When I do something well and have success, I feel like it’s a fluke.”
“I walk around feeling like a fraud. I don’t trust that I’m honestly capable of doing the things that I do.”
“I have this nagging sense that I’m going to be found out, like I’m a fake.”
A fluke. A fraud. A fake. The imposter syndrome. Thanks to the Internet, most people have heard of this insidious and demoralizing way of walking through the world, but few people know how it forms and what to do about it. Moving through life feeling like we’re going to be “found out” leads a subtle but chronic sense of anxiety. As such, it’s worth spending some time unraveling the elements that comprise this painful way of regarding oneself.
These are the common personality traits of those who suffer from the imposter syndrome:
- Highly sensitive
- High achieving
- Difficulty making decisions
- Prone to anxiety, intrusive thoughts
- Scared to fail
These are people who don’t know who they are, who don’t deeply value themselves and, ultimately, trust themselves. These are the people who Google their way to my work as they’re being dragged down the rabbit hole of anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and doubt. And, as you know if you follow my blog, they (you!) are among the most compassionate, creative, insightful, caring, and beautiful people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.
Sadly, this beautiful sensitivity wasn’t honored early in life. It was judged and then pushed deep, deep down, where it could only mutate into anxiety. The message absorbed from a young age – likely pre-verbally – was this: Your self-worth is dependent on how perfectly you achieve. And if you succeed in the external world, you will be happy. This message may not have even come directly from parents (although it may have) as much as from the culture at large. The message is everywhere, and if you were a highly sensitive person who aimed to please, you would have absorbed it from a variety of sources.
Inherent to this message is a complete abdication of your core sense of self, which then creates a sense of unreality. If you don’t know who you are, you won’t be able to value your achievements as being genuine expressions from your true gifts and intelligences. At the same time, if the only measure you have of your worthiness is from external achievements, you will mis-assign meaning to the achievements as evidence of your worthiness as opposed to expressions of who you are. This is what leads to feeling like a fraud: the sense that your achievements and successes aren’t really coming from your core self but are attempts to try to gain approval and validation for your core self. It’s a bit confusing to wrap your mind around, so I suggest you read this paragraph a few times until it starts to sink in. The mind resists a new way of thinking because it’s unfamiliar. But once you’re able to metabolize this new way of viewing yourself and life, everything starts to shift.
Let me say it succinctly: True worthiness has nothing to do with anything externals. When you learn to claim who you truly are, you will be able to embrace your achievements as natural extensions of the gifts and skills that emerge from the full of well of Self that lives at the center of you. You will take pride in your successes, not from small-minded and approval-addicted ego but from a solid sense of recognition and gratitude.
The key is to learn to connect with your immutable qualities, the parts of you that are intrinsic to your wiring, your being, your soul and will never change. Because we’re a culture that upholds externals as the sole measure of success and applauds endless acts of doing, we don’t learn to value our internal being: our creativity, our natural and varied intelligences (as opposed to the left-brained, school-smart form of intelligence that the education system rewards), our compassion, our caring, our sensitivity. And let me say that a bit more emphatically: Not only do we not learn to value these aspect of our being, we learn to judge them, criticize them, shame them, and ultimately sequester them into a tightly sealed box deep in the recesses of self.
It requires courage to reverse the habit of externalizing our sense of Self and placing our authority in the hands of others. It takes courage to turn inward and face the black box of shame that lives at the center of you, the box that will remain black until you shine the light of consciousness into its contents and find that it starts to shimmer. Your gold lives in that box. Your self-trust rests like a shimmering crystal at its center. When you retrieve that self-trust, everything shifts. When you learn how to know yourself and love yourself, you will know how to be the captain of the ship of your life, and your will embrace your successes for what they are: expressions of your immutable gifts from your true self.