A few weeks ago I watched an interview with the uber talented actress Viola Davis. She was talking about winning the most coveted award for someone in her field-the Oscar, and while she had just achieved this amazing feat (and had a trail of other accolades as well including Emmy’s and Golden Globes) she mentioned that she still felt like a fraud. She shared that she suffered from Imposter Syndrome. My first thought was what in the world is that? I consider myself to be pretty well versed in the counseling field and try my best to stay current. As a school counselor I have hundreds of students and many are dealing with disorders. I had never heard of Imposter Syndrome. It isn’t listed in the counseling bible- the DSM 5, but apparently it is an actual syndrome and even more shocking is that 70% of the population is believed to have experienced it.
So hearing those stats I started to do a little research. Turns out Imposter Syndrome isn’t a new thing at all, it was coined in the late 70’s by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Apparently it’s very common in high achieving individuals, particularly women. Who knew?
To put it simply, those suffering from the syndrome believe that they are indeed frauds and are just one step away from being found out. They simply don’t believe their success is the result of their hard work but simply a stroke of luck or the ability to fool others.
I was also shocked to find out that some of the women I look up to admitted to having Imposter Syndrome too. For example the Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou, who is such an inspiration to me and so many other women and men, once said “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out”. What? She’s so amazing, how can she think she’s a sham? That’s mind blowing right?
But then I started to think about my own achievements. For a quick second I thought I couldn’t possibly have that. I am pretty confident and self assured right? But wait a minute…no one is all one thing. We are like onions, to quote our sweet green Ogre of a friend Shrek. There are layers to all of us.
Just a couple of weeks ago I was shocked when I was selected as a Brand Ambassador for O, The Oprah Magazine. I was one of 50 Influencers hand picked from over 1000 applicants. I applied for it never thinking I would really be selected. I mean a part of me thought maybe I might have a chance or I wouldn’t have applied at all, but I really thought I was going out on a limb and truly expected a rejection letter. I had to re-read the email several times before breaking into my happy dance. Once the imaginary confetti settled I started to think “I must have just made the cut” I must have been number 50. Even that would have been an amazing achievement right? So why was I discounting myself? What I found out though was that so many of the other 49 amazing people selected had similar thoughts of inadequacy or self doubt. That feeling of being a fraud or just being the benefit of luck wasn’t uncommon.
I also started to think about how when I come across positive reviews of my book or receive a message from a reader, about how I have inspired them I think “Who me?” but that’s the whole reason I do what I do right? I even remember telling a good friend when we were discussing my single mom journey and my new husband and the life we now have together that sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve this new life and I have to remind myself that I worked really really hard for it. It wasn’t a stroke of good luck but years of sacrifice and preparation.
It turns out that Imposter Syndrome is probably more common than the stats that I found because a lot of us don’t even realize that we are experiencing it. It may not be crippling to the majority of us but it might be just below the surface festering a little. Thankfully Maya Angelou’s feeling of being a fraud didn’t stop her from writing books, and Sheryl Sandberg still pushed herself to become a super successful business woman and currently the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and Emma Watson still acts her little heart out in mega box office grossing films, but they have all mentioned having the Syndrome and feeling undeserving of their success.
So, if you too have felt undeserving of your success or like a fraud or a sham here are a few things you can do so that it doesn’t become crippling, or lead to increased anxiety and/or depression.
Acknowledge the feeling-recognize when those feelings are creeping up on you. Being able to name something helps us to rebuke it. Acknowledge that you are having feelings of being a fraud.
Practice Positive Self Talk– Every time that voice in your head tells you that you aren’t smart enough, good enough or you don’t know enough, practice talking back to that Negative Nancy and remind her that you worked really hard to get to where you are.
Practice Journaling about your achievements and positive attributes-It doesn’t always come natural to us to talk about what we do well. There is something about being a little self deprecating that makes us more likable to ourselves and others, but the reality is you need to celebrate your success. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that in a public way journal in private. Remind yourself of how far you have come. We all have achievements we are proud of no matter how small. Take the time to write them down and look over them when you feel those feelings of inadequacy creeping in.
Stop comparing your behind the scene with everyone else’s highlight reel-We’ve all seen the memes with this saying on it but it’s such a true statement! Social media can be a great source of community support and interaction but a lot of it is smoke and mirrors. No one has a perfect life. Recognize that the pursuit of perfection can be paralyzing. There is beauty in our flaws.
Let me know what your thoughts are on Imposter Syndrome and how you work to combat those fraud-like feelings.
Until Next post,