THE IMPOSTER SYNDROME PRESCIPTION
Millions of women are suffering from the same psychological syndrome. There hasn’t been a known cure … until now.
But before we talk about the cure, we need to understand the disease. The diagnosis is simple. Consider the following questions:
- Do you ever feel like all your accomplishments have been due to luck, chance,
appearance, connections, or anything else that isn’t your own smarts, drive, and talent?
- Do you ever worry that you’re going to be exposed as a fraud, even when you’re well into your career or area of expertise?
- Do you feel like everyone around you is smarter, works harder, and does a better job than you do?
- Do you find yourself terrified of making mistakes and constantly believing you
are likely to make one no matter how expert you get at your career?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ve got a case of imposter syndrome – and if you answered “yes” to all of them, you’ve got a grave case of it indeed.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
What IS “imposter syndrome?” As a Master Coach who works with high-achieving feminist women suffering from self-doubt and anxiety, I see it every day. Here’s how I define it:
Imposter Syndrome is the state of being afraid that you will be exposed as a fraud, or as an “imposter”.
It’s generally accompanied (and exacerbated by) perfectionism, black and white thinking, and intense fear of rejection and failure. These thought patterns create a perfect storm of insecurity, anxiety, and stress.
Click below to download a free guide The Imposter Syndrome
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Although it’s called a “syndrome,” Imposter Syndrome isn’t actually all that mysterious. It’s the natural outcome of the forces that create it. If you’re raised as a woman in our society, you’re constantly encouraged to second-guess yourself, to criticize yourself, and to doubt your own worth. You’re told that your appearance is what matters most about you, but that if you care about your appearance too much you’re vain. You’re told that you should want to be smart and ambitious, but that men won’t want to be with you if you are. You’re told to be bold and confident, but that if you talk too much you’re shrill and aggressive. You’re told you should be able to stand up for yourself, but that if you’re too assertive you’re a bitch. There’s no way to win. And it means that even if you didn’t absorb the messages that you are inferior, you probably did absorb the messages that you should be constantly doubting your own instincts and inclinations, and worrying about whether or not they are justified and about how they are perceived.
So you’ve got the cultural conditioning. Then there’s the family patterning that many people experience, which can add to this problem. If you were taught that your value was your intelligence and accomplishments, then you will be terrified of finding out that you’re not as smart as you thought – or more importantly, as other people thought. It sounds like that should lead to high self-esteem, and your parents might have even though that’s what they were encouraging! They very well might have thought it was feminist and empowering to focus on your accomplishments instead of your looks and romantic relationships. But by telling you to base your self-worth on your intelligence, they inadvertently set you up to be very concerned about whether you are smart enough for the rest of your life.
So social conditioning + family baggage = a lot of self-critical thoughts all day long. And that’s really what Imposter Syndrome is: A collection of negative, self-critical thoughts about your abilities, your accomplishments, and your worth.
Why Is It A Problem?
Well first of all, it just feels terrible. We’re encouraged to spend tons of money on how we look to others (clothes, shoes, makeup, workout trends, diet books, etc.) – but society doesn’t teach us to invest in our own mental health. In fact as women we are socialized to think we are over-sensitive or silly when we have strong feelings. So first things first: You feeling shitty is a problem worth solving in and of itself.
But it’s also worth solving because of the way it interferes with you getting what you want in life. Those voices will drive you to prioritize external validation and to shy away from risks and change. You feel insecure, so you don’t go for that promotion. You don’t negotiate for that raise. You don’t ask that cute guy out. You don’t set boundaries with your mom. You don’t wear that bikini. You’ll hold yourself back in life and undermine your own success and happiness because you’re convinced you don’t deserve it and that it can be snatched away at any moment if the truth is revealed.
Imposter Syndrome doesn’t go away on its own. There’s no level of accomplishment that will mute those voices in your head. The thoughts they are offering you – that you don’t deserve your success, that you accidentally got where you are, that you’re not smart enough or good enough and someone is going to figure it out – those thoughts can apply at any level of your career, at any year of your marriage, at any weight or body size, in any friendship or relationship. There’s nothing you can change externally that will resolve those internal voices.
How To Fix It
The good news is, it can be cured. You just have to focus on the cause of the problem: Your thoughts.
The socially advised cure for Imposter Syndrome is generally just telling women to “be more confident” and “believe in themselves.” How brilliant! Why haven’t we thought of that?!
Just kidding, we’ve totally thought of that. And it doesn’t work. In fact, you’ve probably tried that, right? Just telling yourself that you are confident and
awesome and kick-ass. And yet, you still feel anxious and insecure. Positive thinking doesn’t work. And in fact it makes you feel even worse when it doesn’t work, because then you feel hopeless on top of whatever you were already feeling.
You know what else doesn’t work? Trying to logic yourself out of it. Telling yourself that your feelings are irrational or that you shouldn’t feel the way you do is about as effective as telling yourself not to be hungry, thirsty, or tired. Once you feel a certain way, you can’t just order yourself to feel differently.
Here’s what does work: Actually changing your thoughts. Not through positive thinking or just ordering yourself to think differently. But through carefully constructing a path from the way you think about yourself now to how you’d like to think about yourself in the future. That means figuring out exactly how you think now, exactly how you want to think about yourself, and exactly what incremental thoughts you need to practice to get you from here to there.
The prescription for Imposter Syndrome isn’t a magic pill. It’s a practice of literally rewiring your brain so that new, confidence-boosting thoughts become natural to you and your old anxiety-producing thoughts wither away along with the neural circuits that created them. Neural science teaches us that the neurons that fire together, wire together – like a physical habit or pattern, neural paths get stronger the more they are used. That’s why you can’t just tell yourself not to think something. And you can’t just erase an existing neural pathway by wishing you didn’t think it. But you can create and strengthen a new neural pathway that will eventually become your brain’s default path.
If you want to learn the step-by- step process that is the prescription for Imposter Syndrome, click below to download your totally free guide. It will teach you how to identify the thoughts causing Imposter Syndrome, how to identify what you’d like to believe about yourself, and how to identify the thoughts that will get you from where you are now to where you want to be.