Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Do you ever find yourself thinking through how to solve a problem or planning out your day, when all of a sudden you start to feel like an imposter? It’s as if there is this alter-ego or another personality that quietly surfaces and starts to make you feel like you’re not enough…
Like you’re not good enough…
A feeling of helplessness that you could never do better…
Beating you up for decisions you’ve made…
Feeling inadequate to do all that you have to do…
Can I tell you a secret? This voice, this feeling, this alter ego is not unique to you. We all deal with feelings like these. Oh, they take many different forms. Sometimes words come to accuse you. Sometimes it’s just a feeling you can’t quite put your finger on. Sometimes it’s words you hear from another person that stir up all sorts of crazy feelings. Sometimes it’s mild and sometimes it’s severe.
But the truth remains that we all fight this imposter syndrome. How it shows up is unique to you, but imposter syndrome likes to attack each and every one of us. Particularly when it comes to moms.
Defining Imposter Syndrome
But what exactly is imposter syndrome? What do you mean when you say ‘imposter syndrome’? How does it show up?
Well, imposter syndrome is difficult to define. Honestly, that’s part of what makes it so difficult to fight! But, I’ll do my best.
Have you ever heard that little voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough? You’re not trying hard enough? That’s imposter syndrome.
Have you ever looked at social media or even someone else in the grocery store and felt like you could never measure up because you’re not doing all you imagine this other person is doing? That’s imposter syndrome.
Have you ever felt the drive to push yourself harder, faster, longer, never stopping to give yourself a break because you haven’t accomplished enough and you don’t deserve a break? That’s imposter syndrome.
Have you ever felt like the voices in your head are just waiting until you mess up so they can start shouting about all the things you’ve done wrong, kicking your while you’re down? That’s imposter syndrome.
Have you ever had a feeling you just couldn’t put your finger on? A feeling of discouragement or frustration or just a feeling weighing your down and you can’t define it? That’s imposter syndrome.
You see, imposter syndrome comes in all shapes and sizes. It could come as an actual voice speaking things in your head. It could come as a feeling with words. It could come as a feeling without words. It could be loud and brazen, accusing your in no uncertain terms. It could be a quiet whisper, feeding your discontent or feelings of inadequacy.
No matter what, imposter syndrome is never satisfied. It’s always there, waiting for you to have a vulnerable moment and then it pounces.
Now, there have been many different terms used to describe this feeling: The voices in your head. Your alter ego. Your inner critic. Your inner mean girl. Your insecurities. Self-doubt. It has been given many names and, truth be told, all of these names do fit! And yet, imposter syndrome seems to encompass all these aspects.
Imposter syndrome is a feeling of inadequacy. A feeling that you will never measure up or be enough. A feeling that is fed when you feel vulnerable, when you start to compare yourself to others. A feeling, not grounded in truth, but so tightly woven around a kernel of truth that it’s extremely hard to extract the two from each other.
A Kernel of Truth
Hold on a minute! Imposter syndrome has truth to it? It might sound absolutely crazy, but, yes. There’s a kernel of truth woven through your imposter syndrome.
Allow me to explain: First off, you need to realize that your brain is wired in an incredible way! In fact, scientists are still studying and learning more and more about what the brain does. The amount of information and processing power that happens in one human brain is staggering! And yet, in all this, your brain is wired to know truth from the lies.
You see, if someone came to you with a blatant lie, your brain would immediately reject it until it was proven true. For example, if someone told you, “The grass is purple,” your brain would immediately say, “Nope! Not true!” And reject that statement. Now, if there was fact after fact and proof after proof given to you showing that grass, indeed, is purple, you might start to shift your belief. But in this example, you know from all the data available that grass is not purple. Grass is, in fact, green (at least when it’s alive!).
But when your brain is presented with a lie tightly wrapped around truth, it becomes much more difficult to separate the truth from the lie. For example, if you are scrolling through social media and you start to compare your life with the highlight reel of other people’s lives, this thought might come to mind: “You’re such a bad mom. You don’t have the time to do all those crafts with your kids! You don’t make homemade meals from scratch like she does. You’re so not cut out to be a mom. Why do you even bother trying?”
Believe it or not, there is truth in there. You are a mom. You do want to take time and do crafts with your kids. You do make meals to feed your family.
But these kernels of truth are tightly interwoven with lies of inadequacy and discouragement. Of feeling like you are not enough. Of feeling like you are an imposter in your own life. When lies and truth come to you mingled like this, it becomes much harder to separate them and figure out what is the truth and what is not.
What’s A Girl To Do?
So, what’s a girl to do? I can almost hear you saying: “I get it! I know the voice exists! I have absolutely felt imposter syndrome! But what do I do about it? How do I separate the truth from the lies?”
I’m not going to lie to you here: There’s no quick fix for imposter syndrome! This is not a one-time miracle pill that will fix everything from here on out. This is a battle. And your mind and your emotions are the battleground. This is a battle that will travel with you no matter where you are.
But, there is good news! This is a battle you can fight! And when you fight, you slowly take back the ground that imposter syndrome has claimed as its very own.
So, how do you do it? How do you fight? How do you start to get rid of those feelings of inadequacy? That feeling of an imposter? How do you begin to overcome it?
By taking simple, consistent steps in the right direction. Remember the saying, the progress is in the process? This is so incredibly true when battling imposter syndrome!
Let’s break this down a bit more into six simple steps you can start to take whenever imposter syndrome tries to take over:
Step #1 :: Recognize the Voice
The first step to battling imposter syndrome is to begin to recognize when it comes. To begin to recognize its “voice.” This step is both the most crucial and the hardest all at the same time!
Let’s face it, imposter syndrome likes to stay in the shadows. It likes to stay hidden. When you don’t know who your enemy is, it makes it very difficult to find them and fight them, right? Imposter syndrome finds power in hiding. It draw power and becomes stronger by not being known.
So, your first step is to recognize what imposter syndrome looks like in your life.
But how do you do it?
Start by paying attention. Are there times when a feeling just takes over you and you can’t seem to pinpoint what the feeling is or where it came from? Chances are, it’s imposter syndrome.
Do you hear phrases repeating in your mind that use the word ‘you’? Things like “You’re not good enough” or “You could never do that.” Chances are, it’s imposter syndrome.
Sometimes, it will show up outside your typical thought patters. Sometimes words or feelings will come out of nowhere. Chances are, it’s imposter syndrome.
Now, keep in mind this might not be as easy as it sounds. It may take a while to recognize when imposter syndrome is trying to take over. Use your emotions, your feelings as a guide. If something makes you feel discouraged, frustrated, unworthy, helpless, debilitated, or inadequate push into those feelings. Identify the feeling. Put words to it. Recognize those feelings may very well be imposter syndrome.
Step #2 :: Pinpointing the Message
Ambiguity is awful! When you can’t pinpoint what’s wrong, whether it be a feeling or a mood or where a thought came from, it has the potential to drive you mad! It’s like trying to ‘catch a cloud and pin it down’ like the song from the Sound of Music. Annoying, frustrating, and ultimately, with no real results.
It goes back to this: If you don’t know what you’re fighting, you won’t know where the battle is or how to fight.
Once you’ve started recognizing when imposter syndrome arises, the next step is to identify the message it’s trying to deliver. To pinpoint what this voice is saying.
Now, the voice may have a lot to say! Don’t overwhelm yourself trying to figure all of it out right at the very beginning. Start with right now. What is one thought or one feeling that you just can’t seem to pinpoint?
The best way I’ve found to really start teasing this out is to grab a journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a notebook where you can write down your thoughts.
Start by writing down what you’re feeling or the words you’re hearing or thoughts you’re having. It could be something specific like ‘Who do you think you are? You’re not a good mom. You can’t do this.’ Or it could be something very vague like ‘I feel really discouraged and I can’t figure out why, but it’s really effecting everything I do today.’
Right now, your big goal is to figure out what the message is. Don’t worry about the why behind the message yet, just try to pinpoint what the message is. Now, this can get a little confusing because you might have to ask yourself why to get to the root of the message. Remember, you’re trying to identify the message: What am I hearing or feeling or thinking? What is the message that I am receiving?
Once you know the message that imposter syndrome is sending, once you identify the lie, you’ll know how to fight it. Again, if you know the enemy, it’s much easier to fight the enemy. If you don’t know your enemy, you can end up batting around aimlessly hitting nothing, making no progress, and only making yourself exhausted in the process.
Keep in mind, this process may take some time! Remember, imposter syndrome has been hiding in the shadows for a long time. It most likely will not disappear completely in an afternoon! Be patient with yourself and with this process. Know that as you keep making small steps in the right direction, you’re closer than you were to fighting and conquering imposter syndrome.
Step #3 :: Identifying the Truth
Have you ever heard it said that when you mingle just enough truth with your lie, the lie becomes stronger? This is exactly what happens in imposter syndrome! This is its second biggest source of strength: When the lie is mingled with the truth, your mind will accept the lie much more readily and it will start to become a part of your thought process before you consciously realize it.
You see, if these messages were to come at you as a blatant lie, your brain would automatically reject them. Like rejecting that the grass is purple. Blatant lies are easy to spot. But when the lie is mingled with truth, it becomes so much harder to identify what is real and what is not.
This is where your journal or notebook comes in again. Look at the statement, that thought, or that feeling that you identified. Where is the truth in it?
For example, let’s say you identified the thought: Who do you think you are? You’re not a good mom. You can barely keep it together most days! Look at her! She has it all together all the time. What makes you think you can ever be a good mom like her?
Now, when you look at this, it’s really emotionally charged, right? It’s easy to get discouraged and push it aside and not deal with it. Oh, my Friend, don’t do that! You see, this is another power source of imposter syndrome! Even if you identify the message, but you don’t do anything beyond that, it still has power over you because you’re not dealing with it! Don’t give imposter syndrome that power!
What do you do with that message? Start by identifying the truth embedded in it. There’s always some truth in there, many times you just have to look for it. Do your best to stick to facts at this point. So, in this example the truth is: You are a mom. This other person is most likely a mom, too. You may not even be able to keep it together most days. (Don’t worry! This is true of more people than you might think!)
Even if there is only a very tiny piece of truth embedded in the lie, somewhere in that feeling, that thought, that statement, there’s some bit of truth. Identify what that tiny bit of truth is and write it down in your journal.
Step #4 :: Recognizing the Lie
Once you’ve identified the truth, you can start to see the lie. Sometimes the lie will be obvious, but many times the lies will not come in concrete facts, but more in hints or ideas. As you push into this step, keep in mind that whatever is NOT truth, is a lie. In that sense, it is much easier to identify the lie!
But how do you tackle those hints or ideas that are lies? Let’s take out example from before, in particular the statement: ’She has it all together all the time.’ This is a huge generalization! And beware of generalizations, words like ‘always’ or ‘all’ or ‘never.’
Why do you feel like this other mom has it all together? What are you basing this knowledge off of? Her instagram feed? When you see her with her kids out in public? Do you see her all the time? Do you see what it’s like at her house? Do you see the moments where she feels like she’s going to lose it?
Unless you are with this other mom every waking moment, you’re only seeing the highlights. You’re only seeing a part of her life – and the more polished part at that!
The lie here is that another mom is perfect. The lie is that she has it all together all the time. The lie is that she is a better mom than you are.
As you identify the lie, write this down in your journal, too.
Step #5 :: Reframing the Lie with Truth
Most people tend to make a crucial mistake here. Once they recognize the lie, they want to come at it from the exact opposite direction to take down the lie. While this might be a good strategy on a field of battle (I don’t know, I’m not a military strategist!), this is completely the wrong approach when it comes to unraveling the lies in your head and in your heart.
Remember, as wrong as the lie is, you’ve started to believe it. You’ve internalized it. It’s become ingrained in you. It’s become embedded into who you are. This is part of the reason it was so hard to identify in the first place because it’s worked it’s way into your subconscious. It has unintentionally become a part of you.
If you combat the lie ‘You’re not a good mom’ with ’You are a good mom,’ your automatic reaction is to say ‘Yeah right!’ And move on. Do you see what just happened? You faced the lie head on with truth, but you came at it like a battering ram and your brain completely rejected the truth!
So, how do you do it? How do you start to absorb the truth and believe it? By reframing the lie and making it truth. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, right? But try this:
‘I am a mom. It was no accident that these kids are my kids. And because of that, I am going to do my best. I will not always get it right. My life will not always be picture perfect. But I will keep going. I will keep learning right along with my kids. And I will be the best mom that I know how to be.’
Do you see how reframing this lie starts with the foundation of truth, keeps a firm grasp on reality, acknowledges there will be mistakes, but also gives encouragement and motivation to keep going?
As you do this, write it out in your journal. Take it point by point. Readjust the wording if you need to. But write down the truth you need to believe. Reframe the message of imposter syndrome into a message that acknowledges reality, but is grounded in truth.
It’s not about promising yourself something you can never achieve. It’s about being truthful and realistic.
Step #6 :: Teach Yourself the Truth
Do you remember when I said this was not a one time thing? How it will take time and energy and effort to identify and unravel the lies you are telling yourself? Well, just as it takes time to identify the lies you’re believing, it takes time to replace the lies with truth.
Remember, these lies have worked their way into your heart and into your mind for a long time and they’re not going to give up easily! You’ll have to teach yourself the truth over and over again. This is why it is so important to write down the truth. You’ve been living with the lie for so long you need a physical reminder to begin to teach yourself the truth.
How you begin teaching yourself this truth will look different for everyone. You could write it on a note and put it on your bathroom mirror. You would write it on an index card and keep it in your purse. You could make it your desktop or your screensaver. Whatever works for you to keep it accessible and to read it often is the best way for you to do this!
Make no mistake, my Friend, this is hard. But you can do it. You can change your mindset. You can battle and take back ground from imposter syndrome.
It won’t happen in an afternoon or overnight, but this is a battle that is worth fighting! Just remember, it’s all about the progress in the process, not about perfection.
Do you need some encouragement and motivation as you walk through this process? Why not join me for coffee? Oh, not in person, but through a blend of motivation and encouragement that I like to call Espresso with Elizabeth. I’ll meet you in your inbox for 10 mornings and we’ll chat about all the incredible inspiration to be found all around us. But, you’ll have to supply the coffee. I don’t want to ruin your keyboard!
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Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.