Impostor Syndrome: Coping with the voice that denies your worth.
Imposter Syndrome Part II
So, last week, as it turns out, was a big learning experience in the world of blogging for me. I typed my original blog post directly into the body of my website and for whatever reason, it didn’t end up being saved and so the blog as it appeared about Imposter Syndrome was only half complete. So, here I go, attempting to recreate the magic of my original blog post.
So, in the previous blog post, I discussed how Imposter Syndrome impacts the day to day lives of high acheiving individuals who due to their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or class may have a constellation of experiences such as guilt, shame, fear, and sometimes anxiety or depression based upon their idea that they are a sort of “fraud”…
Does this sound or look familiar?
If so, please read on in order to learn about some practices that may help to quiet your mind and increase self-compassion when Impostor Syndrome rears its ugly head.
1.)Ask yourself, “How does this story serve me?”
A lot of the times many of us (and I place myself in this category) exercise the tendency to try to challenge distressing thoughts by engaging them, arguing them, telling them to shut up and go away, or otherwise attempting to exercise control over them. Although we engage in this practice with the best of intentions, and often do this at the behest of others, including advise that may have been provided to us by mental health professionals, often we end up with paradoxical results. Instead of our thoughts being diminished, attempting to exercise control over them may amplify them and increase their power over our emotions and behaviors. When we engage in the practice of asking ourselves it the stories we tell about ourselves serve, and let them go when they do not, we allow ourselves to walk away from the battlefield with our minds and have more energy to engage in activities with fill our lives with richness and meaning. Mindfulness meditation is one method of engaging in the experiential practice of letting one’s thoughts go. You Tube is a great place to get started with mindfulness meditation, as is the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center website. For those of us who have experienced trauma or are experiencing an episode of depression, however, engaging in meditation may be a few steps ahead of where we can be in the moment. Similar to beginning an exercise routine for the first time, we often need to scale our mindfulness practice to where we are at and build from there. In a future blog, I will discuss accessible methods of practicing mindfulness without meditation for those of us who are new or rusty to the practice.
The flip side of mindfulness can often manifest itself as fusion with our thoughts, which for those of us who experience the self-doubt that accompanies Impostor Syndrome, can have a negative impact on our personal and professional development.
Early in my graduate school career, I had a lot of self-doubt to shake off when developing the identity of a psychologist-in-training. As a young Chicana/Latina from a working-class background in Central Arizona who had been subjected to racist comments from teachers about whether or not any of my brothers or cousins had “robbed anyone lately” (for real!), I had also not been exposed to role-models who wore my facial features, curly black hair, or lived experiences until I reached graduate school. A couple of times, when preparing for interviews for internships and placements, I would spend inordinate amounts of time straightening my hair in order to “look the part” of the professional woman who lived in my mind. Although my response was a valid and understandable response to living in an ethnocentric, classist, and sexist society, the energy and focus I put into my appearance robbed me of the ability to be present and feel confident during the interviews themselves. My inability to remain mindful, although understandable, only ended up hurting me in the end. The systems that oppress us lose nothing from our suffering. If anything, when we are not able to be fully present and alive to our work with others, the world loses out on our creativity and overall fabulousness.
2.)Honor where you’re been, where you’re going, and who’s helped you get there.
Sometimes taking some time to reflect on our experiences and acknowledging where we’ve been and where we’re at now can place us on the path towards self-compassion. This process can look very different depending on you. Taking a long walk or run, writing in an analog or digital journal, blogging, posting an appreciation on social media, or (my personal favorite) staring into the eyes into a beloved companion animal can help us reflect and detach from toxic thoughts we have about ourselves. Also, remember to honor those who have helped us on our journey and continue to be a source of support. None of us have gotten here alone. I’ve become more mindful of this and have begun to make a regular practice or complimenting coworkers, friends, and family on their personal and professional accomplishments. I’ve noticed that this practice alone has increased my ability to exercise compassion towards myself.
Beware of the temptation to make self-compassion dependent on your accomplishments. As humans we are constantly evolving. As I tell my clients, it is impossible for us to be who we were yesterday and equally impossible to say who we will be a year from now. During periods of personal difficulty we sometimes find the wisdom and creativity to approach new professional, artistic, and social problems in creative ways. Conversely, during periods of professional failure we often access the vulnerability and humility that breeds new appreciation for family, friends, and our communities.
This tip seems simple enough but I’m amazed at how many times, even with all my training and experience, I find myself going several moments without taking a breath when I notice myself getting butterflies in my stomach, tension on my jaw, or when I notice other body signals that tell me my anxiety is rising in response to uncomfortable career-oriented situations. These bodily sensations can quickly put my back in my head and leave me absorbed with thoughts that beat myself up. I’ve noticed that when I’m able to remind myself to breathe, I can easily come back into my body and environment. Don’t feel like you have to take a loud yoga breath or somehow artificially manipulate your breathing. Just take a breath that starts in your belly and ends our of your nostrils. That’s a good enough place to start.
What has helped you to embrace yourself and quiet the voice of Imposter Syndrome? Please weigh in below.