Imposter syndrome, real or imagined?

I was asked to record a training session with the Lovely Victoria Massey for Lauren Prentice’s (the business box) membership group.

The topic was imposter syndrome, I can do that I thought, swiftly followed also by my own version of self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

But here is the thing, I do happen to know quite a bit about it, frequently work with my clients for this and have often recognised this in myself too. I have my own take on this as well as followed some clinical studies and often discuss this on forums with others working in mental health, mind coaching and hypnotherapy.

Imposter syndrome is a term that often conjures feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt in even the most accomplished individuals. Yet, it’s important to recognize that imposter syndrome is not a diagnosis but rather a collection of symptoms, first coined by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s.

Feeling like an imposter doesn’t mean you are broken in fact what’s intriguing is that those who grapple with imposter syndrome are often the very individuals who shine brightly in their fields. Outwardly, they exude success and capability, yet internally, they wrestle with feelings of being fraudulent. It’s a paradox that underscores the complexity of human psychology.

Hannah Owens, LMSW, aptly points out that imposter syndrome isn’t just about internal feelings; it can seep into our actions and affect how we navigate various aspects of our lives. The fear of being exposed as a fraud can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if left unchecked.

This phenomenon tends to rear its head most prominently during times of transition or when we’re venturing into uncharted territory. The pressure to excel combined with our own insecurities can create a breeding ground for imposter syndrome to flourish.

But what if I told you that questioning your abilities isn’t necessarily a bad thing? In fact, it’s far better than the alternative – arrogance. Understanding how our minds work can shed light on this internal tug-of-war.

Let’s take a look at how our mind works

There are two parts to our mind. The conscious mind, the part that is actively engaged in a task or conversation and the subconscious mind that part that is doing a million things in the background.

The subconscious mind is a fascinating and complex aspect of our mental processes that influences our thoughts, emotions, and behaviour, but often our conscious mind isn’t even aware of all the things going on in the background.

For instance, driving a car, it becomes automatic, we come to a junction and break, signal check it’s safe to pull out. When we first start learning this is all done deliberately and consciously but over time it becomes automatic. In fact, we often arrive at our destination hardly remembering the journey or how we got there.

To explain these two parts of the mind I like to use the analogy of the- Captain and the ship first used by the creator of the Control system Tim Box.

The captain represents the conscious mind, the part actively listening to me now. The captain knows where she wants to go, oversees the ship and the crew she has a goal and destination in mind. The crew is the many parts of your subconscious mind, all the parts that have their hands on steering the ship. If the crew are not listening to the captain, there is a battle going on. The captain has a plan but the crew, or at least one part doesn’t think it’s a great idea, fear something will go wrong so sabotage the plan.

When the crew isn’t aligned with the captain’s goals, internal conflict arises. The crew, though well-intentioned, may be operating on outdated information, seeking to protect us from perceived threats based on past experiences.

We were all born confident. As a baby we start to develop and try everything for the first time, but somewhere along the line we can become less confident in certain areas. Up until the age of 9-10 we were mostly subconsciously dominant, guided by our emotions. Early childhood experiences gave us our map of reality, everything we were being told about ourselves we believed, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are called a problem child that is what you will be. Those negative beliefs you have carried through into adulthood are not serving you well as an adult though. Time to ditch the self-doubt.

The key is to recognise these doubts for what they are – just thoughts. By fostering positive self-talk and gently guiding our subconscious crew toward a new and improved plan, we can navigate through the choppy waters of imposter syndrome.

It’s essential to remember that imposter syndrome doesn’t mean we’re broken; it means we’re human. We all have moments of doubt and insecurity, but it’s how we respond to them that matters most.

The journey to self-confidence is often paved with first steps and inevitable stumbles. Each stumble is an opportunity to learn and grow, to refine our skills and hone our expertise.
And let’s not forget the power of perspective. Even those individuals we admire for their unwavering confidence may be grappling with their own inner demons. Learning to differentiate between reality and perception is crucial in overcoming imposter syndrome.

So, how do we banish imposter syndrome once and for all? It starts with being kind to ourselves, acknowledging our achievements, and embracing the journey of continual growth.

Recognise the experience of being inexperienced.
The more you do something the more comfortable it becomes to you. The first time is the worst, the more we practice and get better the more confident we become.

We have had lots of first times, first steps, first day at school, even first ki. All those things felt huge at the time but with practice we become far more comfortable.

The fact is no matter how unfamiliar we may be with the challenge ahead and how inexperienced we feel in that area, we actually have vast amounts of experience from doing things for the first time and getting through it.

Remember you are the expert on you.
Concerning yourself too much about others perceived opinions, worrying that people won’t like us is not how you should base how you feel about yourself. Always seeking others approval and wanting likes on your socials isn’t healthy.

Worrying about the opinions of those who know nothing about you, or your story is madness. You know you best, your own story and how far you have come. The only person you need to impress is yourself. The person you have spent your whole life with and working on.

Highlight reel syndrome
If you constantly compare your journey to others, you will always have low self-esteem, feel like the imposter. It can even lead to depression.

Online you only see the stuff others want you to see. You don’t get the messy kitchen, piles of laundry and days stuck in procrastination mode.

When others are showing you their highlights, you compare these with your outtakes.
I dont know who originally said this but there is a well-known phrase “Comparison is the thief of joy” and it’s so true.

Positive self-talk helps. In fact, is crucial!
If you do a half-hearted job you will feel like an imposter, a “that will do attitude” OR “see how it goes” won’t give you a sense of pride.

Better to put 100% into something and fail, knowing you tried than to not try at all. You learn from things not working, if everything we did worked right first time, we would have learned nothing.

We learned to walk and talk, do a puzzle, make a cup of tea. Doing it all correctly the first ever time we tried it wouldn’t make us a genius we would be a robot.
Some learn quicker than others but only in certain areas. You may have learnt empathy long before you could write, what a skill that is!

Learning by making mistakes helps you lead others down the best path, you can tell them where you went wrong, therefore you have learned a skill that can be passed on.
For example, becoming a mum, it doesn’t come with a manual, yes you can get books on parenting, but your baby doesn’t care what the book says and seems to be programmed differently to the baby the book was based on!

If that’s you then treat yourself kindly, muddle through those early days using instinct rather than knowledge learned from books.

We all have to start somewhere, hone your skills, you will have exactly the right skill set and way of delivering that knowledge that suits some people.

Plenty of people out there, running courses programmes and businesses are not actually top of their game, they are great at shouting about how good they are though and do all the shiny insta stuff. They may not be our cup of tea, as you and I aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But they have a self-belief, a following, are doing the best job they can with the knowledge they have. To those with very little knowledge in that subject area they perceive these coaches to be the experts in their field.

You Need practice to improve
You will never be perfect, there is always room for improvement. The human race has evolved, every day we grow and learn a bit more. We have come a long way from making fire with sticks.
If you want to learn to play a musical instrument it will probably sound terrible at first. Gradually with practice you improve, you get to a stage where you know far more than a complete beginner so can start to pass on your knowledge. You are not good enough to join the Royal Philharmonic just yet but have the ability to encourage and nurture others just starting out on their journey.

I have a two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter who has mastered shape sorting and counting to 10. By no means and expert yet but she loves showing her fourteen-month-old brother how to match the right shapes and colours in the right holes, and he is happy to be taught by her. To him she is the expert.

You often hear people tell you to move out of your comfort zone Now I don’t agree with this, I would rather say let’s expand your comfort zone, try something new, experiment with doing things a little differently. By taking small positive steps, every step with bring you closer to your goal without the crash and burn of feeling constantly anxious.

Should you stay in your lane?
In a way yes, chopping and changing lanes on a motorway can be dangerous and a new driver needs to build up confidence on a 4-lane motorway, it doesn’t mean you have to stick to the slow lane forever though.
I am a mind coach, have done my training and do monthly CPD to keep up to date with as much as I can.

I read and study, am good with people, I get booked to do talks, podcasts, presentations for other therapists and women’s groups.

I am not however getting booked to do talks at medical conventions full of neuroscientists to discuss my theories on how the mind works. Instead, I follow their theories and scientific evidence. I stay in my lane. Through experience, further study and growth I can keep expanding that lane, but I know my limits. I do the very best I can with the knowledge and experience I have.

I don’t consider myself an imposter among these scientists though, I’m just coming at it from a different angle, using the tools I have to help others overcome anxiety rather than rely on the latest meds scientists are working on.

As J.K. Rowling famously said, “There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now.”
So, let’s embrace the now and step boldly into our greatness, imposter syndrome be damned.


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