In my recent post Picking up paintbrushes, and other things, I discussed the thoughts and feelings that might be holding you back from expressing yourself creatively. So… say you’ve now done your creative work. What then?
For many of us, life is a constant movement upward – searching for the next achievement, the next promotion, the next ‘level’. When was the last time you stopped, looking around and really enjoyed the satisfaction of your achievements? How long was it before you were pushing yourself to the next thing?
What holds you back from taking a moment to feel good? What stops you sharing your joy with others? Do you worry they won’t approve, or that your achievement doesn’t match up to something they have done? Is expressing pride “unseemly”? Do you temper your achievements by focussing on the bits that went badly? Are you able to take a compliment, or accept congratulations, without coming up with excuses as to why it didn’t really ‘count’?
There are all sorts of reasons why we don’t take time to pause and feel a bit of pride. Partly this might be due to the way we were brought up, or by the way our educational and corporate systems can push this kind of thinking. Partly it might be because being modest and self-deprecating is typically British!
I’m not saying to stop entirely and never go for the next thing, if you want. Equally, it’s okay to find a level you are comfortable at and stay there. It is worth reflecting on why you are making the choices you are, who you are trying to please, and whether it’s all actually making you the happiest and best ‘you’ that you can be.
At the end of it all, what will you regret more – not pushing on and on and on, or not allowing yourself to really feel the joy in achieving what you have? Enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. Give someone the gift of accepting a compliment without batting it away.
“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.
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.
Amy discusses her performance-art piece intended to look at self-love, vulnerability, self-acceptance, body positivity and self esteem.
One thing she said which really struck me was “that’s the thing about vulnerability – right when you open up and you start to live with your full hearts… there’s no going back“. I think that is very true – once we find a way to live fully and reach self-actualisation, we don’t want it any other way.
She describes how we are encouraged to doubt and bully ourselves and offers another way with words of encouragement. She asks, “what do you stand for?“, which can be a difficult question to answer. However, you may find that facing the question head-on can lead to rewarding (and maybe surprising) answers from places within yourself that maybe you hadn’t listened to much before.
Do you tell yourself bad things about yourself or knock yourself down? Do you insult yourself? If so – would you talk to your best friend that way? Would you accept it from your best friend?
It’s easy to think, “but everybody does it”. While it may be true that it is a common thing, it does not have to be that way.
Give it a try. Listen to your inner voice, the one that needs encouragement and nourishment. Try to stop insulting yourself for a day, a week, a month.
While endless self-promotion may grate on those around us, constant putting down of the self and denying achievements can damage self-esteem (and can also grate on others!). You can build self-esteem by recognising your strength and self-worth, by accepting and taking joy in what you have done that is good.
Building self-esteem is something we can only do for ourselves – we cannot rely on other people to build it for us, nor can we build it for others (although we can support others in developing their own self-esteem). Do you hold yourself in high esteem? How important are meeting your own needs and those of others? Do you put yourself down a lot? Humility does not mean making ourselves out to be worse than those around us – it simply means that we have a realistic view that we are not better than others, and have a realistic view of who we are and what we can do.
What have you done today, this week, this month, this year, last year that you are proud of? Think how you define things to be proud of – do you compare yourself to others? Don’t! All you can compare yourself to is yourself – are you better than you were yesterday, a week ago, a month ago? There are no ‘small’ things unless you choose to define them that way. Did you manage to finish a task? Have you learned something new? Did you get through the day, even when you felt you couldn’t? Are you proud of your achievements?