I’ve been giving “Imposter Syndrome” more thought lately (on the heels of this post ). The TedX channel has a nice talk by Lou Solomon that really goes into the essence of it. Have a look, you may find it informative.
In a nutshell, Solomon describes the impact of the lies and the limiting beliefs, that are created in childhood and throughout, that isolate us. These lies and beliefs support a negative self talk that diminishes us, in our own eyes. We stay small, we don’t shine, we stay afraid. The paradox is that we live in a competitive world, and some of us compete and win. Yet because of those limiting beliefs we attribute the win to a fluke, luck, or some outside force – and thus support the limiting, negative beliefs about ourselves. That’s Imposter Syndrome.
Keeping up with the facade of a “winner” has a cost. Consequences of Imposter Syndrome range from depression to anxiety and/or addiction – such power in how we relate to ourselves! There is a crushing sense of shame that comes along with Imposter Syndrome. Sufferers often find themselves worrying about how people see them, what others think of them, did they say the right thing? They carry around a deep sense of NOT belonging, of not being accepted, of never being good enough. It’s down right crippling.
In Solomon’s case, as with many of us, her Imposter Syndrome can be traced to growing up with an alcoholic parent (could also be narcissistic, depressive, anxious – mental illness spans a pretty large range). She remembers being told she was never good enough – and when you get that at a very young age that voice gets internalized and becomes your own.
It’s important to realize that our inner dialogue doesn’t just get shaped by our families. I see women physicians or academics for example, who suffer with Imposter Syndrome. It has not been long really since women have taken up what was once men’s space. Access to higher education and such is relatively new – not three generations old yet (McGill only began admitting women into the Faculty of Medicine in 1918 – that’s not long ago in the arc of time). Women still hear that they don’t belong, or don’t have the capacity to do the work. This gets internalized too and supports an inner discourse that is not supportive.
Obviously, men also suffer from Imposter Syndrome. In a society and culture that rewards aggressive, individualistic approaches to success, many men struggle. They succeed because they have been taught to be competitive, except it doesn’t match their true self and so there is a disconnect between the success and the feelings about themselves. Men also grow up with distortions about the self based on tough family dynamics: they can’t feel, they need to be strong, they should learn to live without praise, they can’t show their true selves… what a recipe for Imposter Syndrome!
That Imposter Syndrome is an ailment of our times is borne out in the fact that the TedX channel has fully over sixteen (!!) different talks on Imposter Syndrome. It behooves us all to be kinder to ourselves, to develop a voice of compassion and not for what others can see and hear but what we say and feel towards ourselves. The inner critical voice is a distortion. A distortion borne of a lack of positive reinforcement that every child needs, and one that is fed and nurtured through shame. We can reorient that inner voice. It feels unnatural at first, it requires dedication and practice and repetition (just like all the negative stuff did!). We have the capacity to develop a compassionate and clear voice that recognizes the strength and light we all bring to the world.
You are here in the world, and you matter. Let your light shine.
Peace to you.