Imposter Syndrome is the ongoing and persistent belief that success, gifts or your lot in life is undeserved or not legitimate based on your effort or skills. The voices typically sound like, “Who do you think you are?” or “They’re all going to figure you out.” In my previous article, The Importance of Vulnerability, we took a look at what vulnerability is and why it is important for growth. Vulnerability is being your authentic self and showing up as you are. Imposter Syndrome has vulnerability written all over it. Here’s why:
First, feeling like you’re an imposter is vulnerable in itself. However, without vulnerability, you wouldn’t be feeling like an imposter in the first place. You wouldn’t have the belief that you are undeserving or a phony if you weren’t being authentic--if you weren’t showing up, if you weren’t being who you really were or showing the skills you had. Showing up has vulnerability written all over it. A precursor to imposter syndrome is being authentic.
Second, if you were being a liar and completely untrue to yourself, then you wouldn’t be called an imposter, you would be called fake, a liar, or unethical. Imposter syndrome is different in that it stems from stepping into something new, outside of your comfort zone, or something that has given you great joy or success and convinces you that you are unworthy or undeserving. These thoughts form in relationships, in work, in friendships, in parenting, and the list continues.
Typically, if you are having the thoughts that you don’t know what you are doing or are comparing yourself to other people frequently, then you likely are finding yourself in an area that you haven’t been before. You may be utilizing a skill you just learned or reached a certain position or level of leadership because of a skill you’ve mastered. Maybe you believe that you have no place doing what you are doing, Maybe you are working in a field you don’t have a degree in. Maybe you are starting your own business. Maybe you are a new mom joining a Mom’s group. Maybe you are a husband feeling unworthy of your relationship, your career or friends.
Shame and Vulnerability
We’ve all done things we’re not proud of and have had things happen to us we maybe couldn't control. We’ve been judgmental, rude, sarcastic. We have scars, both inside and out. These things can prevent us from showing others, even the ones closest to us, who we really are. Feeling guilty from behaviors we believe to be wrong is healthy. It requires and challenges us to change. However, when we feel guilty over something that we didn’t actually do wrong, that can lead to shame. The shame that develops from these events or choices can be even more paralyzing. It makes you want to wear a mask -- pretend to be someone else, pretend to be perfect. It makes you want to hide. However, what no one tells you is that you are only hurting yourself in the process, and that you are likely pushing others away without even knowing it until they are gone. We call this behavior self-sabotage.
Shame is like an iceberg. On the surface level, you only see about 10% of this enormous block of ice. Underneath lies the rest of it--what's really there--the other 90%. We tend to show people the surface. When looking at an iceberg, you don't see what's underneath. You don't see the 90% and in reference to shame, we don't typically show that 90% either. The top is what you show others and what they see. The bottom is what you hide out of fear or shame--the part you’re afraid people will see and then abandon or reject you. The part that sometimes may make you feel unloveable. In what situations do you find vulnerability difficulty? What parts do you hide from others, either unintentionally or intentionally.
Take a minute to write a few....
Quieting the Imposter
We need connection. As humans, we are wired for it. Vulnerability is essential for the type of connection we need: to know we are not alone and to know that someone else understands. A few tips to quieting the imposter include the following:
LSCSW, Millennial Therapist