Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally. Impostor phenomenon is not a mental disorder, yet there is research describing various management styles for this internal experience.
~Credit to Wikipedia for the definition~
Impostor Syndrome is something I have encountered many many times over the years with clients, when people are undergoing mental and physical transformations, and while they are enjoying the changes, they somehow feel they are “faking it”, and that this new, healthier version of themselves is not the “real” version.
I’ve seen this phenomenon in the fitness industry, when rookie trainers or physical therapists are entrusted with people, and they are secretly highly insecure and filled with self doubt that they don’t know what they are doing, people shouldn’t be trusting them, and that they will be “found out” somehow and revealed as being incompetent.
I’ve experienced this phenomenon in reverse with friends and family, who want to recall earlier versions of myself, and say that who I’ve turned into isn’t really me, and the “old me” is the real me, the version that they knew.
I’ve seen on the level of friends, who as they have moved up in life, they express doubt and reticence over their capability to keep climbing, and are afraid they’ll revert back to acting/thinking how they did before.
Impostor syndrome manifests itself in different ways, but fundamentally the phenomenon is rooted in a universal human truth,
-We want the future to PROVE the past~
As such, we desire positive change in our lives, but doubt the change within ourselves that comes with it.
This principle is not inherently bad either.
You might imagine if you had the belief that you are a strong person, that you can handle anything, and that you can endure, and that you have lived that belief out,
Why would you want to change that? You wouldn’t. You’d use your past as proof as to what you can overcome. Being strong would be an integral part of your identity.
Inversely though, you could have the opposite narrative, and in such a case, your weakness and insecurity is your identity, and you cannot let go of those qualities, as you are essentially being asked to let go part of who you are.
And strange though it may be, our minds inherently fear any break from the past, and interpret it as a loss. We can rationally say we are letting go of self limiting beliefs and stories, but we have an unsettled feeling that we are still made lesser for it.
Impostor syndrome is classically characterized as a lack of confidence over one’s accomplishments, but I see it on a larger level as an identity crisis issue, one that virally takes over ones whole mental state.
Is Personality Fixed? Is Identity?
There is an adage that people do not change,
But I believe it false. I have changed. I am in the business of changing people, and I have witnessed many people evolve in better and very different versions of themselves.
People change. Personalities are not static, our experiences shape us, reinforce us, and in the cases of transformation, break and remake us.
Yet human beings are paradoxical creatures. We have many many platitudes and stories that encourage us to change, to adapt, to constantly learn and improve. We have the stories and these principles, but then at the same time we have a deep instinct for things to remain the same,
We want routine, we want seamless, we want familiarity. We want to know that what we see is what we get and that what we know is all there is to know.
We say we are adventurous, but those things which caused immense dissonance within us, we attempt to rationalize away, we want to be challenged, but not to be challenged beyond our realm of familiarity.
we say that we want to change, but only within our realm of comfort of what we think change is.
Why are we afraid of Becoming more than what we are now?
Insecurity? Fear? Inadequacy?
On a surface level, one can attribute impostor syndrome to these things
But the surface level is a symptom, not a cause
The Deep reason is our paradigm of attachment to past time,
Tomorrow must be like today, today must be like yesterday
This applies to all aspects of our beings, and it is perhaps the origins of the zero sum scarcity mindset that dominates so much of our lives. We fear LOSING, and to lose what we have been prior is something that strikes at the soul, we clutch the ladder rung so tightly in fear that there wont be another above it, and that the ones below it will be disappear completely,
So for anything in us to change, we MUST lose something, or so we think
Yet this consternation and fear proves itself meaningless. Our lives are made and defined by our actions, not our thoughts
And one can argue that thought directs action (it does), but one cannot argue the reality is directed by passive thinking
Be it by power force beauty or persuasion, life responds to movement,
I recall a quote I read years ago, I’ve no idea who originally said it
“I became a millionaire the day I decided I would be one”
It’s damnably unoriginal, but it contains a profound truth
We are what we say we are, and act out.
Impostor syndrome traps you on a strange loop with a past tense script of your life
“I am not this person, I am not, I am not…”,
You say that over and over again, but then your actions contradict it, and then you go one step further and weight your feelings over your actions.
Actions > Everything that is not action,
And you are Not what? Not what you could be? You are only what you were?
You can only ever be what you have been? Really?
So what changes for people,
It’s a simple transition for those that generally overcome it,
They do something for long enough that they have PAST to draw upon that disproves their doubts
We almost always need the assurance of time to affirm a change in our beliefs about ourselves
I recall one friend of mine, she was a physical therapist, had just gotten her DPT, a truly gifted healer
Her first 2 years practicing, she was constantly crippled with anxiety and fright of being accused of…something. That she wasn’t good enough somehow
At the 2 year mark, she had finally built up enough past tense proof that she was being ridiculous, but it still took 2 years.
Could she have overcome that sooner, perhaps, but she needed the assurance of time.
There is something of a secret here as well, those who adapt fastest, who are always in a state of becoming, those who do not suffer from the hold of the past,
they are not attached to what has been.
“The Past isn’t real”
And he’s right, in a way, the past is as real and as relevant as you BELIEVE IT TO BE.
If you want to change, you act different. And if you predicate personality upon action, and identity on the intentions and outcomes thereof, what is stopping you?
Yourself, its only yourself.
A conversation I had a few weeks ago with a good friend, my buddy Dean, we were discussing how long we’ve known each other, how far we’ve come (we met each other at respective low points), Dean made a great statement (which I paraphrase)
“I started being a better man when I decided to be one. There was nothing to let go of. I could be this guy, shitty, an asshole, or I could be better. So I acted better, and that comes with thinking differently, but really its all about action. Otherwise its just words”
He is right.
But How Do I Overcome Impostor Syndrome?
Someone is going to ask this.
There is nothing to overcome. You FEEL a certain way.
Bluntly, fuck your feelings. They’re not real.
Unless you are attempting to practice law without a license, you’re not an impostor. You will BE what you LIVE OUT.
No more, no less.
Impress that idea into Way of Being, and you’ll be and become whatever you reasonably (or unreasonably want)