The day Impostor Syndrome hit me, was not a day I was as expecting. I had been wary of it, constantly checking and rechecking myself just waiting for Impostor Syndrome to kick me out of the life I was living. But days came and went and life went on. My confidence was soaring, my general happiness was increasing and I loved the person I was becoming.
Then one day it hit me. Came out of the left-field, pushed me down a hill, smashed all of my hopes and dreams (and confidence) with it.
Suddenly I didn’t know who I was. What I was doing. I was a fraud, an impostor in my own body. I had no idea how I had gotten to where I was. I couldn’t wrap my brain around people hiring me, respecting me, working with me. It was terrifying. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball in a corner and cry.
Everything I had worked so hard to create was falling down around me.
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The reality of IMPOSTOR Syndrome
Impostor syndrome is a psychological term where people begin to question their own accomplishments and an internalized fear that they will be ‘found out’ to be a fraud.
There’s good news. It’s not a disorder, it’s simply our deepest fears coming to the surface to try and destroy everything we’ve worked for (lol). You know, that internal voice that makes fun of us and puts us down; so often we fight and push it into a box to ignore? The one that constantly puts a negative spin on every good thing that happens to us? Yup, that’s the one.
Eventually, our success far surpasses everything we thought we could, and the bad news is, the more success we have, the stronger that little voice gets until one day it breaks free from the chains and convinces us we don’t deserve anything we have.
Usually, the moment that puts it over the edge to allow it out of the box is something tiny. A small achievement, but one that causes a little more stress than the bigger achievements. Maybe you’re a public speaker, and large conferences are your jam. But speaking at your kid’s graduation put you over the edge.
For me, it was a request. I had been doing small local speaking sessions for a while. It was so much fun, I loved the atmosphere, getting to talk directly to these women and hear their stories. I loved the questions, they inspired me, motivated me to work harder and dream bigger. One day post session a lovely woman asked if I was available for travel. She was hosting a retreat and wanted me to speak there. It was a small group, only 7 women and by “travel” it was only an hour plane ride.
I was so eager and excited, and the adrenaline surged through me as I packed to leave the event. But on the way home, something flipped.
The symptoms of IMPOSTOR Syndrome
Once the switch was flipped, the floodgates were open. I broke down crying on the side of the road, gasping for air, terrified to move. I was shaking uncontrollably with no idea why this panic attack was happening. As it finally subsided I was left with the complete and utter despair of not being worthy. I was convinced I was incompetent. A fraud. I couldn’t even remember how to drive my car suddenly. I questioned every move, every breath. I don’t remember how I get home that day, but I do remember the following week as I mentally shut down.
At first, I couldn’t remember how to blog, so I stopped. I became terrified to respond to emails, so eventually, I stopped reading them. I deactivated social media because I was afraid someone might see it. I hid away where no one could see me fail and no one could judge me as an impostor.
If you’re not sure if you’ve been a victim to impostor syndrome then chances are you haven’t been. It’s a debilitating event that disrupts your life. It’s easy for people outside of it to simply say ‘get over it’ or ‘ignore the thoughts’ or ‘your not a fraud so what’s the big deal’. But living in the moment isn’t easy.
For many, this triggers depression, anxiety, stress, and avoidance. The symptoms can manifest physically as you dive into food, or exercise (or suddenly not eating or exercising). It’s part of the psychological phenomenon of needed to control something when something feels out of your control. You can’t seem to control these impostor thoughts so you control something physical instead such as food or exercise. It can also trigger habits, such as smoking or drinking and lead you down dark paths.
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The effects of imposter syndrome
The symptoms don’t stop there. Feeling like an impostor in your own body is dangerous. It causes you to think differently, and more importantly treat yourself differently. Suddenly you may find yourself inflicting:
- Dropping responsibilities
- Avoiding additional responsibilities
- Your success onto others
- Bitterness or resentment onto people you respect
- Lack of worth ethic
- Loss of ambition
And so much more. It’s a harmful spiral, and once it begins it gets harder and harder to control each day.
Befriending the IMPOSTOR
The great news is, it is possible to control and put a stop to the impostor syndrome. And you can do it without hurting it or hurting yourself later. Usually, people suggest talking about it, pushing past and reboxing that little voice so you can ignore it for another 6 months or two years or however long you get lucky for. The problem with this route is eventually the voice breaks free again, stronger than ever and you’re back to where you started. A panic attack on the side of the road or however it takes you down.
There is a healthier way. Befriending the impostor allows you to control the situation. It allows you to understand how the impostor works, why it’s there, and use it to help you grow instead of breaking you down. You could almost say befriending the enemy. And it’s so much easier than you think. Learn how to befriend your impostor in 3 easy steps.
1 | Talk to the IMPOSTOR
Tell your impostor everything about your journey. It’s been locked in a box for who knows how long, so treat it like a person and tell them what they’ve missed. Walkthrough each emotion, each step on your journey. What brought you to this point and hear the words out loud. Relish in your accomplishments and failures. Focus on the journey and the emotions in each step. Laugh at the funny moments, cry at the sad ones. But do it WITH the impostor. Share these moments. Tell the memories out loud again if you need to. Remember each moment because they are YOURS. No one else’s. And definitely NOT this impostors journey. Because this impostor is invading YOUR body and mind, NOT the other way around. But sharing them with the impostor makes them part of it, in a healthy positive way.
2 | Switch your perspective
More often than not the impostor appears during transition periods. Maybe you’re about to embark on a new project or simply try something new. Maybe it’s that tiny success that just feels slightly different than all the others. It’s a new feeling. Try to switch your perspective, your impostor is here to help you transition, not beat you down from it. It’s here because it’s afraid to see you fail, not because it thinks you will fail. Nurture that perspective.
Understanding that the impostor is here to help you, not hurt you is critically important. Continue to foster that perspective by setting new ground rules. What the impostor is saying isn’t hurtful, it’s helpful. When it tells you can’t do it, it’s actually saying you can just be careful of XYZ. Focus on switching this perspective and understanding the motive of the impostor. The more you do it, the less you will have to because your brain will begin to automatically interpret the messages this way.
3 | Stay positive
Now breathe. It’s time to start helping yourself back on your feet, with a newfound friend by your side. Positive affirmations work. They tell your brain what you need to hear, and help you reinterpret what your impostor is saying. So say them often. You can download my 365 positive affirmations guide and say a different one each day, or pick your favorite and say it over and over. Just keep saying it until you understand it as the truth.
It’s time to keep going. You have a new ally on your side. One that doesn’t want to see you fail, one that only speaks the truth no matter how painful. One that will never leave you. Stop trying to force it into a box, listen to it. It’s warning you about the failures in the opportunities you are chasing. Not because you shouldn’t chase it, because by heading off failures before they happen you can learn more, and grow faster than you ever thought possible.
My impostor is my closest friend. Once I learned what she was warning me off, I was able to prepare for issues I didn’t see coming. I was able to expand my world and dream bigger. And that moment of breaking down on the side of the road? A distant memory we can laugh at. It can still be terrifying hearing how I might fail, but its a confidence boost each time we don’t now.
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