Do you ever feel that everyone else knows what they’re doing and it’s only a matter of time before you’re exposed as a fraud? It’s surprisingly common for very capable people (often high achieving women) to be unable to believe in their own well proven abilities. I distinctly remember my first evening at college sitting there thinking “S**t…they all sound so smart and seem to know what they’re talking about, I haven’t a clue! This could be a very expensive mistake”. What I didn’t know at the time was that the rest of the class were feeling much the same way. Later on in the course as we started our clinical placement and began to work with clients those feelings resurfaced. Someone was going to realise that I was totally incompetent and shouldn’t be let loose on the unsuspecting public. I remember this issue coming up regularly in my personal therapy and my therapist pointing out all the evidence to dispute my feelings of inadequacy. Towards the end of my course she said to me one day ” you know, Marianne, I have a feeling that even if you get a 1/1 in your degree you’ll find some way to minimise your achievement”. We both laughed but she was spot on… for some reason I couldn’t seem to internalise the belief that not only was I good enough, I was actually quite good at what I do. Even writing that down feels wrong. Maybe it’s the old Irish mantra that was drummed into us when I was young…”self praise is no praise”. Don’t get above yourself or blow your own trumpet whatever you do!
If you relate to this it’s possible that your are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, a term first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. It refers to a tendency among high achieving individuals to minimise their success, attributing it to external factors such as luck or timing and to carry a persistent fear that at some point they will inevitably be exposed as the fraud they really are. Many well known people admit to having felt this way; Meryl Streep, Renee Zellweger, Kate Winslet and Emma Watson to name just four.
So, how can you counteract these feelings of being a fraud? The first place is to start with your thoughts, catching them as they occur and challenging them if they are negative. “Im useless, I only got where I am by pure fluke, everyone else really knows what they are talking about…etc etc”. Are any of those statements true? Where is the evidence? How do you feel when you think like this and how do you behave as a result of those feelings? Is there evidence that disputes those thoughts? If there is disputing evidence (I did get a 1/1, I have many satisfied clients, my supervisor respects my work and my ability) try these new thoughts and see if they change the feeling. If the feeling changes do you behave differently? This cycle of thoughts, feelings, behaviours is the basis of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
In my case, my thoughts create a feeling of inadequacy and that feeling leads me to hold back and not take risks that might lead to being exposed. Changing the thoughts means I become more likely to put myself forward for a better job or to write an article such as this one. The important thing to remember is that thoughts feelings are not facts. If there is evidence that shows you are intelligent and capable then there is a good chance that this is, in fact the truth…all you need to do is believe it!