Imposter Syndrome

The Imposter Syndrome: A New Perspective

“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.”  Anna Freud

Do you ever get nervous when you’re going to a professional meeting, or about to make a speech, or being interviewed on a podcast? When people acknowledge you for a job well done, do you still feel anxious despite your well-deserved success? Well, you’re not alone. These are some of the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome. 

According to Melody Wilding at melodywilding.com, studies have found that over 70% of people will report experiencing Imposter Syndrome at some point in their careers. Even the former First Lady, Michelle Obama, has described her battles with imposter syndrome-type thoughts in an interview on YouTube.

The root of the Impostor Syndrome is often tied to:

  • Believing in an unattainable, idealized standard of “competence.”
  • Having a counterproductive reaction to failures, mistakes, setbacks, and constructive feedback.
  • Holding onto the myth that competence, intelligence, and success mean constantly feeling confident.
  • Thinking that the anxiety you feel when facing a new job is a sign of incompetence. 

While the above is true when we look at people who have stopped their career progress or given up on a closely-held dream, there’s yet a different way to look at this that doesn’t take on the significance of calling it a syndrome.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of syndrome includes “a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition” and “a set of concurrent things ( such as emotions or actions) that usually form an identifiable pattern.” 

Looking Further at the Meaning of “Syndrome

The word “syndrome” comes from two Greek words that mean “together” and “running,” so it means things that run together. Doctors use this word when they see a group of symptoms that usually appear together when diagnosing a disease. If these symptoms are not fully understood, they call it a syndrome. Sometimes, even after doctors determine what causes these symptoms, the syndrome name sticks around and becomes the condition’s official name. That’s why we have many conditions with “syndrome” in their names, like Down syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome. This term is used both in physical health and mental health because many mental health issues are found to have physical reasons behind them.

You may wonder why we’re spending so much time on the word “syndrome.” That’s because the diagnosis of “ Imposter Syndrome,” so liberally applied, may make you feel that your anxiety, worry, or doubt about your abilities are things for you to worry about!  In other words,  you can become anxious about your anxiety. However, if up to 70% of people have been diagnosed with it, the term “Imposter Syndrome” loses its intrinsic meaning. 

Let’s take a different approach to Imposter Syndrome. What if we discovered that anxiety, worry, and doubt about one’s ability are normal and natural consequences of living in our fast-paced, information-glutted, performance-measured world? 

Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?

In 1978, two clinical psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance, and Suzanne Imes, first identified and labeled the phenomenon. According to them, Imposter Syndrome is the condition of feeling anxious and unable to experience success internally, even though one is high-performing in external, objective ways. Because of this, one feels like a “phony” or “fraud,” doubting one’s ability to make a difference.  This experience can be immobilizing unless there’s a psychotherapeutic intervention. However, the term Imposter Syndrome may be over-extended to apply to less severe cases. It’s this situation that this article addresses.

For example, haven’t you noticed that almost every time you begin something new, there’s this “pushback” from your thoughts? You begin to worry whether or not you have what it takes to pursue that goal or dream that lives in your heart. What once made you feel light as air now seems like a hefty weight, and you work even harder while worrying about whether you still have the energy to proceed. 

If the above sounds familiar, you may be experiencing something common to most of us. It’s your brain trying to keep you safe!

“What?” you may be saying to yourself right now. “How is this an effort to keep me safe? It feels like I’m being pulled away from taking action, from moving forward toward this cherished goal of mine.” 

Here’s a new perspective: scientists have discovered that our brain hasn’t changed much in 100,000 years. Our habit of noticing bad things more than good ones likely comes from evolution. Early humans needed to be alert to dangers to survive, so those who paid more attention to potential threats were more likely to live and pass on their genes. Therefore, our brains today are wired to focus on negative things in order to protect us, and those doubts, worries, and concerns are pivotal examples of what’s going right with us rather than what’s going wrong! Let’s look at what I mean next.

The Negativity Bias and Monkey Mind

Enter the Negativity Bias, which is our brains’ tendency to pay more attention to negative than positive information and experiences. We all have this tendency, some more than others; however, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that your worries about being an imposter are in keeping with this Negativity Bias. 

Your Negativity Bias also has another name: Monkey Mind. It’s a Buddhist term for that area of the mind that chatters at us as it swings back and forth between doubt, anxiety, and doubt again. It gets deafening when we’re about to undertake a task or go for a goal that’s important to us. For example, let’s say you’re about to get an award for volunteering at a well-known nonprofit organization. Your name is called. You’re expected to stand and receive the award. However, there’s this quiet voice inside saying: “They don’t know that you don’t deserve this honor.  You didn’t do anything special to deserve it. People are going to see you’re a fraud.”

Or, you sit down to write your book. It’s about people and their relationship with money. The minute you open your computer and go to your file, a voice starts up in your head:

“No one will want to read this. They’ll see you’re a fake. You don’t have anything worthwhile to say. Let’s face it, you just can’t do it!”

That’s precisely what my Monkey Mind said each day I sat down to write my book, The Energy of Money.

The Bottom Line(s)

  • Your anxiety and worries about yourself are a standard product of your desire to stretch and grow.  That’s how it works for everyone.
  • The Negativity Bias (Monkey Mind) activates whenever you begin to move outside the “cave” you’ve been living in. It wants to keep you safe inside the cave, so it says whatever will stop you from going out.
  • Therefore, consider your Negativity Bias as your “Superpower.” It shows you that you have the urge to grow into more.
  • We all have a choice about how we want to live our lives. Answer the three questions below to see what you choose.          
  • What am I more interested in:
  1. My drama or my dreams?
  2. My concerns or the contribution I want to make in the world?
  3. My worries or the wonder of being alive?

I guarantee that everyone you admire has experienced their drama, concerns, and worries but ultimately turned the focus of their attention to the other side of the equation! That’s what makes us admire them. And you know what? You’re no different than they are! Just choose!

Until next time,

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