Imposter Syndrome

imposter
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“I feel like I have the word ‘fraud’ written on my head, and everyone can see it.”

“People say I’m great, but I’m not and I’m terrified of the day when they find me out.”

“My colleagues find it so easy, I find the job so hard and I’m such a mess!”

The phrases and sentiments above might be familiar to you if you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome was first described in the 1970s, and continues to be a topic of interest and research today.  It seems to be especially common amongst high-achieving young women.

Imposter Syndrome is the pervasive belief that you are a fraud.  That your achievements count for nothing and you don’t deserve success and rewards.  It makes it difficult to enjoy the results of success.  It also increases your workload greatly as you try to ‘prove’ yourself.  Perhaps people have told you that you are your own worst critic?  Or that you’re a “perfectionist“?

You might be surprised by how many people you respect and admire feel this way – a number of successful authors, artists and actors have spoken publicly about their experiences of Imposter Syndrome.

So how can you get out of this hole?

For a start, it is worth examining where your beliefs about your success and achievements come from and what your thoughts are.  Ask yourself what it is that prevents you from accepting the praise and rewards you have earned, and why you don’t feel like you really earned them.  For example, you might be hesitant to accept praise because you relied on other people to help you with some of the work.  However, does anyone ever truly achieve anything alone?  What would you think if Mo Farah said he didn’t actually deserve or want any accolades because his family and trainers and nutritionists and so on had helped him?  You might think it a strange thing for him to say… and yet you might be telling yourself the same things with respect to your own achievements.

Were you brought up to “not blow your own trumpet”?  Were you told it was “arrogant” to be proud of yourself?  Have you internalised those messages to the point where you punish yourself for even acknowledging your achievements?

Which brings us onto the net important point – are you kinder to others about their success than you are to yourself?  Why?  What are your beliefs and experiences of success, your own and others’, and how has that affected the way you are now?

Do you feel that showing pride in your achievements will hurt someone else?  Can you see a way to balance things, so your bigging-up of others does not come at a harsh cost to yourself?

What would you say to your best friend?  What would you best friend say to you?  Are these messages the same as the messages you give to yourself?  Why?

Do you magnify small errors, so they eclipse what you’ve done right?  Do your errors grow so large in your mind that they discount the correct bits?

Are you actually more afraid of success than you are of failure? That might sound weird, but consider – success might mean more responsibility, more expectations to live up to, more attention.  Do those things scare you?  Do they scare you so much you’d rather downplay your worth and achievements than risk accepting those things?

As I suggested before, “Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides“.  That is also part of overcoming imposter syndrome.  Recognise that most people, no matter how confident they appear, also doubt themselves and their abilities.  The trouble is, our fear of being vulnerable as a result of Imposter Syndrome means we don’t often say so!

If you would like to discuss this issue and work on overcoming Imposter Syndrome in counselling, please contact me to book and appointment.

Note: the quotes at the top of this post are from imagination, inspired by various other articles and celebrity interviews.

Perfectionism

perfectionism
Image courtesy of KEKO64 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Perfectionism, or the desire or need to be/act/achieve or perform in a way that is “perfect” isn’t uncommon – it is a trap that is easy to fall into, often without realising.

“Perfectionism” refers to a refusal to accept anything less than flawlessness.  It often goes hand-in-hand with self-criticism and worries about what other people think.  While the pursuit of excellence can encourage us to work hard to reach our goals, sometimes perfectionist traits mean that we keep setting those goals back and back.  This means we are not able to enjoy our achievements as they stand but instead keep looking to the next thing we haven’t done yet.  Eventually you might reach your limit, and feel very badly about yourself.  Combined with self-critical nitpicking at ourselves, it’s not surprising that this can potentially really bring us down.

Do you find yourself dismissing your achievements with criticism (e.g. “It wasn’t that great, I made this mistake…”)?  Do you compare yourself to other people and set impossible standards for yourself?  Are you unable to allow yourself to pause and enjoy your achievements?  Do you discount your achievements because you didn’t manage something else (e.g. “Yes, I achieved XYZ, but none of it counts because of ABC…”)?

Albert Ellis came up with the wonderful word “musturbation”.  This refers to the perfectionist tendency to set extremely high standards before allowing the self to feel pride/achievement/success.  How many times a day you do find yourself thinking or saying that you “must” do this or that before you will allow yourself to be satisfied?

The big question is… How much is perfectionism or ‘musturbation’ helping you in your life, and how much is it hindering you?

Do you feel in control of it?  Are you able to shrug off self-criticism or not indulge in it in the first place?  How does not reaching your super-high standards affect your self-esteem?  Would you criticise your best friend the way you criticise yourself?  What are you afraid of, if you sit back and enjoy something you have achieved that isn’t “perfect”?

Not all perfectionism is bad – some people find it spurs them on to greater things that they enjoy.  However, if perfectionism is causing you to feel worse and holding you back from life, you might want to change things.

Giving up body hate

Breaking free of body hate
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I recently read this article about giving up body hate, and it really got me thinking.

 

 

We are exposed to adverts every day – newspapers, magazines, television, radio, cinemas, bus shelters, vehicles – which try to sell us things based on perceived “flaws” in our bodies.  It’s really hard not to be affected by this!

I don’t think we are encouraged to love our bodies enough – especially when they don’t look like the bodies of the people we see in the media.  Thanks to Photoshopping, it’s easy to forget that those bodies don’t look like that in real life, either!

How much time per day do you spend criticising your body?  How many times a day do you deflect compliments?  How often do you see your body as an enemy, and treat it like one?

How much time, energy and pain would you save if you could stop doing those things?

It’s not an immediately easy thing to do – can you find or create a good support network to help you?  A group of people with a common goal could be very successful!

What if you stopped waiting to reach your ‘goal weight’ and bought some clothes that fit and feel good now?  What if you stopped being held back by fear of other people’s judgments and tried an activity you have always wanted to try?  What if you treated your body as a friend – one who needs care, food, water, rest and compassion – instead of an enemy?  What if you stopped deflecting compliments and started accepting them?  What if you accepted and believed good things about yourself?

If you would like to work through this issue in counselling, please feel free to contact me to discuss setting up an appointment.

Procrastination

procrastination
Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While reading a book recently, a particular section really caught my eye.  It challenged the idea that procrastination is “lazy” – suggesting instead that is is fear holding the person back.

Procrastination is something that a lot of people do – it’s a common experience to the point where there are huge numbers of jokes and memes on the internet (surely humankind’s greatest procrastination tool!) about it.

However, I thought the book made a really good point.  When you find yourself avoiding or holding back from doing something you know you need or want to do, it can be very useful to ask yourself why.  If you do start the task, what is it you think (or fear) might happen?  What will starting, working through, completing the task mean to you?

The book went on to explain the model of procrastination as a form of perfectionism and fear of failure – after all, if you don’t even start a task then you won’t risk not doing as well as you had hoped or wanted to.  The pressure to produce something brilliant, wonderful, perfect first time can cause a paralysing fear…  and procrastination.

The links above might help you work out what is causing your procrastination – and then you might feel more able to tackle it.  Tools such as breaking a task down into a series of goals or to-dos might help make a task seem much more manageable.

The other side of the coin is that it may not be fear of failure that is holding you back, it may also be fear of success.  What might success mean to you?  What do you fear it might mean to the people around you?

If you can understand where your resistance is coming from, you might find it much easier to confront and tackle it.  Counselling can help with these feelings of stuckness if you want to explore them therapeutically.

The Poisoned Parrot

The Poisoned Parrot is a metaphor used to describe those nagging criticisms that pop into your head during the day – the “negative self-talk”.

The Poisoned Parrot repeats itself over and over again.  It is a bully that criticises your every move and never offers praise.  In fact, even doing something really well just gives the parrot the opportunity to pick up on a tiny thing that wasn’t perfect.  The Poisoned Parrot doesn’t accept that you are a human being and make mistakes.

The nagging nature of The Poisoned Parrot can grind you down, and it is very hard not to believe what it says.

Do any of these sound familiar?

“I knew you’d mess up.  You always do.”

“They’ll find out you don’t know what you are doing.”

“It’s not that great.  There’s nothing to be proud of, doing something so ordinary.”

If you’ve heard these things from your Poisoned Parrot, you are not alone!  The Poisoned Parrot is very common – but not much talked about so we don’t see that other people have their own Poisoned Parrot acting like a bully to them.

Would you put up with anyone else speaking to you this way?  If not, why do you accept it from yourself?  If you would, don’t you think you deserve better?

Would you speak to a friend like that?

Half the battle is in recognising your Poisoned Parrot and what it is saying.  What might happen if you ignored it?  Remind yourself of the evidence the Poisoned Parrot is wrong (a “success journal” could help here).  Then go and do the thing anyway.  Put the cover on the Parrot’s cage and do something more interesting and useful for you.

The Poisoned Pet is a rubbish pet.  You have no obligation to keep it around.

If you are struggling with your Poisoned Parrot, please contact me to arrange an appointment.

With thanks to the GetSelfHelp website for explaining the Poisoned Parrot here.

There is more about the Poisoned Parrot and how to combat it here.

I have found blog posts here and here about people’s experience with The Poisoned Parrot.