Feeling Like a Phony. The Imposter Phenomenon

Have you ever felt you wouldn’t be able to figure things out, that you weren’t responsible for your successes, terrified of making mistakes because people would “find out” you really didn’t know what you were doing. Plus, working hard to make sure you looked like you knew what was going on, even while feeling not good enough? Maybe even a little frozen because it feels so fake to claim your knowledge, space, and hope?

This is called the imposter phenomenon and afflicts a number of us at some point in our lives. Especially, those of us who have been given subtle messages about our being, such as, we can do it all without much effort or in contrast that we are not as smart as we really are (Clance & Imes, 1978). According to Bernard, Dollinger, & Ramaniah (2002) “The IP has been defined as an internal experience of intellectual phoniness in high achievers who are unable to internalize their successful experiences” pg 321.

As a result we find ourselves in situations where we feel we are not responsible for our success. Yet our age, experience, education, etc may be telling the world something different. There is incongruence between what the world sees and expects of us and what we believe about ourselves. This creates a sense of falseness or feeling like a fake on the inside.

When we find ourselves in these situations many of us turn up the charm, work harder, and end up in the double bind of proving and dis-proving our worth and brilliance at the same time. This proving/disproving becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy we struggle hard to break free from (Clance & Imes, 1978). Instead of continuing the cycle, there are ways to move beyond our sense of “falseness” and own our competence.

According to Bernard, Dollinger, & Ramaniah (2002), there are two personality traits that interact with feeling like an imposter. One is what’s known as the big five personality trait of neuroticism and the other also a big five trait, conscientiousness.

People with high neuroticism are defined in personality psychology as folks who are more moody and prone to judge situations as negative. They tend to have higher experiences of emotions like sadness, envy, fear, guilt, etc.

This trait combined with feelings of being an imposter are similar to well known dispositions of depression, like attributing success to external sources (i.e. I passed the test because it was easy) but attributing failures to the individual self (i.e. I failed the test because I am stupid).

To work with this trait and increase competence, one must begin to shift personal perception of self and the world. This is not easy. However, by seeking out experiences and opportunities for accurate praise and recognition the person can begin to recognize the truth of their competence. Along the way, it is important to deal with negative emotional states such as depression or anxiety to reap the larger benefits of embracing your true intelligence and brilliance.

Conscientious people tend to be organized, efficient, dependable, and aim for achievement. They like to plan things and have a lot of self-discipline. People scoring low on this scale tend to like spontaneity and sometimes are labeled as unreliable. When it comes to feeling like an imposter, there is negative a correlation with a lack of self-discipline seen in people who score lower on the conscientiousness scale and higher on rates of feeling like a phony. Bernard, Dollinger, and Ramaniah (2002) give a couple of possible reasons. First, it might be that those who lack self-discipline were told and/or expected to achieve with little effort (Clance & Imes, 1978). It might be the case that not only were these people told they were intelligent, bright, talented, and could do or become anything they choose, they also might have experienced ease in achievement especially in earlier life situations (i.e. high school).

Due to these experiences, this group may not have created behavioral patterns that offered structure or opportunities for the positive feelings associated with working hard to reach a goal. As a result, they do not gain a sense of mastery over their personal situations and tend to rely more on environmental factors for success. Others may be working from the notion that effort could equal failure so why try too hard. Which becomes the mantra driving lack of engagement, procrastination, and offering a self fulfilling cycle of self doubt and underachievement.

This leads many people to shrivel and remain small – to risk embarrassment, vulnerability, or judgment of “not knowing enough” is too much, way too costly. So we stay small and stay contained in our “normal” cultural living patterns. We stay complacent rather than push for change in situations we don’t like, and we settle. Then we feel fake, unsuccessful, and limited in our potential. Coupled with the internal feeling like there should be something more, we feel stunted and less than. To break this pattern we need to set goals and follow through, even when it’s hard.


If the concepts above sound like you:

  • Are you negating the reality of others’ opinions telling yourself “if they only knew …” and diminishing their ability to accurately judge the situation?
  • Telling yourself I am not responsible for great ideas,  only for great failures.
  • Or are you stuck in the conundrum between I can and should achieve it all with little to no effort and to show effort would be weak?
  • Stuck believing that if I work hard and fail the cards all come tumbling down and I’ll be found out, so it’s better to self sabotage and let people think “if I would only try I’d be off the charts” rather than try and fail?

Can you:

  • Go out into the world today and actively look for ways you can find honest feedback about your behaviors?
  • Take the challenge of absorbing the compliments of others as truth AND believe them?
  • Recognize that you did contribute to the success of a project or goal attainment, and honestly evaluate where you contributed to the failure without taking all the blame. Allow others to own their portion of the failure, too (and you know how to do this if you’ve been letting others own the success)
  • Commit to working hard for the sense of personal accomplishment regardless of the outcome?
  • Come to believe that showing effort and trying are not signs of being weak or stupid.

Let us know if you are up for the challenge of owning your competence and success in the comments below.

References:

Bernard, N. S., Dollinger, S. J., and Ramaniah, N. V. (2002). Applying the big five personality factors to the imposter phenomenon. Journal of personality assessment, 78(2), 321-333.

Clance, P.R. & Imes, S. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, and Practice, 15(3), 1-8.

Be Present and Play Hard

Ok, it’s getting to be crunch time and you are bored with the same ole same ole workout. You hit the trail and see kids playing by the park. They look excited, engaged, and exhausted at the same time. You think to yourself … “if only I had their energy”.

Well, some of their energy comes from being in the moment, happy, and focused. Research as shown people who are focused tend to feel more fulfilled and less overwhelmed with daily life. So if you are feeling a bit burnt out – find a way to play.

Engage your whole body, all your senses in something fun and silly. Who cares if you look a little funny chasing your kids around the playground or laughing hysterically with your head thrown back and feet out riding your bike down the hill. Just trust that if you love what you are doing in the moment and all will fall into place.

High quality yoga accessories at great prices - YogaAccessories.com!

Photo Credits: Kids Playing ~ Journeys Are My Diary & Mindful Monday ~andrewmellen.com

 

Meditation & Mindful Movement

There is more and more research coming out about meditation on the benefits on mood, emotional regulation, ability to concentrate and focus, as well as, brain development and changes in those who meditate … for the better even as we age.


Looking for a comfortable meditation seat? Try this one. Keep your resolutions this year with YogaAccessories.com!


If your idea of meditation is sitting quietly, legs crossed, eyes closed, with a weird hand position – think again. There are lots of ways to mediate. One popular way is to move. During mindful movement you pay close attention to all the sensations of the body, the way your body moves in space, your breathing, and your muscles. Begin right now. Notice how your body is being held in space. Do you feel places of tension? Ease? Move your arms up, and then return to your starting position. Turn your hands over and back. Walk forward, sit, stand, turn.


As you perform these movements move slowly and pay attention. What does the area around your body feel like? What’s the sensation of the air on your skin? Notice if your body feels like it is pulsing? How far does that pulsing move away from your physical self? Where does your breath go in the body? Can you move it into places you have not paid attention to yet? Places you feel “stuck” or places of tension?

Spend 1-5min noticing these items then return to whatever activity you were doing. Notice how you have changed by taking a short break. How is your concentration, focus, mood? Make a note – mental or physical and plan to repeat maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Just know you are going to continue to practice this mindful movement.

Want to Read More Like This One? Try: Facing Fear With Movem ent,   The Power of Mindfulness, or Body Mindfulness.  And always a fun one: Fuck That Guided Meditation.

Need some guidance? I LOVE this App:Insight Timer

I help people increase their fitness by leveraging psychology.

Increase your mental health by getting outside and moving everyday. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive to start.

Did you know that walking can help you maintain a positive outlook and decrease symptoms of common mental health disorders? Research expands the links between leisure time activity, being in nature, and increased mental health in a variety of conditions.

It also doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Balance your life by fitting your strength training into your trail run or walk.

Are you ready to find your adventure?

Check out the workout within a workout: walking & full body strength training workout article. 

@stacyreuille #fitnesspsychologist #superiorworkout #walkingworkout www.stacyrd.com

Thank You UWS Students! 

Thank you to UWS Counseling Students for a great evening of exploration regarding the mental health field. In this post I also outline and more in-depth explanation of treating and healing from early trauma. A list of somatic psychology resources is also included.

Thank you for letting me come speak about our profession! I enjoyed the exploration and interest areas. There are some many possibilities and avenues for careers in behavioral health. I am grateful to be able to share my experience and hope for the next generation of LPCs. I wish you well, and please feel free to contact me if more questions/thoughts arise.

As I reflected on the questions I believe I didn’t answer the question about early trauma fully – to heal from psychological trauma we do not need the story/details of the event. Trauma happens in the body, even when it is verbal in nature, the physiology of the fear disrupts the endocrine system and dysregulates the brain processes. As a result we see dysfunctional behaviors and coping skills. To treat this we can use a number of therapies that target body sensations, as early trauma is stored in brain centers as sensations – not as words/symbols. We can then use the body sensations to track and allow neuropathways to develop while using the present moment therapist to client regulation. This allows the person to process through the trauma in the brain via the body with safety, then make meaning of the event(s) using words, art, music, etc. I tend to use somatic therapies most of the time along with cognitive work to help make meaning and keep the process moving – help clients understand what’s happening when that’s what’s needed for safety. And Dialectical Behavior Therapy to teach regulations skills prior to trauma protocols. Many somatic modalities teach them along the way, however some struggle with the mindfulness and/or aren’t used to being in the body, tracking sensation for long periods of time. Cognitive work can help balance the fears and safety while building endurance. 
Some resources for the somatic work:

  • USABP – United States Association for Body Psychotherapies
  • SE – Somatic Experiencing, Peter Levin has a good book on trauma in the body
  • Hakomi – Hakomi Institute 
  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy – check out Pat Ogden’s book on trauma and the body 
  • EMDRIA – Eye movement densitization and reprocessing therapy main association website.

12 Min of Yoga For Depression

More and more research is being done on yoga for depression and anxiety. These studies continue to show that yoga can be part of an effective depression management program. The video “The Science Behind Yoga” discusses a variety of benefits yoga practitioners experience.

In a study done by Uebelacker et al. (2017), the authors found that yoga class participants not only reduced depression symposiums but also kept them off at a 3 and 6 month follow up while increasing mastery in social roles.

In my depression management skills group we’ve had a number of discussions about finding healthy ways to cope with depression while working with low levels of motivation. Our group determined that having a few videos to do in the privacy of their home would be a helpful start. Here are a some videos to get you started.

12 Min of Yoga for Depression

5 min Yoga to Ease Depression

Mindful Chair Yoga: Beginner Practice

Feel like it’s time to invest in some gear? Ready for a mat? Blocks? A strap or 2? Check out these products and see what might make your practice more comfortable and more enjoyable. Because we both know when it comes down to it these are the 2 things that will actually get you to DO your yoga practice!

 

Interested in more topics like this? Try these articles from past posts:

Looking to better understand the body and mind connection? Try: Body Mindfulness

Or how our bodies need to stretch to stay healthy? Try:  Flexibility Training

Just looking for more ways to move today and beat depression symptoms? Try: 10 Ways to Move Your Body Today.

 

Reference: Uebelacker LA, et al. (2017). Adjunctive yoga v. health education for persistent major depression: a randomized controlled trial. Psychol Med.m, Apr 6:1-13. doi: 10.1017/S0033291717000575. [Epub ahead of print]

Featured Image Photo: Getty Images / 7 Ways to Ease Into Yoga – aarp.org

Suicide … 

Today my life was touched by suicide for the second time this week.

It is time we breakdown the fear of vulnerability and the ridicule we perpetrate when we see it in others. Personal hurts cloud our vision of true connection for fear that our difficulties will been seen as opportunities to be exploited. This clouding blocks the authentic connections we desperately need. Lack of connection creates a society based on judgment, separation, materialism, and the very fear we were hiding from in the first place.

Suicide is complicated … healing the pain of our pasts is tough … and doing the work actually gives more capacity for life’s adventures – good and bad.

The hardest part? We have to be the ones to reach out. For ourselves and for others. We have to be the ones willing to engage in authentic relationships and offer support and presence. We have to be the ones willing to face our own fear, hurt, sadness, shame, and ultimately our own goodness.

Facing this goodness is difficult. Making space for the goodness to shine means we must make space for our authenticity. We must make space for others’ goodnesses, too. We must face our fear of scarcity and of difference. We must honor our connection and sameness rather than highlight our differences and spotlight separation, even when we don’t agree, like, or want those different perspectives in our lives.

To do this we must be willing to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable means we will meet those who see themselves in our vulnerability and hate it because it means they are vulnerable, too.

And we must be kind anyway. We must find it within ourselves to be really kind. We are all fighting similar battles. Battles of insecurity and fear of rejection. Battles of not knowing and confusion. Battles of love and joy.

As you walk through your world today, remember things aren’t always as they seem and all people could use a smile, a kind word, an open door. All of us could use compassion when we are stuck and respect for trying even when our attempts fail.

I intimately know the darkness and desperation that accompanies suicidal thinking. The despair that envelops one’s being and eclipses the soul. I know the thoughts that anchor and make hope a distant memory. These thoughts and feelings are what make doing the things that heal us so hard. They keep us lonely and separate. Which is why it is so important that we all reach out, connect, model authenticity, and build relationships based on vulnerability and real experiences.

Today make an effort to connect, reach out ask for help, practice vulnerability and show up authentically. Notice where it’s easy, where it’s hard. Where it’s welcome, where it’s not safe. Notice how you react to others when they share vulnerability and authentic experience. See what happens in your own life as you experiment with acceptance of self and others, just as they are, where they are, thus creating real connection.

If you are still trying to figure out how to get yourself on track or support another who is struggling. Check out this blog post on the 5 Things Emotionally Stable People Don’t Do, by Marc and Angel:

http://www.marcandangel.com

Marc and Angel are the authors of 1000 Little Things Happy Successful
People Do Differently. Here’s their amazing list of 5 Things Emotionally
Stable People…. If you enjoy this, be sure to visit their website for
more inspirational advice and tips for life.