In a recent interview, highly successful television producer and writer, Tina Fey revealed that she suffers from Imposter Syndrome, a situation where a person experiences feelings of inadequacy in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true.
Fey was quoted saying, “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of, ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”
In many ways, she is a textbook case of the disorder. Though research is still exploring the condition and results are often found to contradict the previous findings, it was believed to be a situation prevalent predominantly in high-achieving women. This must not be confused however, with low self-esteem. Here, a person experiences pangs of panic, especially when complimented for their work. They are not convinced that they are bad at what they do, but instead, their dilemma comes from the fact that they hold themselves to an impossibly high standard.
Family life and upbringing are huge factors that contribute to our self-image. If a child is brought up with verbal reinforcement like telling her she is intelligent, she is more likely to believe the compliment later in life. The converse is also true.
Dr Jennifer Howard, a New York City-based psychotherapist, life coach and author of Your Ultimate Life Plan, says everyone probably experiences it to some degree. “At some point, you may have been acknowledged for an accomplishment that, deep inside, you didn’t feel you deserved. Whether you’ve achieved some success in academics, sports, a promotion in your company, a bonus, award or just a pat on the back, this imposter syndrome can trip you up,” she says.
It’s that feeling that you’re pretending to be something that you aren’t, usually something more successful, competent, intelligent, or talented than you believe yourself to really be. Your accomplishments, acknowledgements and other successes have been an accident or mistake, and you didn’t deserve them. It plagues you that someone in a higher status, authority or esteem will suddenly realize you’re a fraud. You feel that, under your fraudulent exterior is a failing, mediocre you that will one day be exposed for who you really are. It’s a painful and exhausting way to live.
Psychologist Dr Shonda Lackey says, “Imposter syndrome is not a psychological disorder, but rather a concept that refers to an extreme level of self-doubt. It often occurs with anxiety and depression. Regardless of what people with imposter syndrome achieve, they believe their success is the result of luck, or other factors that don’t involve effort. They also downplay their achievements. Other signs of imposter syndrome involve fear of being ‘found out’.”
It doesn’t seem to matter how much evidence a person has to prove their success, they can still feel like an imposter. Walk down a busy street in the city, and you’ll see numerous well-dressed, pulled together, seemingly confident people, who carry the fear that one day, their ruse will be discovered. Try as they might, they can never accumulate enough money, awards and accolades to believe they deserve what they’ve earned.
Sadly, the imposter syndrome can really take its toll. “It’s hard to feel peaceful and joyful when you’re walking around fearing the rug’s about to be pulled out from under you,” says Howard. The anxiety and stress will eventually affect your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
So how could one break out of this syndrome? It takes attention and practice. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Bask In Glory:
We miss out on those great moments when we worry about our incompetence. If you receive a compliment, acknowledgement, or award, allow it to sink in. Look back on your efforts, and acknowledge yourself for your hard work and persistence. Pat yourself on the back and enjoy the praise and accolades before you move on. You’re not only making room for future successes, but you’re making a difference for those around you, who really want to share their appreciation with you.
- Allow Yourself To Make Mistakes:
When we’re wrapped up in the fear that we’ll never do enough or do it right, we become afraid to take actions. Remind yourself that as a human being, you’re going to make mistakes sometimes, and it will help you grow. The more you can make room for your mistakes, the more room there is for your successes. Then you can focus upon, and appreciate your ongoing development and personal expansion, rather than just the end result.
- Talk About It With Others:
You might be surprised by how universal this syndrome is, once you start talking about it. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with close people you trust might help you feel less alone. It could be hard at first, but when you let the cat out of the bag, you might see how many others feel this to varying degrees in their lives too. Talking about this deep-seated fear will help you lighten up and relax a bit more, making your progress in work or life a little easier to embrace. If you feel crippled by fear, guilt or shame it might be time to take it to a professional. A great psychotherapist or spiritual counselor could help you explore and heal these difficult feelings, so you can move forward with your life.