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.

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.

5 Ways To Love Yourself First

In this season of holiday many of the world’s religions are celebrating. A common theme that runs through many religions and spiritual practices is love – love of self, love of others, love of what’s around us. So as the world celebrates in many ways it is time to celebrate yourself.
How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways. First, I feed myself well.  Second, I exercise regularly.  Third, I get enough sleep. Fourth, I take time to relax and be quiet. How many of these can you say you do?

First, we must eat healthy. There are so many confusing choices out there that you must become an educated consumer if you are going to succeed in this department. Just this week a study reported that a low fat diet was not a factor. Let’s open that argument up. Low fat in general is not a factor in many diseases because our bodies need a certain amount of fat. Many vitamins are fat soluble, meaning you need fat for them to work. We now know that fat comes in many different types and a low fat diet today will look very different from the fads that hit mainstream more than a decade ago. Fat is not the problem, but what type is. First, think of fats in health vs not healthy. Then educate your self as to where each type is found. For example fats occurring in most fruits, vegetables, and nuts are considered healthy fats, although they still must be consumed in moderation.   Saturated and trans fats are considered poor choices because they tend to expedite disease. When you are making food choices choice a diet with healthy fats and avoid the unhealthy ones. Make sure you are getting enough fruits and vegetables. Lack of fruits and vegetables is the number one problem I see with client diets, and is a huge factor in many diseases. If you have questions about your diet log onto: http://www.mypyramid.gov/ This food guide will let you customize your diet.

Second, you must move. As a regular reader you are aware of the benefits of movement, make sure you are getting enough. You should be getting cardiovascular and strength training in each week according to your goals. The heart, lungs, and vascular systems are the primary aims of cardiovascular training. We can test the body’s response to this type of work in different ways, but the easiest is to monitor your heart rate. There are simple formulas for figuring your heart rate or use a rate of perceived exertion scale. The best way to monitor your heart rate continuously is to purchase a heart rate monitor. This tool goes a long way toward reaching your goals. Strength training creates stronger muscles, more lean mass, denser bones, and increases metabolism. It is an important component of health and must not be ignored. Remember, strength training should be challenging. We create strength by overloading our muscles. We overload by placing them under stress and making them work. Way back when, overload was available in our daily routines. Most of us must create overload regularly to create more strength these days.

Third, are you getting enough sleep? This is so important, and many Americans are chronically tired. Sleep is important to the overall function of our bodies. It allows our body to restore and repair. Without sleep you will not function as well during waking hours, and lack of sleep can contribute to a variety of illnesses including depression. How do you know if you are getting enough sleep? Difficulty waking in the morning, an inability to concentrate during the day, feelings of moodiness, irritability, depression, or anxiety, or falling asleep during work or class are all indicators that you need more sleep. Your body will go into sleep debt and will expect to make up the needed sleep. If you do not make up the needed sleep you will then become chronically sleep deprived, opening yourself up to a whole host of problems. Sleep time should not be compromised. It is vital to your well-being.

Fourth, taking time to relax is very important. In our culture of doing more, consuming more, and constant “on” behavior we set ourselves up for disease. Just as our bodies need sleep, our minds need down time. For many this is difficult because many associate busy with success, however you will be more productive if you take time to rest. Studies show people who take a 10-minute break every 60-90 minutes are more productive than those who push through working. Get up, move around, stretch, take a mental vacation, sit quietly, turn out the lights in your office, breathe – the list can go on. Life must contain balance. When things are out of balance we find disease, depression, and pain. Look around your world and notice that all things crave balance. Your space, if it is too cluttered it can contribute to stress, if it is too sparse it can feel empty and uninviting which leads to your moving out of it. Look around your relationships, if they are too close they can feel suffocating, if there is not enough interaction you can be left to feel alone. You determine your levels of balance, and you have the power to change your world and create the balance you need to function optimally.

Finally, In this season of giving – give to yourself. If you are looking for change in your life, remember you are in charge. Show yourself that you are important each day by making choices that reflect your importance. Take care of yourself, and take accountability for your actions. Remember, your choices determine your outcomes, which determine your quality of life, and how will you count the ways in which you love thee?

Ready to plan for your health and wellness? Check out this article on Fitting Fitness Into Your Life.

Building Self-Esteem to Accomplish Your Fitness Goals

We’ve discussed wanting lifestyle change.  We’ve talked about ways to do it, why you should, how, when, and the science behind the reasons.  Today we are going to explore why you don’t do it.

I can hear the collective exhale, “thank god”, you sigh, finally an answer to my issues. Nope, sorry, just some more ideas on exploring where you really are in the process. I repeatedly get clients who want instant gratification.  Remember this is a slow process and it can be a very spiritual experience as you peel off layers of identity, excuses, habits, routines, and other activities that are not working anymore.

Let’s talk about self-esteem. I find this to be a huge stumbling block for many people. Even if self-esteem is there in other areas of life, say work or parenting, when it comes to health it can be dented. Many who are in the process of change doubt what they are doing, are in an uncomfortable place of change, and are facing other issues that may work against their goal further adding to the doubt and insecurity. In an article a few years back (but worth repeating) Brian Tracy , “People with high self-esteem are more positive, more likable, and more effective in every part of their lives. Your job, therefore, it is to keep your self-esteem high and positive on a continuing basis.”

He goes on to outline six critical elements of self-esteem building: Goals, Standards, Success Experiences, Comparison with Others, Recognition, and Rewards. Striving toward each element helps build, grow, and maintain your self-esteem. High self-esteem is directly related to accomplishing your goals, and the more you accomplish the goals you set the more confidence you have, and the more you strive to live by your standards and values. When your values and standards are congruent with the lifestyle you lead the more self-esteem you have and the more peace you feel in daily life. See the process? The elements build upon each other to help you be the best you can be.

We are typically taught not to compare ourselves with others, but here he refers to positive comparisons where you feel you have room to grow and accomplish your goals while using another’s success as a benchmark for your own. This is a tricky place to be. Similar to setting realistic goals you must choose comparisons that will allow you to be successful and continue to build your success experiences. He does note that we come to a place where we are no longer competing with others, but rather our own past successes.

Another factor in cultivating self-esteem is self talk. Many of us have an inner critic. For some this can be a voice that spurs us to strive harder and make the finish line, and for others this critic derails us and we pretend not to hear it as we sit on the couch with the whole bag of potato chips, only to hear it loud and clear when the bag is gone and the opportunity for exercise missed. Victor M Parachin, Mdiv writes (again and oldie but goodie), “Avoid becoming your own worst enemy by talking back to nasty voices in your head.” Next time you hear yourself saying I am fat, I am lazy, I will never make it, I can’t, talk back and tell the voice to be quiet. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend.

Look for areas in your life where you can implement these elements and begin to build yourself up. Draw on your strengths and downplay your weaknesses. Find successes in your past to use as comparisons for new goals, and find people you admire to model your direction after. Tracy states, “…you need to build your own structure and take full responsibility for building yourself up on a regular basis.” If you won’t take the time on you, who else will?

“Cultivating Your Self Esteem”, Brian Tracy, Club Solutions, June 2005 pg 36 www.clubsolutions.biz

“Cultivating Confidence”, Victor M. Parachin, Mdiv, American Fitness, July/August 2005 pg.36-38   www.americanfitness.com

Taking Time For You is Not a Luxury

When you feel good you are better able to care for others, however I meet many people who feel like taking time for themselves is cheating. Honestly, that’s not the case.

You can’t help others if you are wiped out. Be it from work, school, home life, or an illness if you are overwhelmed your ability to help those you care most about can be compromised. Instead schedule time for you everyday. During this time do something that re-energize you. Maybe its a walk, reading, cooking (for fun not because you have to), a bath, time with friends, or other activity that allows you to “get lost” for a short period of time and regroup.

It doesn’t have to be a long personal session but it should be something you enjoy doing and it shouldn’t be something you feel like you have to do – no matter how much it might be good for you.