How you can overcome Imposter Syndrome.

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5 min

A short while ago, I was trying to manoeuvre a boat into its mooring in a packed Marina alongside another much larger craft. It was a beautiful summer’s evening on the South Coast  and there was clear blue sky but an unfamiliar current. Several attempts later, I managed it and reflected how once upon a time I would have been so much more conscious of who was watching.

The mind has parallels with the sea. It too has undercurrents, that affect what you think, what you do and what you say. It can work for us, or against us just like undercurrents. This is the reason you cannot always guarantee its support.

How it is defined?

Imposter Syndrome (defined as imposter phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

How it affects you.

People who generally have problems with this condition tend to fear situations with people. It is significant that they rarely fear all situations. In fact it is mostly situations that are particular to them. The condition can be so overwhelming that, most are not able to determine the subtleties of its influence.

People who generally have problems with this condition tend to fear situations with people. It is significant that they rarely fear all situations. In fact it is mostly situations that are particular to them. The condition can be so overwhelming that, most are not able to determine the subtleties of its influence.

I first noticed this phenomenon in others, when working with clients who were almost always able to outline the particular circumstances of the “syndrome” they experienced.

“I can give a talk to 250 people I don’t know” they would say. “However if I gave a talk to 5 senior people at work that I do know, I would feel like a fraud.”

Another client would say exactly the opposite. Other clients would alter the numbers of people, the status of the individuals, the gender, or the race before they themselves became overwhelmed. Their focus, as in any situation involving anxiety, would be on the threat or rather perception of the threat they had identified, as well as on the overwhelming feeling they had as result of it.

Statistics aren’t always helpful.

There are plenty of statistics on Imposter Syndrome. We can compare how men are impacted in comparison to women, or young people to old. I remember after I had moored my boat, I watched a woman with a much bigger vessel come into the marina and manually steer at speed into a space in a single manoeuvre. How would it help if I compared her attempt to mine? The difference was simple, she clearly had a good understanding of these undercurrents. I did not. Vin Scully said, “Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support not illumination”.

“Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support not illumination”.

In this case I have to agree with him.

For a condition like Imposter Syndrome, much of what has been offered in the past may well give a diagnosis but just like the statistics, has never really helped you understand why you are affected. Research studies would seem to support my view that helpful advice to try to manage the condition exists but it seems rare in giving insight into how to overcome it.

Solutions from past history.

In most of the articles I write on Mental Health, I usually mention the Ancient Greeks and the philosophy of Stoicism. The Stoics had knowledge applicable to the answers we seek. However, in connection with mental health it is like finding a good place to eat in a small town. You really have to know someone.

The Stoics took the view that we can be convinced that an emotional reaction is caused by the particular circumstances we have the difficulty with. However if that was the case, wouldn’t we all suffer the emotion in the same way. There has to be an additional factor in play that explains different responses to situations. That is our belief system. This combines with the mind’s most primitive protective functions to influence and even alter perception, triggering thinking and feeling to create an experience that over time becomes habitual. For the mind, there is no distinction between what is real and what is perceived. As long as you add the label threat to it, it will start its protective work.

Understanding your Undercurrents (Belief System).

This brings me on to the contribution of beliefs hidden away in the subconscious mind. Beliefs may or may not be true. However we are conditioned to associate them with truth. You will often hear people say in discussions, ‘I believe it’ and on doing that they assume that whatever they believe is true. Belief can even have a degree of intensity, so much so that we refer to it as faith. However, faith no matter how strong, is still no guarantee of truth.

Just as undercurrents become less of an enigma when you understand more about the sea, knowledge of belief systems demystifies much of the mind’s activity in influencing thinking and behaviour.

Imposter Syndrome can be overcome. It may require you to learn something new, or even unlearn some of the things you have come to accept; build new habits of thinking and behaving or all of these things.

Imposter Syndrome can be overcome. It may require you to learn something new, or even unlearn some of the things you have come to accept; build new habits of thinking and behaving or all of these things.

Understanding these “ undercurrents” or beliefs identifies the key things outside of conscious awareness that influence the operation of the mind.

In Shinesmith Academy we use a process of awareness, adaptation and anticipation to help you understand your mind and its pattern or conditioning and overcome its unhelpful effects.

When we help you we help we do so on the basis that, understanding the undercurrents is the key to managing the mind.

Ian Washington-Smith, Academy Director at Shinesmith Academy.

(For further information or support with Imposter Syndrome please contact Shinesmith Academy (ian@shinesmith.com) or fill in our contact form below.

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