Impostor syndrome is one of those interesting and universal things – in my opinion we all suffer from it.  It shows up in many ways – failure to try new things because we’re afraid we’re going to fail, we don’t speak up in a meeting and so we never get credit for the idea, we don’t ask for the promotion, we don’t ask for help, we avoid asking for feedback or we over defend if we do get it, we overwork something to death because it’s not quite perfect yet, we fail to advocate for ourselves…

We all suffer silently and repeat the same patterns

I could go on and on.  And we’re somewhat aware of the cost of this, as it makes life a lot more painful to live.  We KNOW in our heads that we suffer from impostor syndrome.  We might read books on it, we’ve taken the online quiz, maybe even our therapist told us.  So we look for new techniques on how to solve this problem, we look to apply a new perspective and think carefully about what the morning affirmation needs to say (that is, if we remember to do it.). Maybe we practice meditation hoping and praying it will disappear, or we call our doctor and ask for a prescription for the daily anxiety we’re battling and just can’t seem to shake no matter how successful we are, no matter how many things get ticked off the to do list.  Because there’s always more.  We practice self-care because that’s the solution, right?  A massage, getting the nails done, we tell ourselves that we need to be kinder to ourselves.  But deep down we KNOW we don’t deserve it.  Our nails look great and inside we’re still a mess. 

And we go about our business of repeating the same cycles, the same patterns of suffering, because obviously there’s no real fix to this, otherwise somebody would have figured it out by now.

Impostor syndrome can’t be solved by the same thinking that creates it

There is a fix.  The problem is we’re often looking in the wrong place.  Impostor syndrome can’t be solved by the same problem that creates it.  It’s not a thinking problem.  It can’t be solved in the head.  It can only be solved in the heart. 

The heart – an interesting concept for many of us to take in.  It’s a place many of us aren’t super familiar with and frankly don’t have much experience with.  And yet we all have one.  How does this happen and how can this be?  Because adulthood often entails learning how not to feel things.  Learning how to hide things.  Learning how to cope with the difficulties of life, and feelings will just get in the way and get us in trouble.  We learn early on as children that feelings are often scary and if we express them, we’ll probably get punished, or worse.  We learn how to not take emotions to work because emotional people are nutty, and we don’t want to get branded as sensitive or out of control.  We don’t want to be seen as too hard but we especially don’t want to be seen as too soft.  Emotions have no place anywhere.  We eat, drink, drug or shop them away to numb them, we keep ourselves in a perpetual tailspin of busyness, so we don’t have to feel them.  We evolve ourselves into a human doing, and the anxiety continues to grow and grow and grow.

Impostor syndrome can only be solved through the heart

Impostor syndrome can only be solved by the opening of your heart.  By showing yourself the love and compassion that is not only necessary to heal but is your birthright. 

I often get asked the question by coaching clients – How?  “That’s easy to say but I’ve spent a lifetime of being hard and harsh to myself.  And what the heck does that even mean?  What does it mean to practice love and compassion for myself?” I empathize.  It’s been a long and winding journey for myself as well.

I keep a picture in my office.  It’s a picture of myself at age 7 or 8, when I made my first holy communion.  There I am, way too tall for my tender age, in my little knee length white dress, matching stockings, my hair curled in loose blonde ringlets running down my shoulders.  I’m looking straight at the camera with a calm but reverent smile.  My hands are in prayer, and I’ve got my little silver prayerbook clasped tightly between them.  The lighting is soft and warm and I’m standing in front of a statue of Saint Jude at the church we attended growing up.  It’s a picture of innocence, a picture of perfection. 

And yet – it’s the second take.

The first take didn’t turn out, I can’t remember why.  Maybe it was the lighting, maybe it was my hair that wasn’t right, maybe it was raining.  I remember the shame of how the pictures originally turned out, the anxiety of going back, getting dressed again, doing my hair again, trying to find the right pose, it needed to be perfect.  I had to be perfect.  I look at that little girl in the picture, who was just hoping and praying not for salvation but to be accepted for who she was.  To finally be enough. 

I look at this little girl from time to time and I cry.  The more I cry, the better I feel.  The more I feel the grief of how I sacrificed myself in the quest for perfection, the more unconditional love I open up for myself.  My heart melts and I melt with it, because in my heart lies the secret that I am enough, I have always been enough, and I always will be enough.

Compassion for self is not something that you think your way through.  It’s something you feel.

Coaching questions for thought

  • How does impostor syndrome manifest for me?  What is it really costing me?
  • What do I need to do to feel compassion for myself?
  • How can I get out of my head and get into my heart? 

Shelley Pernot is a career and leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their talents and step into their greatness.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!