Have you ever had something amazing happen, like a promotion or an invitation to be a part of a coveted group, only to have your excitement give way to fearful thoughts almost immediately?
Have you ever thought: They made a mistake and actually confused me with someone else much more qualified? Or had the feeling that even if they meant you, it will only be a matter of time before they realize you are a fraud?
If you can relate to this scenario, then you have experienced moments of a psychological phenomenon known as the Imposter Syndrome, in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. That is, fearing it has all been a mistake and that someone will wake up soon to the fact that you really know nothing. People with this syndrome hone in on any slight mistake they might make and downplay or brush off their accomplishments.
This phenomenon was first documented in a study conducted by psychology professor Pauline Clance and psychologist Suzanne Imes called "The Impostor Phenomenon Among High Achieving Women" (1978). But the syndrome is not limited to women. Many very successful men also claim to suffer from the feelings of being a fraud. The actor Mike Myers is quoted as saying, "I still believe that at any time the No-Talent Police will come and arrest me." Pulitzer Prize-nominee Maya Angelou, television's most successful female writer/actor/producer Tina Fey, and Meryl Streep have all admitted feeling that their lack of talent would soon be discovered.
In my private practice as a therapist for the past 15 years, I have seen hundreds of clients experience moments of Imposter Syndrome. I myself have experienced fleeting feelings of being "found out" many times in my career.
Let me relate an experience I had with Imposter Syndrome about a year and a half ago. I received an email from celebrity photographer and television producer Amanda de Cadenet, inviting me to be featured alongside my close pal Kris Carr for an Italian Elle spread she was shooting. The feature was about women who are doing good works in the world. I was flattered and excited, and obviously nervous.
On the day of the shoot, on my way to the studio in the meatpacking district of NYC, my mafia mind was listing all of the reasons why there must be some mistake that I had been included in this feature. I even went so far as to reread the email to make sure that Amanda had actually invited me to participate and that my eyes/ego were not playing tricks on me. The Imposter Syndrome was in full effect.
Not wanting feelings of fear or insecurity to ruin what could be an exciting adventure into the unknown, I decided to take 30 minutes to journal in a little café near the studio.
Here are the two steps I took that moved me from feeling like a fraud to being present and awake to what was actually occurring. If ever you think you're being a poser, you can try these too.
Make a list of all your accomplishments. Keep it at the ready to whip out and look at if you start to feel the Imposter Syndrome creeping in.
Stop and Breathe
When you're having fearful thoughts of being "found out" or being a fraud, stop to take three deep breaths. Mindful breathing can interrupt that fear-filled flow and bring you back to the present moment of pure potential.
I believe most people experience moments of feeling like a fraud regardless of career, gender, socio-economic status, faith, ethnicity, etc. If you feel like you actually have the syndrome, meaning that the feelings are not temporary and you live in fear of being exposed, I suggest you seek the help of a professional, licensed therapist. You deserve to feel the joy that being accomplished can create.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences with Imposter Syndrome, so please drop a comment right here.
For more by Terri Cole, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.