It only seems appropriate that there are two different spellings for the word imposter or impostor and we do not really know which one to use. (Actually, “imposter” is the British English word and “impostor” the American English equivalent but anyhow…) This is not the issue, and we might get sidetracked when dealing with an imposter…
How did that label for the ‘imposter syndrome’ come about?
As experts noticed at some point, there are a lot of successful people (CEOs, politicians, students, executives, artists, writers etc.) that do not think they somehow deserve the success they are receiving. If this were you, you would be a good student, have a good job, be considered as a successful expert, run a lucrative business, take decisions for others and yet you would somehow feel that you are a fraud. Any moment soon, people will be able to see through that facade of that success of yours and will be able to see the real you that is not so glamorous. That is the ‘imposter syndrome’.
First thought here: There is a theory that says all fears are inverted desires. Thinking about this, the question that comes to mind is:
- What if the person that is under the mask of glamour longs to be discovered? What would be the benefits of bringing this person to the fore?
Superego attacks and the imposter syndrome – what keeps the mask or armour in place
This is not the first time that you will hear me say this. Some of you might have heard me say this before. Growing up is not easy! The world is divided into the haves and have-nots, the successes and the failures, the good students and the bad students, the ins and the outs. And we raise children to think that these divides are fair, natural and the only alternative they have. We are all raised like that so the expected outcome is to become parents that think these divides are the only alternative. We raise our children the same way as we have been raised. The system perpetuates itself. But is this true or even the best way to go?
When you divide your experience into polarities, certain aspects of you become dominant and are given a boost. Others fall into the background as nobody really likes them. “Shoo you, little crybaby!” “Shoo you, unhappy child!” “Shoo you, angry and spiteful teen…”
Superego attacks is a fancy word to say that our internalised parental voices want us to do the things we (they) know are “right” (whatever that means). Unless we are able to explore these internal demands, internalised parental voices can run our lives till we are long and well into adulthood.
Questions that derive from that:
- What are your unwanted qualities?
- What emotions are not acceptable to you?
- What drives you crazy when you see in others or when you see yourself doing?
- Are you allowed to show signs of weakness?
Emotional vulnerability and the knight’s armour
The last question is a good prelude to this section. Usually, the cause of distress is not success per se. It is having to maintain this success as the only viable solution. And what this image of success requires, is to sacrifice our inner life, our insecurities, our fragile aspects and even our most creative and alive parts.
Think of this as a knight’s armour that is put in place which is difficult to take off. Discomfort is felt when the iron of the armour starts to rust and this is when even moving becomes more difficult. And you suddenly realise that the rusted armour is all you have and all others see. The person underneath this armour is bypassed and their feelings and emotions are rarely (if ever) acknowledged.
Raising awareness about the root causes of the imposter syndrome in yourself can give the transformation required to change how you relate to yourself. This will also change the relations you currently have with others – particularly subordinates (if you are in a hierarchical position) who may suffer from your sometimes irrational demands.
Accepting your vulnerability and emotional nature is also a way to go. As you start doing this, it might feel awkward and totally out of your comfort zone. All new behaviours are difficult in the beginning because of inertia which is also valid for our behavioural patterns.
Finding support through coaching or therapy can help. Coaching needs to be respectful of your whole self and not only promote your goal-setting and goal-achieving aspects, otherwise, it is bound to leave you frustrated. Staying with what currently is and giving space to all internal voices is important. Therapy, on the other hand, is designed to leave room for all aspects of yourself so you can usually expect to have that anyway.
Where to go from here?
- You can check an online 7-question test to see how you score in the 100 scale for the imposter syndrome.
- You can check one of the anonymised cases in my portfolio.
- Is this issue something you want to explore with me in therapy or coaching? You can contact me through the contact page.