Defeating Imposter Syndrome has been on my list of to-dos since the end of 2018. Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud."
Thanks Wikipedia, for leading us in like that. I’ll take it from here. I have a story to tell about how imposter syndrome feels to me, how I started trying to work against it and failed, and what I'm doing now that works for me.
No, wait, first: This is a means of transparency, realness, and a reminder that it’s OKAY to feel the feelings. I am not a mental health professional, and this blog is no substitute for proper mental health care. The list of helplines provided by NIMH is a great place to start if you need somewhere to turn for help.
At the end of 2018, I decided that I was going to make an honest effort to weed imposter syndrome out of my mind. I had done a lot of reflecting on the type of example I wanted to set for my kids, and I knew that I wanted to be the type of person that inspired them to believe in themselves no matter what. I wanted to be that person for myself too! It was very difficult to foster self confidence when consistently trapping myself into the “I’m a total fraud” thought pattern.
That thought pattern made me feel paranoid. I’m an extrovert, and in almost any context, I’m in it for the people. I love people! I want people to like me, and have a good time when they interact with me. When the internalized fear of imposter syndrome compounded with the desire to people-please, I found myself doing really irrational things. I took shortcuts in my work. I didn’t try harder methods. I didn’t take challenges I thought would be fun. I was convinced that if I tried those things, I would fail and be exposed as a faker. As someone who was learning-on-the-fly. Unprofessional. Fraud.
So, when I set about removing imposter syndrome, the way I started ultimately led to failure. I decided that everytime I thought something negative about my professional or artistic existence, I would shut that thought down. I would punch it in the FACE and refuse to allow it to root into my brain. Ka-POW! Yeah!!
Well. No. That didn’t work.
Not for me, at least.
Everytime I thought a negative or deprecating thought about my work, I would mentally bodyslam that thought into the dust. When I started to realize how much bodyslamming I was doing in my mind, I started to get concerned. Then mad.
I was constantly snapping those negative thoughts off. Good grief, do I have ANY positive thoughts? How the heck am I so negative? I love myself deeply. Why can’t I just shut this off?? I should be over all this by know. I know I’m AWESOME so what’s the big deal?
See the issue yet? Yeah. It took me a while. But I got there eventually.
Deciding to muscle through the negative thoughts brought on this whole other issue: I was trying to convince myself that the whole imposter syndrome experience was invalid. I wasn’t allowing myself to be fully aware of the thoughts. It was like trying to weed a garden without inspecting the plants to see what they were. Or, more accurately, like weeding a garden and not being willing to admit the weeds are even there, so you start mowing everything down.
Once I stopped hosting Fight Club in my brain, untangling imposter syndrome became so much easier.
Now, when that imposter narrative winds up in my mind, I stop what I’m doing. I stop typing, talking, drawing, white-knuckling my knitting, whatever. I simply stop. I let the thought run, and I give it my attention. Then I start asking:
Why is this coming up right now?
Is this based on any reality?
Do I truly agree with this thought?
Usually, those questions alone are enough to stop the downward spiral of “everything I do is garbage and I have no clue what I’m doing.” If the spiral doesn’t stop, it’s time for me to stop. I have to take a break, do something else, and give it a break.
I then practicing grounding. Once I've stopped and asked myself some questions, I take a deep breath and focus on exactly where I am. This is hugely helpful for other anxiety attacks, too!
The final step in the process is to grow. I now intentionally compare myself to ONLY myself. I am very competitive, so I let that nature work for me, not against me. By looking at past work and seeing how far I've come, I'm taking out the comparison falsehood that often accompanies my imposter syndrome. I look to my peers and experts in my industry as inspiration, teachers, and mentors, and NOT as benchmarks for where my career should be or how my art should look.
I'm so proud of myself and how much internal work I've done in the past year. Each small victory is growing a healthier mental state and showing me just how much I can create when I'm my biggest fan.
Do you experience imposter syndrome? What do you do to disrupt it's hold on your progress? Tell me in the comments!
Stay Bad Axe,