What is Imposter Syndrome & How to Manage It


In this blog we will teach you about what imposter syndrome is and how to make sure that it doesn’t hold you back.

Ange Mitten here! I am The ACT Counsellor. I'm here to talk to you about all things to do with ACT or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.


I'm a big fan of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and I use it in my private practice, on a regular basis with clients. This is the therapy that underpins most of what I do with my clients. I also find that it's really complementary to a whole lot of other therapeutic approaches that I draw from when supporting people.


I also use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in my own life. So for me, it's not just a therapeutic approach, it's been a game changer for me, and has kind of become a way of viewing the world. So this podcast is about sharing some of the ACT skills and strategies, whether you get personal counselling or not.


SO, let's talk about imposter syndrome. To assist with this, today's blog post will feature an interview.



Introduction


Linda Mitten is a counsellor in private practice based in Port Macquarie. If you noticed something there, that we have the same surname, that is because aside from being a fabulous counsellor, Linda is also my fabulous sister.


Linda: Hi Ange, thanks so much for inviting me to talk with you today


Now we’re here to talk about imposter syndrome today, Linda do you know anything about that?


Linda: Well Imposter syndrome is a persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved, or you have legitimately achieved the success and accolades that you are getting as a result of your own efforts or skills.

Imposters suffer from chronic self doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that overrides any feelings of success, external or external proof of their competence.


It's a feeling of inadequacy that persists, despite evidence of success.


Ange: Yes, when people experience imposter syndrome they can feel like it is just a matter of time before someone's gonna work it out, there is a fear that you will be found out to be an imposter.


This can be a big problem for people can’t it?


Linda: Yes, those thoughts can seem like a negative voice, going round and round in our head, and getting louder, that give us all sorts of reasons not to do something. And if you listen to them, well they can get in the way of doing the things that matter.



.Linda: Sometimes imposter syndrome can be really distracting, the fear that people are going to find out that you're the wrong person for the job can be overwhelming and very anxiety provoking. And when that fear that you aren't quite good enough comes up, well, what are you going to do? Sometimes what happens is that we tend to push ourselves really hard trying to be perfect. This can result in a great deal of anxiety.


So in turn I guess ramping up feelings of overwhelm in the process and also lead to a lot of missed opportunities


When does imposter syndrome show up most?


Linda: Imposter Syndrome commonly shows up when applying for a new job, or when we are required to speak in front of others in the workplace, or in class at uni, but really any time when we may be performing in some way in front of others. There’s that sneaky feeling that we might be wrong. That others will think we are stupid. Funnily enough, imposter syndrome is really common in people who are high achievers.


These thoughts can lead us to become quite hyper vigilant around scanning for signs that people might be judging or finding out that we're not quite perfect, we might go over and over in our head that one piece of negative feedback that's been given, even though there might have been a whole lot of positive feedback or compliments.


In our efforts to feel more in control, we may ‘over-research’ our topic, if we can read every study every published and recite it, we may feel more comfortable, confident or sure of ourselves and able to answer any question thrown at us by our audience.


Alternatively, we may find ourselves feeling paralysed by our fear, and our overwhelming thoughts, so that we end up procrastinating and not preparing at all.


And of course the obvious strategy to avoid these uncomfortable feelings is to actually avoid doing anything that is deemed ‘risky’ or that takes us out of our comfort zone. This is really a bit sad as it means that we deny ourselves to fully participate, challenge ourselves and grow.


Do you have a personal experience that you’d be happy to share.


Linda: Yes, quite recently, I was invited to give a presentation about Health and Body Image to a group of women. Initially I was really flattered and excited as this topic is a passion of mine, and so I said yes. Then as I began to think more about it I found myself obsessing about what I was going to say and I noticed that I began spending a lot of time googling for information and scanning through my bookshelves for information, research data, images that I could present. I was awake at night thinking about what to say and All the time feeling more and more sick to the stomach.


You know, I think I've struggled with imposter syndrome myself, on and off at various points in my life. But mostly I didn't call it imposter syndrome. I just listened to what my mind was telling me and followed that thought.

I experienced a lot of imposter syndrome around the use of the word musician. Even though I played instruments, taught music in a school, led singing groups, etc etc if someone asked me if I was a musician I would kind of start umming and ahhing. It was as though the word police were going to show up at my door and tell me I’m not allowed to use that term in reference to myself because I’m not good enough.


I have to tell you, my inner imposter shows up from time to time, even when I’m doing this podcast.


My mind says things like “There are probably loads of other ACT counsellors out there that could do a better job than me, I really should just sit down and shut up, who do I think I am, telling other people how to do ACT, I’m really just a beginner, I’m a new kid on the block, if those real ACT counsellors listen to what you say they’ll realise you’re a fraud”.


That could be a real problem if I got hooked by those thoughts.


Fortunately for me, even though some of those things may be true, ACT does not actually seek to work out if the content of my thoughts are true or not. ACT is all about developing psychological flexibility and deciding what the effects might be if I followed those thoughts.


Linda, if a client was telling you they were having these thoughts, how would you support them? What are your go-to strategies to manage imposter syndrome?


Linda: In my example, when I was preparing for a presentation, Once I took notice of what I was doing, and what my mind was telling me, I was able to Name the Story,


“Oh here’s my Imposter Syndrome showing up”

Haha, Once I recognised what I was doing and the effect it was having, I was able to put a little distance between my thoughts and actions, and to view the situation a little more realistically, and give myself permission to ‘do my best and let that be good enough’



When working with clients who talk about similar concerns, I introduce them to the work of Kristen Neff on Self- compassion. This includes 3 elements:


1. Mindfulness: for example, “This is a moment of suffering/pain/stress/fear”


2. Common Humanity: Suffering is a part of life, other people also feel this way and struggle with these fears. I am not alone in this”

3. I might encourage my client to express kindness to them self by putting a warm and kind hand over their heart and say something kind to themself like: “May I be kind to myself”, or May I be patient/strong

Thanks Linda, I love the work of Kristin Neff, her compassion focussed therapy really integrates well with ACT

Linda: What would you do, Ange? In terms of supporting people struggling with imposter syndrome?

Firstly, I find some psychoeducation can be helpful. Our caveman mind is geared towards checking and comparing ourselves, to make sure we didn’t get booted out of the tribe. So our fear of judgment of others is perfectly rational, and a reasonable response.


Secondly, If you're struggling with imposter syndrome, one of the things you can do, is to notice what your mind is telling you. Many people just go with their thoughts unquestioningly. ACT teaches us to begin observing our thoughts.


You can also start putting a little bit of distance between yourself and the thought.

In ACT this is called defusion. What you do is you might say, “I'm noticing my mind is telling me that I'm not good enough”. “I notice that my mind is telling me that I'm a phony”. “I’m having the thought that people will find out I’m a fraud”

Shifts in the way we label our thoughts help us remember that these thoughts are the creation of your mind. ACT helps us to change the way we relate to our thoughts. Rather than placing importance on if the thought is true or not I would encourage a person to ask themselves,

If you let that thought dictate what you do now? What happens? Does it take you toward or away from a rich and meaningful life?


Now even when these thoughts are showing up, taking committed action in the direction of your values is a way to move forward, gain momentum in the direction of what truly matters to you.


So for example, if you've been asked to do some public speaking and your inner imposter is having a field day really getting in the way of your preparation, by way of procrastination, or perhaps you become overwhelmingly tired.


If you come back to what really matters here and be willing to make room for the discomfort


So, as opposed to getting sort of bogged down by self doubt, and dread, and fear, you connect with those other deeper reasons why you might commit to doing the public speaking. Is it in the service of connection, education or contribution perhaps?


Uncovering values and what truly matters to them can be quite a revelation to people I support. One of the things I tend to ask clients is, what do you want to stand for? How do you want to behave? Even though these thoughts are showing up?


The thing is with ACT is that we're not looking at the content of a thought so much as we're noticing what effect that thought has on our behaviour, if we choose to follow it.


I’ve pretty much just taken us through a really fast dance around the hexaflex as Russ Harris would call it. That was a quick snapshot of the 6 ACT processes.

It’s not like there’s a right and wrong choice either. It still comes back to choosing biased on what is workable action or not.


As a result of those ACT processes, people find that the imposter syndrome ends up having less power over them


Where can people find Linda?

  • Linda has a private practice, Smooth Sailing Counselling is in Port Macquarie NSW.


I do hope that this is helpful to you and gives some insight into what imposter syndrome is and whether it has been showing up for you, and also some tips on how to manage it.


Please know that this blog post is developed for entertainment and educational purposes and is not intended to replace counselling or provide therapy.

Just listening to a podcast is not always enough and if you are really struggling with imposter syndrome finding a good counsellor is recommended, or contact the mental health lines in your area.


If you’re interested in ACT and finding out more about the 6 ACT processes, you can head on over to my website at chrysaliscounselling.com.au and sign up for my newsletter.


For the month of August I have a free 27 page ebook called ACT Your Way when you join my email list.

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