay attention to the negative thoughts – sounds odd but these thoughts are a habit of the brain and fly around without us even being aware – much like white noise. Here’s an example: your supervisor asks you to lead a meeting and your brain goes into panic mode and begins thinking “I can’t do that”, “people will think I’m stupid”, “I’m going to BOMB”. Say, out loud, “STOP” to interrupt the neurons firing and then reframe the thoughts into something positive:
“I can’t do that” becomes “I KNOW this topic”
“People will think I’m stupid” becomes “there is nothing stupid about me and I wouldn’t have been asked to do this if my supervisor didn’t believe in me”
“I’m going to BOMB” becomes “I can’t predict the future and I’ll do the work to make sure I’m well prepared”.
Imposter Syndrome is really just anxiety and is based in perception distortions in your mind – distortions that have settled in and set up shop. You DO have control over your brain, but you also have to do the work to change the habits.
Write Out This Reminder
If you are rooted in faith like I am, here’s a reminder: You are fearfully and wonderfully made by a God that knows you, your talents and your strengths. How could a creation this beautiful be “faking” anything? Post this reminder where you can visually see it and step into your destiny
If you follow another spirituality practice or connection, the same holds true. Connect with your universal truth and post the reminder - the visual connection will bypass the chaos in your brain and connect you to your higher power.
Interested in learning about your own journey with breaking through Imposter Syndrome? Schedule a free consult and let’s talk about how Brain Coaching can set you up for success.
Mattie Cummins, LCSW, is a neuro-social worker, counselor and coachwith over 25 years working with people mental chaos, neuro-diversity and life transitions. She is the owner of Cerebrations, LLC, a coaching and consulting business that specializes in empowering people to tap into their own internal strength and beauty to step boldly into a life of intention. Connect with Mattie by booking a free consult call.