Impostor Syndrome: Who? Me?!
Despite having considerable experience moving past the anxiety imposter syndrome causes, both with clients and through my own struggles, I convinced myself to capture the latest cutting-edge information in order to offer a greater empirical comprehension to this common but complex topic.
My reason for not moving forward, my growing anxiety, and my persistent internal questioning were all the Imposter Phenomenon working overtime in my brain. Over the years, I have come to recognize it more readily but at times, getting through it is still a challenge.
From my experience and research, high achievers deal with it more often than not. An estimated 70% of people experience these imposter feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. I’ve seen it turn up as a mental roadblock for some, a seemingly insurmountable wall for others, as well as a source of pain and anxiety for most.
The term Imposter Syndrome is commonly used to describe deep-seeded feelings of inadequacy, coupled with an equally strong fear that we will be discovered as a fraud. Today, it is commonly referred to as the Imposter Phenomenon and according to psychologist Audrey Ervin, it can apply to anyone “who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes.”
Here are five types of imposter syndrome as identified by renowned imposter syndrome expert Dr Valerie Young:
1. The Perfectionist - focuses on the ‘How.’
‘How’ the work is conducted and the outcome. Fear of shame is their Achilles Heel, when Perfect is the standard, a Minor Flaw is a complete failure in their eyes.
2. The Expert - The knowledge version of the Perfectionist, the primary concern is on “what” and “how much” you know or can do.
Fear of failure and shame drive your expectation of knowing everything, even a minor lack of knowledge is unacceptable.
3. The Natural Genius - also cares about “how” and “when” accomplishments happen.
Competence is measured in terms of ease and speed. The fact that you have to struggle to master a subject or skill, that you’re not able to bang out your masterpiece on the first try, equals failure which evokes shame.
4. The Soloist - cares mostly about “who” completes the task.
When you think you should be able to do it all on your own, needing help, tutoring, or coaching is a sign of failure that evokes shame.
5. The SuperHuman - measures competence based on “how many” roles you can both juggle and excel in.
Falling short in any role - as a parent, partner, on the home-front, friend, volunteer - all evoke shame because you feel you should be able to handle it all - perfectly and easily.
Do any of these resonate with you? If your inner voice is casting shadows, raising your anxiety, and constantly reframing any success or achievement as “luck” or being “in the right place at the right time” despite all evidence to the contrary. You are not alone and there are ways to manage it.
Why Do People Develop Imposter Syndrome And Others Do Not?
The origin has some common threads, because the syndrome results from experience and as a reflection of the story you tell yourself.
However, the impact our life experience has is something we determine either consciously or unconsciously on our own, and generally, it is only in the rearview mirror where we can pinpoint the moment things changed for us. Some focus on childhood memories, others on peer acceptance or rejection, but these situations are grounded in a feeling of inadequacy.
In my own life, it was the relationship with my father and a desire for his approval that had the greatest impact on my growing Perfectionism. As I look back, I know his heart was “in the right place.” He loved me and wanted me to be my best self, always. Sadly, the message I received was that I always fell short of his expectations.
As a result, perfection and flawless execution became my personal standard. My inner critic was working 24/7. I developed a constant need to please, to be exemplary in everything and to not ‘need or accept’ help of any kind. “Self-sufficient, Perfection” was the goal.
I work with clients who build, lead, and develop businesses. My focus as their coach is to move them closer to their vision for their life. Part of that process is to examine why they are stuck and not where they want to be in their business. We define the challenges they see in their businesses and get very clear about what it looks like when their business is fueling their ultimate life vision.
I’ve discovered that many entrepreneurs put their “real life” on hold to get their business off the ground, but few realize that they have allowed the business to consume them, and their work has eaten their life. Frequently, when examined, we uncover an internal belief that they are inadequate to the task, they are experiencing anxiety over doing things “perfectly” that has become a mental paralysis and when they try to move forward or move through it the barrier shows up in some way.
Having worked through my own Imposter Syndrome provides a solid mutual foundation of trust, compassion and grace when working together to solve the challenges IP creates. We reframe the discussion around quality of life, AND a profitable business model so that work/life balance is no longer “going to happen someday.” It begins when we let go of the old story, accept ourselves ‘warts & all,’ and take the leap of faith to believe we are perfectly imperfect and that is being human.
How can you manage Imposter Syndrome?
When I was finally able to see that my fear of failure and humiliation was masked with the need for more information from someone more experienced, I knew I needed to get out of my own way. I began working with a coach to better manage my own life and reach my goals. It was during that process I learned the meaning of the following acronym:
STOP - Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Proceed.
By taking the time to go through those steps, I was able to get clear about what my little voice was telling me, and got curious about the source of the problem.
Why did I constantly have these feelings bubble up when I least expected it? I asked myself three questions and they have become part of my coping mechanism because you can learn to turn down the volume on your inner critic.
Where is this coming from?
Where am I feeling it in my body? (For me, it was my throat, now when I feel that I know who’s driving my thoughts)
What triggers these feelings of inadequacy? (FEAR of failure and the reality of SHAME)
This process has become a part of how I help my clients move through their roadblocks. If we learn to STOP, we create space to listen.
Our answers to those three questions provide clarity. With clarity, we can take action, seeing a clear path to attaining our goals.
About the Author: Catherine Fitzgerald
She is an experienced senior executive, leader, speaker, writer, board member and passionate coach. Catherine coaches heart-centered founders and executives of growing midsize companies.
She helps them develop new ways to communicate that free them from the burden of holding mental accountability for every aspect of their business.
No longer the HUB, her clients discover the key to unlocking their business with a process that fuels their lives, not consumes them.
Catherine grew up in California’s San Joaquin Valley, is a UCLA graduate, and the mother of three grown sons, who are the treasures of her life.
She enjoys cooking, traveling, and is now learning the secrets of successful E-mountain biking, and extreme snowmobiling.