“Heyyyy…!” *in meek and ashamed while slowly entering the room…*
Okay, not to get too meta here, but I am acknowledging that (yet again) I am restarting my blogging endeavors. Ironically enough I am kicking off by talking about “imposter syndrome.” While I write this I am feeling exactly what I am going to be getting into in full force. “How do you actually think you can call yourself a blogger/writer when you don’t generate content but once a year?” “There is no way you are going to keep up with this…see you in another year.” “You don’t have the focus or creative energy to produce something worth reading.” Oof…that last one was especially cutting… I don’t know about you, but when I am steeped in this hot water there is no pleasant tasting tea that will come out of it. It’s also not something I can easily fight off. These cutting doubts will come back to find me if I just tell them to “fuck off.”
As I mentioned in my podcast episode of the same name…I don’t think “imposter syndrome” fits the description of this experience in a helpful way. “Imposter syndrome” conjures up something of more gravity and pathology than an experience that might have more spectrum to it. Doubt can actually be pretty beneficial. It is a stance that allows us to be self reflective and critique our own impressions and biases. It is close to curiosity, but, perhaps, with a little more scrutiny. It is adjacent to uncertainty, but, perhaps, with more edge. It is nearly questioning, but, perhaps, closer to a harsh conclusion. You get the point…
I am sure there are a million and one blog posts (see psychtoday.com probably) that address how to cope with imposter syndrome. I know that I actually chose this theme at the same time that Ben Benhen published a podcast on it. That is how much it is in the ether… By the way..check out his episode! It’s great, and we are kinda besties after I reached out to him to laugh about this:
In this post I will be focusing on this particular form of doubt’s function and how to shift our relationship with it. So with our further ado, here we go:
- “Imposter syndrome” is often a way that many people describe insecurity or doubt in a particular role. It can be experienced as a red flag or threat that needs to be addressed. When we feel it in this visceral way, we are often already engaging our thoughts and sensations, tied to this doubt, as judgements and commands. Our relationship to our doubt is fused. We can begin listening to our doubt as truth or commands.
- Ultimately, I wonder if a part of the function is that this anxiety often has us check-in with our peers, community, and others who might be able to reflect to us if what we are experiencing is normal/true. If shame accompanies this experience we might yearn for that connection, but find it too threatening to connect and face those potential mirrors. This function is, arguably, more true for people with identities that are marginalized in our society. For example: For hundreds of years psychotherapy has been gatekept by white cis men..meaning that feeling like an imposter is not just an internal experience, but also an internalization, or reaction to direct oppression for those who have been marginalized in our professions/society. Connecting with that larger context is part of the needed community in addressing this aspect of doubt.
Shifting the Relationship
- If we were to shift out of this rigid response (especially, if you have noticed it is a pattern) it would start with being willing to experience this cluster of emotions in a role that we find challenging. This doesn’t mean we have to be okay with it, rather allow it to be with us. Allow ourselves to hold this. So here’s the big question for you. Are you willing to feel all of this?
- If you are are willing to make space for this kind of doubt, what emotions come with it? —insecure, anxious, weak, inadequate, inferior, excluded, exposed, embarrassed, hesitant, disappointed, etc?
- Oof, lots of heavy emotions that camp out in that kind of doubt…what do we notice here? What is important to take away from clocking all of these experiences? Pain and isolation feel pretty present. What would tending to these deeper cuts feel like here? As we take that emotional elevator down from the higher flying anxiety/doubt…it might feel harder to identify these sensations and pains while continuing to rub salt in those wounds. How do we actually want to tend to these hurts? What might be helpful in addressing this internal impasse?
So, again….lets identify with our pain. It is a lot to feel, but the cost of trying to keep up with the anxiety part is pretty steep. Our pain connects us back to us. If we can engage with what values are important to us in our relationship to ourselves and others in pain..we stand a good chance of offering ourselves that antidote of compassion. I promise that we can be compassionate to ourselves and take action to feel more competency in whatever role we are struggling with. In fact, gaining competency is best found with compassion. Ask me how I know.