“I feel like a fraud but in my mind, I know that I’m not. I’ve trained, passed all the tests and had several years of experience. I’m an expert in my field. So, why do I feel so vulnerable?”
Those were the first words out of her mouth when she arrived for her coaching session. Karen and I had been working together to help her establish a new business in holistic health. She is, in fact, an expert. She studied and trained for over two years and is a certified professional. I know her expertise firsthand, as I have been a client of hers and experienced incredible results.
Even my positive acknowledgment of her skills was not enough to change her fear of being seen as a fraud.
What Karen was experiencing is not uncommon. Research has shown that 70% of the American population has experienced this kind of self-doubt during some portion of their life. It’s called Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome is defined as a psychological pattern in which an individual questions their skills, abilities, talents, or accomplishments causing the person to have self-doubt and to internalize the fear of “being found out” or exposed as a “fraud”. Some people describe it as feeling like they “don’t belong” in the position, group or income bracket they are in. What Karen was experiencing that day was Impostor Syndrome.
If at times you’ve felt like an impostor, you are not alone. Initially, it was thought to be a woman’s issue, but after further research, it was found to affect men and women, at various stages of their lives. It can apply to anyone who has difficulty internalizing their own accomplishments. When you internalize your accomplishment you fully recognize and accept your role in making it happen. You know that it wasn’t lady luck or the alignment of the stars that caused the result. It was because you did the work to make it happen.
I’m not immune to Impostor Syndrome either. I too have had difficulty owning my accomplishments. To those who know me, it probably sounds stupid for me to say that I’ve felt like an impostor. They are aware of many of my accomplishments – author of two books, certified in several emotional healing techniques, professional speaker, past president of several professional associations, founder of a profitable coaching and training business boasting incredible results for my clients for 30+ years. They’re right. It does sound stupid. It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone needs to acknowledge their accomplishments and own them as their own.
In my experience, feeling like an impostor has shown up as a feeling of “I’ve not done enough to warrant being valued by others”. So, I over-give, over-produce, and over-do to gain acknowledgment from others. It’s not until someone says, “thank you” or “I appreciate you and what you did” that I feel I have value. I’m sure that you see the irony here, right? It doesn’t matter how much I’ve exerted myself; my value is dependent on another person acknowledging me. The unfortunate thing is that living from that perspective always leaves you vulnerable to another’s expression or lack of expression. You can’t control what other people will say or do. They may be dealing with impostor syndrome too.
Since the time I discovered that Impostor Syndrome was my Achilles heel, I set out to solve it with what I know best, emotional mastery. Before I could dissolve it, I had to first look at where it came from and when. I identified two very distinct occurrences in my middle school years that had a large influence. One came in the form of an off-handed comment by a teacher about what I wouldn’t become in life if I didn’t try harder. The second came from my mom who was pushing me to achieve more by comparing my achievements to her own. She had already lived a life twice my age by that point and an advantage over where I was in that moment.
In next week’s post, I’ll tell you how I started unraveling the trapped emotions that built my Impostor Syndrome. I’ll reveal what steps I took and how you too can start resolving your feelings of being a fraud. (Which you are not.)
Don’t miss next week’s blog, Resolving Impostor Syndrome.