What is Imposter Syndrome?
A first-hand account of Imposter Syndrome: Winter 2018. After months of research, self-exploration, preparation, and quite a few emotional meltdowns if I’m being totally honest, I left a toxic work environment that I thought was going to be my dream job to pursue working with the people I am passionate about working with and choosing to be my own boss.
I distinctly remember in the years leading up to this leap, bristling at the idea of having my own practice. People close to me would suggest, “why don’t you go out on your own?”. “Open your own practice?” I would shrug uncomfortably, scoff slightly, and say, “No, there’s no way I could ever do that. I couldn’t handle it.”
Fast-forward to 2019. I have a bustling, successful practice. People would say, “wow, you are doing so well! You’re so busy!” And I would shrug it off, discounting their praise by saying, “Yeah, but they’re all clients who found me through insurance, so I didn’t have to do much to get them.”
Never mind that I took this incredible risk of leaving the security of a full-time job, gave my now husband quite a few gray hairs worrying about us and our finances, built a successful practice, and navigated the complicated maze of insurance panels. It was just pure luck.
This is just one of the examples of how Imposter Syndrome has impacted my life. As women, we often experience Imposter Syndrome more than men simply because of how we are raised in this society and what we are taught to believe about ourselves and our inherent abilities. We can’t possibly succeed based on our own merit. We have fooled everyone into thinking that we can do hard things and thrive, but we’re just good at tricking others.
Luck did not get me to where I am, as I’m sure it didn’t get you to where you are. I am a competent, skilled, experienced, persistent, caring person and clinician. I am warm and nurturing, playful, and very honest with my clients. THAT is how I got a successful practice. And to suggest that just because I didn’t have to market as aggressively to get clients who use their insurance is outrageous! They may have found me through their insurance, but they STAYED with me because of who I am and what I can offer them.
Many amazing people supported me emotionally on this scary and rewarding journey. My brother-in-law, an entrepreneur himself, who I really consider more of a brother than the in-law part and who I affectionately call “coach,” was my first real supporter and gave me the tough love and push I needed. My then-fiancé, now-husband was the other main supporter. I remember coming to him that night crying after the phone call with my brother who convinced me to stop doubting myself and do it, go out on my own. I told my husband, tears streaming down my beet-red face, that I need to leave my job and open my own practice. He looked at me and said, “Okay. Then do it. I know you can do it. Why are you crying?” Always, always believing in me and my dreams and taking me seriously. Sacrificing so that I could follow them. But the hard work, the mental work of overcoming these doubts and thoughts of “why would anyone see me for therapy? What do I actually have to offer people?” “I’m not good enough to do this, I’m not smart enough to do this,” all that was work that had to be done on my own because I had to believe it for myself no matter what others told me. That’s the thing about Imposter Syndrome. Despite all this evidence I had that I was in fact competent and skilled, I attributed my success to external factors, like being in-network with insurance and luck.
Does this mean that I now never experience moments of self-doubt or self-criticism? HELL NO! But I have gotten much better at offering myself the same compassion I offer my clients and my friends and family. I am able to identify the signs quicker before I find myself falling into the trap of comparison, criticism, and denial of my competence.
Imposter Syndrome makes us believe that we are manipulative little thieves, robbing people of the ability to see us for who we really are and what we can do. In reality, we are robbing ourselves of our self-compassion and self-confidence by brushing off our intelligence, skills, and unique personality. We don’t take pride in who we are, our choices and our accomplishments.
I would like to help other women reclaim their accomplishments and be proud of who they are. I want to help you put your life into perspective so that you don’t waste another moment feeling like a fraud. You can live the authentic life you were meant to, whatever that may look like for you.
So how can you start feeling like less of an imposter and more like you?
1. Name it.
The first step is to name what you are experiencing so that you can reduce the shame or embarrassment you may feel, while also creating some distance between what you’re experiencing and who you are. You are NOT an imposter; you are dealing with Imposter Syndrome. You are much more than these experiences. Giving this experience a name also lets you know that you are not alone in your experiences. Talking about how you have been feeling with a trusted friend or therapist can take some of the power and significance out of how you’ve been feeling. And you might end up hearing “Oh my gosh, me too!” from whoever you confide in.
2. Change your thoughts by accepting them.
Changing your thoughts can eventually, with time, change how you feel. Whenever you have a thought that you are not good enough or you are fraudulent, ask yourself, “can I say with 100% certainty that that is true?” Chances are, you can’t.
Don’t fight the thoughts, accept them. Most people struggle with the idea of acceptance because they think that means that by accepting something, you are saying that you are complacent and that you don’t want to change something. But it’s not true. Accepting that you have the thoughts of being an imposter simply means accepting the reality that you have these thoughts. Fighting and resisting the thoughts actually causes more stress for us. I use effective mindfulness and meditation techniques with my clients to assist them with practicing acceptance.
3. Embrace failure.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or fail. Easier said than done, I know, but if you don’t take any risks because you’re afraid of being seen or being vulnerable, or are even afraid of success because of what that means to get out of your comfort zone, you’ll never know what you’re capable of achieving or being. Remind yourself that it’s normal to not know everything and learning is a lifelong process. The more you experience, the more you will learn. Start to think of failures or conflict as opportunities for growth, not of evidence of you being a fraud or incapable.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Adulting is hard! Have self-compassion. Don’t forget to offer yourself the same kind of compassion and kindness that you would offer someone important to you. The most significant change happens to us when we come from a place of self-compassion instead of self-hatred or shame.
5. Ask for help.
Remember, you are not alone and you deserve to believe in yourself. Let’s crush Imposter Syndrome together!