On the outside—at work, among your friends and family— you look like you’ve got it all together. You are successful by every standard you ever thought mattered to you. And by every standard that seems to matter to other.
So why do you feel the way you do?
Why in the privacy of your office, or leading a meeting or presentation, do you feel like an imposter?
Do you feel, or have you ever felt:
Terrified that someone will find out who you really are?
Ashamed that you aren’t as competent, successful, knowledgeable, and worthy as other people think you are?
Haunted by the thought that underneath everything, you are worthless, incompetent, nothing?
If any of these ring true for you then you might be experiencing what several psychologists coined in the late 1970s as “Imposter Syndrome” or “Fraud Syndrome”.
At its most basic, if you experience “Imposter Syndrome” you likely:
1. Struggle feeling your inner self-worth and internalizing your accomplishments.
2. Fear that you will be exposed as a fraud.
This is true, even if you have won awards, hold prestigious positions, are renowned regionally, nationally or internationally for your professional contributions. You simply don’t believe you are worthy of what you have achieved. You secretly believe that you have duped a lot of people to get where you are.
All of this is a likely trigger for anxiety and worry. No matter how good things are, you constantly feel a low-level fear that you will be exposed. That “the other shoe will drop.” And that you don’t know when.
Researchers believe that 70% of all people have felt some degree of “Imposter Syndrome” at some point in their lives. So if you’re feeling this, you are part of a pretty big club. You are not alone.
But what can you do?
If feeling like an imposter has been holding you back from living the full, rich and meaningful life you long to live—consider taking one of these 3 actions:
1. STRENGTHEN: Feel your feelings. Accept your feelings.
Sound familiar? You may have noticed that we talk about “feeling your feelings” a lot here at Oasis Therapy. It’s true! We do.
And there’s a good reason.
You see—from what we experience personally and as therapists, day in and day out— there is simply no way that people can avoid feeling what they’re actually feeling and, at the same time, live a rich and full and meaningful life.
At least there’s no way of avoiding it in the long-run.
Short term, of course, we can numb out on our preferred substance or escape-fantasy. We all have them! Yep. Therapists, included.
But long-term, our feelings are always going to come back to us. Always. So what it comes down to—on a daily and moment-by-moment basis—is the choice-point: Do you let yourself feel what you’re actually feeling? Or do you keep escaping and escaping, hoping it will go away?
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness-based psychotherapies—among a number of other therapeutic modalities—the starting point is simple (though, we admit, not always easy!)
Still, if you haven’t tried this before, or haven’t practiced it in a while—beginning now may be the single most important action you take toward feeling worthiness again.
First, you pause to notice what is here, inside you, right now.
Then, once you notice what is here, you allow it to simply be here.
It’s really important to say: You don’t have to like what you feel! You don’t have to want it! You just let it be here anyway. Because it’s what is already here.
This counts for feeling like an imposter too.
As horribly uncomfortable as these feelings may be, find a comfortable and quiet place to still for one minute or five minutes (or longer if you like). Let your breath rise and fall without changing anything.
Then, gradually bring your attention to your body. You might start with a place in your body where you have recurrent tension. Your belly, your back, or your shoulders, perhaps? Notice whatever tensions, pulsations, sensations, speediness, tightness, and anything else arises.
Remember, you’re off the hook right now. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t need to fix anything. Just feel what is here now. And what is here now. And what is here right now. See how it keeps changing?
See if you can watch the feelings move inside you until they are complete.
2.) SUPPORT: Be Generous. Share your time and skills with others.
Another way to work with feeling like an imposter, is to find someone who can use your help and reach out to them. This can be a colleague at work, a close friend or a distant family member. Who do you know who is struggling in some way, who could use a little bit of extra support right now?
Sometimes we can get so caught up in our work and in our reputations and status that we forget about looking out for who needs help right now.
Research shows that helping others is a powerful way of discovering how much we have to give.
Whether by volunteering to stay late to finish a project so another colleague can have a night off, or by offering to cook a meal for a sick friend or spending time on the phone with a lonely parent, these are all ways you can meaningful contribute to the lives of others.
When imposter syndrome feels strong and you feel like a fake, find someone to drop everything for and help. You will see what really counts. And that you are capable of touching another’s life, even if only in the smallest way.
3. EMPOWER: Be Real. Be Vulnerable. Create Spaces for Others to Be Real and Vulnerable.
A third powerful way to overcome feeling like a fraud, is to be genuine. Genuinely you. As much as you can.
That’s right! Just try it. Feel how good it feels to be real and vulnerable, with no agenda. With nothing to prove. With no one to impress. Let yourself stay quiet if you feel quiet. Let yourself offer up an idea if you have an idea to offer up.
For even just one moment a day, listen to what is true for you, and act from that place. Regardless of who is watching, or who is not watching.
Be you. And support others in your workplace to do and be the same. If you notice someone being vulnerable, authentic, and taking a risk—whether or not you agree with it—practice being supportive. Remember how much courage that just took. Remember the kind of support you would like to have.
Be someone others feel safe around. Be someone people don’t impress themselves for.
We all need more real people around us, in our lives.
So have a go!
Feel and allow your feelings.
Become a mentor.
Be authentic and be someone others feel safe to be authentic around.
Remember, you may feel like an imposter. You, like 70% of all people, may believe you are an imposter.
But really— You are just you. Keep being you!