Sometimes I still feel like an imposter. I am glad to say most days it doesn’t occur and I can carry on without much concern. But other times the voice still can creep in. The one that tells me I’m not worthy, or that people will soon discover that I don’t belong. Doubts can still exist. The feeling of being an imposter in our careers, our lives, and our families is more common than anyone cares to admit. Isn’t it funny that so many of us feel like frauds, but we are all too scared to talk about it? It is a real double edged sword.
Even when we have family and friends who love us, a career we are passionate about, and material comforts, we can still be learning to cope with an inner thought process that would have us believe we don’t deserve any of it. We spend time worrying that we can be found out at any moment, discovered as a fraud and embarrassed. The doubt is like a critic who sits on our shoulder telling us to be fearful.
These imposter feelings can stem from several root concerns. We may believe we are only in our positions based on luck and that we didn’t really deserve what we have attained. We may also believe we are simply good liars and convinced others we are skilled, or talented. The third reason we convince ourselves we may only be a fraud is because we think we were simply in the right place at the right time or knew the right people. What do you notice as the common thread? A belief we aren’t as good as other people think we are, we aren’t as skilled, and we are only successes because of dumb luck. Knowing that these feelings are more common than any of us would want to admit is only a part of the battle in learning how to deal with them.
In my work with clients, we often discuss these imposter feelings and aim to find skills and techniques to move past the self-doubt and into confidence. But more than simply developing confidence, there comes a point when we aim to open up to others, building bridges and honesty. I like the way that the super popular author, therapist, and speaker Dr. Brene Brown discusses it in her books and writing:
“When we're in pain, we create a narrative to help us make sense of it. This story doesn't have to be based on any real information. One dismissive glance from a coworker can instantly turn into I knew she didn't like me. Our stories are about self-protection. Unconscious storytelling leaves us stuck. We keep tripping over the same issues, and after we fall, we find it hard to get back up again.” (Brene Brown, 2018, Rising Strong)
So we remain stuck in feeling like an imposter, and telling ourselves unconscious and sometimes overt stories as a form of self-protection. If I feel like a fraud and I keep hiding no one will discover me. Only in opening up to others and finding a way to come to terms with our stories can we begin the process of moving through the self-doubts and forming more honest and true ideas about our worth and value. Alright - so what are the practical steps in all this?
Come to terms with the stories we tell ourselves. This is not an overnight solution. Throughout the day take the opportunity to set an alarm on your phone. Have it remind you every six hours to ask yourself one question, “What is the story I am telling myself right now?” It can be as simple as a word or phrase, “Fraud” “Scared” or more complex, “My boss is mad at me”, “My friends secretly dislike me”. Whatever it is, begin to notice over time the consistent messages and stories you are telling yourself. You could even choose to write them down so you can notice patterns overtime. Or use the notes app on your phone to make it easy to document. It will just looks like you are typing a text message. No one even has to know what you are doing.
Seek out knowledge. Use books, podcasts and other resources to get a sense of how to move forward. As I highlighted earlier, the work of Dr. Brene Brown is amazing and I can personally speak to the impact it had on my own life. Beginning to get honest about the self-doubts, imposter feelings, and fears can be an important step. Brene’s work can be a catalyst to deepening our knowledge of how we can “rumble with the stories we are telling ourselves.”
Find supportive community where you can start being real. The stories we tell ourselves about being a fraud remain strong because they cause us to hide. When we bring the truth out to the open the lies can begin to wither. Here is my shameless plug for the PCSO and the amazing programming offered each week. Going to a meeting, a dinner, or a group and sharing space with like minded, diverse, and wonderful people can help you build bridges and have a new community to open up and get honest about your feelings and doubts. Also, when you feel like you need additional support always remember that Lexington is a community with wonderful therapists and healers that can help you on this journey. You do not have to do this work alone. Having the bravery to talk about being afraid you are an imposter connects you to others.
We believe we are imposters, but we hide it away. We think we are alone. But in the end others feel the same way and the amazing thing that can happen when we admit the fear is we can see that it is most often a lie. Some days I feel like an imposter, but the more I talk it out the less it has to control me.
David Pascale Hague is a licensed Psychologist in private practice in Lexington KY This post originally appeared in the LINQ Magazine, which is a publication of the PCSO in Lexington, KY. This article is educational in nature and not intended to replace mental health treatment. Please reach out to local resources if you need professional support.