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IMPOSTER Syndrome



High performance requires radical self-acceptance

Do you find yourself questioning yourself, in a world of doubt and wondering why? Let's talk for a minute on the phenomenon of what is often referred to as imposter syndrome. If you are reading this then more than likely you have experienced these feelings in your past or even currently. Whether it is in your job at work, on the playing field or in another performance realm, regardless of the environment, this phenomenon is a personal issue. A conflict found within us; it feels as if there is a discrepancy. No matter how much we do, how good we perform, there is always a feeling of not good enough. It is a breakdown between what credentials might say, what statistics will tell you, and the way we see ourselves. Our own self-perception does not match our reality.


So, let's examine this for a moment. Granted the theory I am going to posit stems from my own past experience and experience working with clients in the performance realm. However, this may or may not make sense yet, but as always, I encourage you to reflect on this in your own life and let it simmer for a bit in order to hopefully bring about a greater self-awareness and lead to a more optimal self-perception.


We learn this as a model to motivate us to success

The way that we arrive to this phenomenon stems from our own desire to perform. Components to high performance typically involve one's nature and the inherent desire to compete, as part of our personality, however the second component, which we will focus on, is learned. That is the positive reinforcement we receive when we perform well. That all too often high performers adopted performance as a means in order to feel seen and heard. Examining the past, we can now look back and see the environment in which we grew up was remiss. Maybe as a child we felt overlooked, or overshadowed, or lacked the emotional availability of caretakers to feel as if we could be loved and accepted as we were. We may have had a sibling overshadow us, or a parent that was absent, or felt as if we had to "earn love". Maybe even we grew up impoverished, or with bare minimum. So, by performing well, whether it was in sports, academics, or by other means, this was the way we would find our validation. This validation only reinforced the idea that "in order to have my own needs met, I must perform". Now granted, most of the time this reinforcement happened as a child when the developing mind is still very prevalent. So, we learn this as a model to motivate us to success, and the pathways become engrained in us from a young age.


The adult brain understands that if I could be validated for my performance, I could also be invalidated for it as well

As we grow older, and we find continued success in our endeavors, we no longer have needs as we did as a child, therefore we might begin to worry about losing what we have earned over the years. We begin to protect what we have worked so hard to accomplish. Rather than needing validation to have our needs met, the adult brain understands that if I could be validated for my performance, I could also be invalidated for it as well. So, our motivation shifts more towards fear of invalidation. Thoughts such as, "what if I am not good enough?", "what if they find out?", "what if..." you name it.


Rejection of reality to avoid rejection

Eventually, self-protect mode is in full gear, and it becomes easier for us to reject our own reality, rather than have someone else reject it. If we can create a discrepancy before someone else "finds out", then we can preserve ourselves if invalidated, because "it wasn't anything I didn't already know". We may avoid full acceptance of all of our accomplishments, continue to strive for more, and end up stuck in the cycle of insecurity and self-doubt.


The question then is can we and how do we overcome this? We start with practicing self-acceptance. High performance requires radical self-acceptance. Closing the gap of discrepancy by accepting the fact that if I accomplished this once, I could do it again, and seeing failure as a growth process, thereby reducing the fear of invalidation. Practicing self-talk that supports a mindset of "I am enough", building up our self-validation. Lastly, learning to separate our performance from our identity. All of which takes effort, and a daily discipline to do and maybe even professional guidance. Remember it took you years to get to here, give yourself grace and compassion as you navigate a new mindset.

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