Dee: Because I am inspired by other people’s writings and teachings, I share them with you and hope you receive inspiration as well. I add my two-cents worth by sharing how these teachings have affected me in my life in recovery and spirituality…
The Rx for Imposter Syndrome
By Melissa Eisler
Have you ever felt like you weren’t deserving of your successes in life? Maybe there is a little nagging voice inside you that says you’re not good enough or qualified enough for the job promotions, the high praises, or the awards that you’ve received. And maybe it doesn’t add up because you have the schooling, experience, and talent as evidence for your competence, but you are often dismissing your achievements on luck, timing, or a result of deceiving others into thinking you are more qualified than you think you are.
If you can’t seem to shake the feeling that you’re a fraud of your own achievements, you may be experiencing the crippling effects of what is commonly called imposter syndrome. While it is not considered an official diagnosis, imposter syndrome is acknowledged among mental health professionals for its prevalence and the stress, anxiety, and/or depression it can cause.
People who suffer from this syndrome live in constant fear that they will be exposed for being unqualified or fake. It can take different forms, but here are some common signs:
•Undermining your achievements
Dee: For me, I just had minimal self-worth and even less self-esteem. Yes, the “imposter syndrome” played heavy in my life. How could it not? From the moment we’re born we are exposed, inundated, smothered by outside influences that don’t empower our highest selves. We are led to compare, compare, compare ourselves with those around us in our society. With our peers at school, with our co-workers, with our friends and family. Sad, huh?
So when the stress and anxiety comes, so do the above bullet-points. All of them! And then the alcoholism…
The good news is that you can overcome it! You can train yourself to quickly identify it, manage it, and beat it. Here’s how …
1. Recognize Your Imposter Syndrome
The first step is to become aware of your thoughts and feelings. The next time someone gives you a promotion, praise, or award, listen to your internal dialogue and how it makes you feel. Oftentimes, people who suffer with imposter syndrome undermine their achievements and discount praise that’s aimed their way.
It’s important to note that just because you feel like a fraud, doesn’t mean that you are a fraud. Separating feelings from facts allows you to see the truth. Start shining a light on that little nagging voice and recognize it for what it is: Imposter syndrome.
Dee: I didn’t even have a ray of light, no light at the end of the tunnel, no nothing until I finally got sober. For decades I had no light, no hope, no purpose, no reason for living even though I was one of those with schooling, experience, and talent as evidence for my competence. But I lacked confidence and thought more of what you thought of me than what I thought of myself.
So what happened? I finally hit my bottom of escaping in my alcoholism. I couldn’t go on this way any longer…and I got caught. Actually, my Higher Power (that I didn’t even know I had at the time) said it was time to make an intervention and start my new journey. It all started in a treatment program for alcoholism.
2. Share Your Thoughts and Feelings
You may be feeling shame about your imposter syndrome, and that can keep you from sharing your feelings. However, knowing there’s a name for your feelings and that you are not alone can be incredibly liberating, so share your feelings of self-doubt and self-worth with your spouse, a friend, a therapist, a mentor, or a life coach. When you confide in someone about your negative self-assessment, it will bring you one step closer to overcoming imposter syndrome.
Dee: When I found myself in the abyss of my alcoholism, I pled with my husband to help me, to intervene, put me away, lock me away. But he didn’t. He knew that unless I made the change, made the surrender, admit my helplessness, it wouldn’t do any good.
And, YES, I felt terribly alone. Didn’t everybody drink the way I did? But why did they always seem so happy and productive? I was too ashamed, guild-ridden, embarrassed and humiliated to share my story with anybody.
3. Know When It’s OK to Feel This Way
Sometimes having feelings of inadequacy can be a normal reaction. For example, if you are changing jobs or are the first minority in your workplace, it’s only natural that you’d sometimes feel like you don’t fit in. Don’t attach these feelings to your self-worth or see them as a sign of your incompetence; accept them as normal in response to being an outsider.
Dee: As you have noticed, my story isn’t just about the “imposter syndrome” for me. A huge driving force in my story, along with the “imposter syndrome” was my alcoholism. In all honesty, even though my own dad’s passing at a young age was partially due to his alcoholism, I didn’t know anything about the disease. Not until I entered a 28-day treatment program for alcoholism.
But my feelings of inadequacy and not fitting in were prevalent way before my drinking got out of control. I was always very self-conscious. I never felt like I really fit in…anywhere…and just hoped I could “fake it ’til I make it”.
Having worked the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous numerous times with many trusted sponsors and women, I have found that my life as far as I can remember was fear-based. Why? I don’t know the specifics and it doesn’t much matter at this point, except for that I realize it, accept it, thank it for coming, and encourage it to leave. With this knowledge, acceptance, and yearning to live differently today, my life has become freer. I can finally feel comfortable in my own skin and value my opinion about myself more than your opinion of me. That’s huge!
4. Reframe Your Thinking
Once you’ve become aware of your imposter syndrome, shared it with others, and separated when having those feelings are normal, the next step is to start working with your thinking. When a situation triggers your imposter syndrome, first reward yourself for catching it and then shift your thoughts to a more positive perspective.
For example, if the thought of “I don’t deserve this compliment” pops into mind, start by congratulating yourself for recognizing your imposter syndrome. Then shift your thoughts to something like, “I feel undeserving of this compliment right now. Perhaps that’s my imposter syndrome talking. I would like to learn how to better accept praise.”
Baby steps are key here! You don’t want to go from “I am under-qualified for this position” to “I am overqualified for this position.” You will reject that belief in a heartbeat as completely untrue because it is too drastic of a mind shift. Instead, try something more manageable: “I may feel under-qualified for this position, but everyone who starts something new feels insecure at the beginning.”
Dee: Yes! Turn whatever negative thoughts come to mind into positives. I believe that everything happens for a reason. Not to see us fail, but to help us succeed…to be our best selves! If we don’t experience those tough thoughts about ourselves and turn them into positive, nurturing mind-sets, we shall not succeed. Learn from what your Higher Power puts on your plate in a positive and nurturing way.
5. Accept Praise Gracefully
In addition to reframing your mindset, it’s also helpful to learn how to receive compliments, awards, promotions, high praise, and anything else positive aimed at you, gracefully. Once you start becoming aware of how you negatively respond to these things, it’s time to break the cycle of continually seeking and then dismissing validation outside of yourself.
To do this, set an intention to learn how to transform your reaction and express gratitude. Try a simple “Thank you” the next time you are complimented. You’ll notice it feels better for not only you, but for everyone else around you, too.
Dee: In our society we are taught that “more is better”. So not true. And that applies to speaking. Don’t go on and on when asked a question. A simple “yes” or “no” will suffice without a long, drawn-out excuse or rationalization. No one really gives a shit anyway.
And once you start to peel the layers off the onion, which is yourself, you will notice that you can start forgiving, accepting, and even loving that person you are. You are a special and unique gift who was created with assets that no other human being on the planet has. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of being human. And then share your gift!
6. Manage Your Perfectionism
Many people with imposter syndrome struggle with perfectionism, often obsessing over details and fearing that if they aren’t perfect, they will soon be discovered as a fraud. There are healthy levels of perfectionism—when you use it as a motivational force to excel and commit to high standards. And then there are unhealthy levels—which cause obsession and fear. People who have a healthy sense of perfection don’t let their mistakes weigh them down nor define who they are.
In essence, do a great job when it matters most and let go of things out of your control. When an inevitable mistake happens, forgive yourself and move on.
Dee: Today I consider my perfectionism to be one of my character defects. It most certainly didn’t serve me. Now I can be proud that I have done my best, no more no less, just my best. As an alcoholic in recovery I still retain my obsessive-compulsive behavior and thinking. However, since I am aware of this now and how it negatively affects my life, I embrace it, thank it for coming, and then let it go when it appears.
7. Develop a New Response to Failure
One telltale sign of imposter syndrome is beating yourself up for being human—a.k.a. for making even the tiniest of mistakes. Coupled with perfectionism, a self-critical response to failure (“I should have known better” or “I should have known the answer”) is unhealthy. It is not realistic as we all make mistakes.
So, the next time things don’t go as planned (because they won’t) or you’re wrong (because you will be), try acknowledging the lesson learned, allowing room for self-compassion, and then moving on. Remember that you have just as much right as anyone else to be wrong, have an off day, or need help.
Dee: Today I can laugh at myself when I make an ass of myself. That’s only because I love and accept myself for who I am today and know that I AM doing my best and, yes, I am human. As are you. I don’t judge you for your mistakes. And if you judge me, that’s not my problem. I have no control over people, places or things. And life continues on.
Everything that happens in my life is purposely positioned. Every person I meet, every experience I have. And ALL are for the purpose of my growth, my success, my sharing my experience, strength and hope with others and to help them through their “imposter syndromes”.
8. Make Time for You
People who suffer from imposter syndrome often work harder than others, to make up for feeling like a fraud. On the positive side, they are highly ambitious and great achievers; on the negative side, they overwork themselves and are prone to burnout.
Being diligent is a great quality, but not at the expense of your health. Finding balance is key. You do not need to overwork yourself on the job in order to compensate for fictional inadequacies. In fact, redefine what “working harder” means for you—it can be working hard on taking care of yourself.
Figure out what you need to do in order to take care of yourself and create a self-care program that works for you.
Dee: This has been difficult because I have always put myself last. Remember, I cared more about what you thought of me than what I thought of myself. I am trying my best to nurture myself, to put balance and moderation in my life. But again, I am obsessive-compulsive to this is harder said than done. But the seed has been placed and, one day at a time, I practice self-care not only for my reward for jobs well done, but for survival, fitness and sanity.
9. Visualize Success
By being able to paint a concrete picture of what success looks like to you, it can become less vague and more obtainable. That way when it does happen, you won’t be so quick to reject it. Here are some simple ways to help you visualize success:
•Write down your goals. Get it out of your head and onto paper. By being able to communicate your goals, you can more easily imagine them happening.
•Picture yourself victorious. Visualize how you navigate a situation—as many details as you can so that it feels true when it happens.
Dee: I am lucky I love to write and I have noticed that when I write things down those thoughts sink in, make more sense, and are stronger. I’ll even write things down over and over again and each time I do the light bulb becomes a little brighter. Try it! Like with an affirmation. It will sink in; it will come to fruition.
When I take the time to quiet my mind, as with meditation, is when my visualizations become more tangible. Again by repeatedly visualizing, writing things down over and over, thinking about what victory looks like to you, will become more solid and focused. Your brain will start to realize that this is important stuff, so I best get moving to accomplish and succeed!
10. Remember That You Are Not Alone
Lots of highly successful people experience similar feelings of inadequacy (authors Maya Angelou and Seth Godin; actors Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, and Felicia Day; and comedians Amy Schumer and Tina Fey, to name a few) and just knowing that others are experiencing it too can make you feel less isolated, releasing the syndrome’s power over you.
In fact, studies found that 70 percent of people have struggled with imposter syndrome at some time in their lives. Your friends, bosses, classmates, and others you respect may have felt similar feelings of inadequacy. In our competitive, achievement-obsessed culture, it is probably more common than you think.
So when you realize that you are not alone and actually connected to a lot of successful people who suffer from the same unhelpful symptoms of imposter syndrome, it will help you feel less lonely.
Remember, you wouldn’t be promoted, complimented, trusted, and praised if you were actually a fraud. Let these tips help you expose imposter syndrome for what it truly is: not reality.
Dee: Finding a group of like-minded people with whom I surround myself has helped me tremendously by comforting me and reinforcing in me that I am not alone. For me my like-minded people I’ve found in the AA Fellowship. But there are a wealth of local support groups in your area who are there to help you with whatever ails you…imposter syndrome, addictions, depression, and life itself. And if the first shoe doesn’t fit, try another until you feel like “you’re finally home”.
Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you. I anxiously await hearing about your journey so please reach out. Together we can get through any and everything. Rid yourself of the guilt and the shame and love yourself for who you are…in all your glory. You are amazing! Remember that!
With warmest aloha, Dee Harris
About the Author : Melissa Eisler (/bios/melissa-eisler)
Certified Leadership & Career Coach, Yoga & Meditation Instructor, Author
Melissa is the Senior Content Strategist at the Chopra Center. Also an ICF Certified Leadership and Career Coach (ACC) and certified meditation and yoga instructor, she is passionate about motivating people to live a healthy, balanced, and purposeful life. You can learn more about Melissa’s coaching practice at MelissaEisler.com (https://melissaeisler.com/).
The Chopra Center