You’re Not a Fraud: Impostor Syndrome is Telling You That You Are

Archive for the ‘stress’ Category

You’re Not a Fraud: Impostor Syndrome is Telling You That You Are

Posted on: February 6th, 2021 by Kim Koehler, LCPC

“I don’t belong here.” “I am not worthy of this opportunity.”“My thoughts on this are stupid.”“I am an impostor.” These are some of the common trains of thought that come from someone experiencing Impostor Syndrome.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome is a specific type of cognitive self-doubt, whether it be doubting your own intellectual abilities, talents, or worthiness of your position. Impostor Syndrome can make you feel like an outcast, or an outlier in a group. With the state of uncertainties in the current world, I’ve been hearing clients discuss Impostor Syndrome more than ever. So many people in my personal and professional world have discussed the fears of losing a job, but these fears being supplemented by statements such as “I’m not seasoned enough” or “losing me wouldn’t be a great loss.” This is also a common theme amongst students, wondering if the input they provide in their Zoom classes is substantial enough, or if their classmates are more easily retaining information than they are because of how much more intelligent their classmates must be. We can also see Impostor Syndrome in our relationships, when we start comparing ourselves to our partner’s previous partners, or wondering what they see in us compared to some of the other people they have been with. Impostor Syndrome has always been there for many of us, whether we have known how to label it or not, but it does not have to stop us from fulfilling our goals and dreams.

Who develops Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is not exclusive to any group of people. Although it is most commonly found in individuals who grew up with high achievement standards, many very successful people have had to overcome their self-doubt and validate their capabilities.  Some well-knownexamples of these include CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz; Tom Hanks; Maya Angelou; Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University, Valerie Shears Ashby; David Bowie; Tina Fey; and Serena Williams. All of these individuals can be seen to many as the best at what the do, the most intelligent in their fields, or the most awarded in their sport – yet still they have been outspoken on what it would feel like if everyone were to discover that they were a fraud, or that there were others out there more deserving of the opportunities they have earned. In our everyday lives, feeling like a fraud or finding others to be more deserving can come out in many ways. For many people in the work force, feeling like an impostor can mean that they do not want to accept compliments or praise about their performance, because they are still comparing themselves to others who they perceive are at a higher level. Feeling like an impostor can also create a spiral effect, where those feelings of inferiority or imagining yourself to be a fraud, can cause you to put extra time into perfecting your work or craft, which leads to not participating in enough self-care or recognizing your contributions. I have heard from several individuals who have been passed up for a promotion, that following this they poured their time into work, seeking to be the best in their division, and as a result grew tired, burnt out, resentful, and ignored some of the most important things in life like family, friendships, and hobbies. Even when it comes to hobbies and extracurricular activities, those feelings related to Impostor Syndrome can surface. You may start dictating your goals for improvement by comparing yourself to the work or abilities of others, which becomes de-motivating and causes you to stop your craft. For example, if you start learning to play the piano, and begin to truly enjoy learning and setting goals for yourself to improve, that’s great! However, when you begin to watch videos of other talented pianists, or have friends who are able to play really well, and start to think to yourself things such as ‘I’ll never be as good as my friend,’ ‘I’m not good enough to play in front of other people,’ or ‘I just can’t learn fast enough,’ resulting in you to totally give up on learning, the sting of Impostor Syndrome may start to be getting to you. It is important for you to know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do about yourself, and although the world around you applauds your accomplishments, it is up to you to buy in to the belief about how strong, capable, and intelligent you are as well!

What helps in combating impostor syndrome?

  • Redefine what being successful means: Those with impostor syndrome often fall into the theme of chasing the destination and not enjoying the journey. When we are so focused on achieving milestones that we feel will increase our status or better others perceptions of our capabilities, we don’t recognize the hard work we took to get there. Ask yourself: am I living a life that is dictated by being the best, or am I living a life where I am the best for myself, but thriving to continue learning and growing? Many people also often get caught up in the fears of being a rookie at their craft. Why are you rejecting yourself because you aren’t at the same level as a colleague who has been at your company for ten years? Why do we let the comparison to others successes stop us from doing what we truly love? You are learning and are growing every day! You are writing your story on the ladder of success right now, and if you focus too much on the end product, you ignore all the steps you took and triumphs you have had on the way to getting there.
  • Focus on why you belong and the myths your mind is making up:The job, school, program, group, or organization you belong to, did not select you because you are the worst at what you do. You are an important part of these and you were chosen to be there for a reason! When Impostor Syndrome comes creeping in, it’s helpful to ask yourself about the validity of the claims it’s making against you. A common negative thought, such as ‘I don’t belong here’ can be negated often simply by asking yourself, ‘what’s my evidence for that?’ followed by ‘what’s my evidence against that?’ For example, if you are selected for a promotion at work, the evidence that supports this is that clearly you have excelled at your job, managers and supervisors admire your work, and you have built a good reputation in your company. In the astounding majority of cases, you would not be chosen for a promotion if your company wanted you to fail, if they thought there were better candidates for the position, or if you were not viewed as valuable and knowledgeable in your life of work.
  • Practice mindfulness and self-gratitude:A part of being mindful is not just focusing on your faults or deficits, but giving yourself time to celebrate your successes in the present moment that they are happening. Reflecting on that promotion, high grade on a test or homework, or personal achievement in a hobby or sport can help remind you why you deserve to be where you are. Work on trusting yourself and those around you by remembering why you are at this point in life, and the things you do every day to keep yourself or your organization growing. There are so many ways you can do this; whether it be through daily mind and body scans, meditations, journaling, or repeating a mantra to yourself about how capable you are. The important thing is that you take some time once in a while to appreciate yourself and all the hard work you put into life, without negatively comparing your struggles or successes to those of others.
  • Talk to someone about it: I promise you, you are not alone in feeling like an impostor. Talk to your coworkers or social supports to normalize making mistakes, not knowing the answer to something immediately, or if you just need to build comraderies with others to openly discuss your feelings about your role. Talk to trusted professionals, supervisors, your therapist, or family members about how they built their confidence in their roles and what helped them along the way. We are all trying to give our best every day, and you are doing an awesome job at it!

Six Strategies to Decompress While Sheltering At Home

Posted on: April 15th, 2020 by Gretchen Lewis, LCPC

When we experience stress or internal pressure it becomes even more vital that we take time to emotionally soothe ourselves. We all are aware that stress makes it difficult to maintain a work life balance. During stressful times, we may lose motivation to prioritize daily tasks such as cooking, laundry or cleaning. Some of us are not fully aware that we are slipping into negative patterns which then makes it even more of a struggle to change the behavior. We want to share with you some strategies that may be helpful for you to stay grounded and balanced during this Shelter At Home period.

#1: Schedule Breaks
Be as consistent as possible with the start time and end time throughout the week. This helps to create a work life balance as well as sets a framework for patterns and routine. With some flexibility, consider carving out time for breaks or keeping to a schedule for meals. And when you are taking a break from work, give 100% of your attention to your activity. We promise, your work will still be there after your dedicated break.

#2: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
OK, this oversimplifies things a bit but there is truth to what we can’t see frees up mental space for other activities. This applies to whether you have a dedicated office or are using a common area in your home. Before you leave your work area, try to put away files, papers and anything else work related. Shut down your computer or close out your tablet. Create a ritual for closing the work day and this will keep your space more inviting to enter.

#3: Physical Exercise
Even just 10 minutes of exercise can change our brain chemistry to relax or help us switch gears. Exercise improves mental health through increased blood flow and deep breathing.

#4: Try Meditation or Just Take Three Deep Breaths
There are some great Apps that offer step-by-step directions on meditation and deep breathing such as Headspace, Calm and Ten Percent Happier. If you are new to meditation, start with a short, guided, five-minute exercise.If five minutes seems too lofty right now, sometimes just taking three deep breaths periodically throughout the day can help reduce stress levels.

#5: Write It Out
Perhaps you have personal goals that you have wanted to work on but have not had the time to start. Or, maybe you have been working on multiple goals at once, therefore not giving the appropriate time for each goal. Giving 100% focused attention can help us to honor our goals. One way to do this is through journaling. There are no wrong ways to journal, whether stream of consciousness or writing about a specific topic. Feel free to use bullet points or complete sentences. Spend 10-15 minutes each day diving into your successes and barriers. Let your mind wander to ways to overcome these barriers. Allow new perspectives to form.

#6: Plan Social Time
Give yourself something to look forward to throughout the week. Schedule game time or watch a movie with friends or family. This is a great time to create a new outlet such as a book club or movie club. These types of activities encourage us to schedule leisure time and have the added bonus of staying connected to others on topics that are of interest.

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? As If It Is That Easy.

Posted on: December 7th, 2018 by Justin Tobin

By Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

In 1988, Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” topped the charts, urging everyone to let go of whatever was troubling them and focus on the positive. The charming tune may be a helpful mantra for some, but for people struggling with anxiety, not worrying isn’t that easy. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly 18 percent of the United States population over the age of 18 is affected by anxiety. “That gives me anxiety” or “I had a panic attack over that” are part of the lexicon but acceptance and treatment of an anxiety disorder is far more fear-producing for people. A little anxiety before a performance, public speaking, or a first date makes sense. Anxiety is a natural reaction to stress. But when these symptoms are pervasive, are not triggered by a circumstance, or interfere with day-to-day functioning, it’s another story. Stress hormones flood our bodies and cause us to experience the physiological symptoms of anxiety such as a racing heartbeat, tightness in our chests, or gastrointestinal problems. We are wired to experience these symptoms because they alert us to prospective danger and encourage us to react in an aggressive way or avoid the threat (fight or flight). Worries are often verbally expressed whereas anxiety is very much experienced throughout our bodies. The more we can understand anxiety as different than a passing worry, as a real state that needs to be managed and treated rather than just ignored, the better we will be.

Me: “What could possibly go wrong?” Anxiety: “I’m glad you asked.”
Anxiety can have a snowball effect. A teeny-tiny-sized ball of white powder becomes an enormous boulder of packed ice, picking up speed and power as it ricochets down a steep incline. This is what happens with our thoughts. We easily add onto the negative, scary possibilities of what could go wrong. We anticipate and take on the negative outcomes we imagine. On top of that, we get really, really good at creating a sense of how bad things could get. Forget horror films; anxiety can cause us to imagine a super scary setting where we definitely should not go and yet, every time—every single time—we walk right in and know we are going to be obliterated. This distorted thinking is pretty great at appearing in full-force at nighttime, especially when we are trying to fall asleep or stay asleep. We struggle to live with uncertainty so we imagine and think and then feel our ways into these worst-case scenarios. There is also often a false belief when we start ruminating that we will figure it out—that we will get to the end of the thought loop and solve the problem. So we just keep going over and over it in our minds. Sound familiar? It is exhausting and can leave us feeling really defeated and powerless. So when someone tells us, “Just get over it, why worry?” that can feel very dismissive.

How to slow down those avalanches
Challenging your thoughts is a great way to start chipping away at those snowballs in your mind. Psychotherapy can help you learn and exercise tools to manage anxiety. It takes time and practice to change the way you are thinking. A helpful acronym to remember for “FEAR” is “False Expectations Appearing Real.” It can be useful to slow down those anxious thoughts and see them for what they are: really vivid, realistic-looking thoughts that, vivid and realistic as they may seem, are not true. Mindfulness is a great tool to help calm the physiological aspects of anxiety. If you can feel present in the moment and see the anxious thoughts as falling snowflakes versus crushing slabs of hardened precipitation, well, that sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? You may be a little frustrated with the snow out of the blue, you may need to put a hat on, but you can figure out ways to let the snow fall. If this wintry metaphor leaves you cold, think of another way of managing anxiety by completing your thoughts. If you are imagining those worst-case scenarios in the middle of the night, try to keep on completing them. What?! Keep going?! Likely the thoughts are about a bad thing happening to you over which you lack control. Completing the thought means you process that worst-case scenario and instead of getting stuck with how bad it would feel, you arm yourself with what you would do. Anxious thoughts leave us feeling helpless and stuck. When we remind ourselves that we have self-efficacy and abilities and strengths, the feelings of powerlessness dissipate a bit. Finally, an exercise like journaling or finding a container for the overwhelming thoughts can be helpful. The less it feels like you are stuck with these thoughts and feelings, the better.

Keep your snow shovel handy
No need to criticize Bobby McFerrin’s major hit. The idea of being happy sounds a lot better than being crushed by the weight of worries. The more we are able to identify our triggers and manage anxiety—equip ourselves with our snow gear, so to speak—the better we will feel. Know that it isn’t easy to manage overwhelming thoughts and feelings; it takes help, strategies, and even medication at times. And it may look like your neighbor’s driveway is always easily cleared whereas you have a mountain range of snow accumulation. But the reality is that anxiety is common, and real, and there are ways to cope.

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