Ever felt like you are a fraud? That you are don’t deserve to do well? That you don’t belong?
Yep, me too. I often wondered why I would set myself such high expectations, that I was bound to fail. I questioned my ability and my competence at every turn. I was a perfectionist and I worked like a dog – because that’s just what you do right? I needed constant validation and I’d berate myself for any small ‘fuck-up.’ My expectations of others were pretty low in comparison to my own. It was like others could be ‘let off,’ but not me.
If any of this sounds familiar, then you too could be experiencing ‘Imposter Syndrome.’ Imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behaviour where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud. The term was described by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have. Their research initially identified it as a condition affecting high-achieving women, but it affects everyone – men are no different when it comes to feeling inadequate.
I can’t deny that a large part of my validation and feeling ‘less than’ came from crippling low self-esteem and self-hatred. I was incredibly hard on myself, and nothing I ever did was enough. I convinced myself that I didn’t deserve anything good that came my way, and that there was little point in developing myself, in case anyone found out I wasn’t really up to it. This way of thinking kept me stuck in a routine for many years, and no doubt played a key role in my eating disorder.
This week I started a new role in my company. I worked hard to get it – setting up meetings, working out of hours, and introducing myself to people in the hope that I’d convince them that I was worth having on their team. So, after almost 4 months of waiting, Monday morning came and I felt like the new girl at school again. Sure, there were the normal kind of nerves you’d expect from a new job, but they weren’t like the paralysing butterflies I used to feel. By Friday, I had settled in well – made some new work colleagues and felt as though I really fitted in.
For anyone who knows me, and has followed my recovery from anorexia, they’d know that ‘fitting in,’ has been a huge struggle for me. I was terrified of going outside of my ‘safety net’ and constantly felt a failure. Any changes to my routine caused me great anxiety. But here I was, feeling as though all the hard work had paid off; both in my recovery journey and also in my professional career. Recovery has a funny way of showing up – I often do things now automatically, and forget that they were at one time ‘out of the question,’ and this is the reason why I decided to write about this. This week was evidence to me that I no longer allow my thoughts or beliefs limit me.
It’s totally normal for us to experience moments of doubt throughout life; it’s part of the human make-up. But the important thing is to not let that doubt control your actions. I have worked hard at reframing my thoughts by continually asking myself if there is actually any evidence to support them. I have found that voicing my thoughts with a trusted person has helped, alongside writing the thoughts out on paper. I also found that dialoguing the thoughts with myself or someone else helped me to counter the belief with fact. I would identify how my thoughts were holding me back, and imagined all the things I could do if I reframed my thoughts. Saying them out loud or writing them out diffuses the power they hold.
It’s not easy, but try to remind yourself that you are better than you think you are. You are smarter than you think you are. You know more than you give yourself credit for. Don’t allow someone or something to take up space in your head. Don’t allow an imposter to limit your life. Have the courage to go after new opportunities, explore potential areas of interest, and put yourself out there in a meaningful way. I’ve learnt that this week, the only thing that ever held me back was the fear of failing or not measuring up. I’ve learnt that when I reframed my thoughts and didn’t allow the imposter to gain power. I was free to discover and learn about parts of myself that I didn’t realise even existed.