Imposter syndrome is a widespread professionally recognised psychological disorder encountered by people in all walks of life, but here I am talking about us writers. It’s essentially a negative, destructive mindset that gets a hold of you and messes with your head. It makes you doubt yourself – more than doubt yourself – if left unaddressed. It convinces you you have no right to stand with your peers or to call yourself a writer. If you let it take a hold of your life, it’s then all too easy to find yourself in a deep well of misery and be unable to function.
I’m speaking from personal experience. It was many years before I realised it wasn’t only me, it was a quite common problem that many people have to overcome, not just once, but sometimes many times in their life. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the occasional, short-lived self-doubt everyone has, especially when trying something new. I’m talking about paralysing, life-altering, behaviour changing self-disbelief leading to a deep depression.
What are the signs of Imposter Syndrome?
Check these out, be honest with yourself. If you can say, ‘Yes, that’s me’ to a few of these, maybe you could do with some help to overcome these issues in your life.
- You don’t see your own strengths. Not just modesty, you really think you’re useless.
- You believe your luck is running out, that any success you’ve had was a fluke, and is about to leave you forever. You are convinced that it is only a matter of time until people realise you are not a real writer, painter, sculptor, dressmaker, teacher, secretary, doctor, politician, musician… and that you will be publicly denounced for the fraud you are.
- You feel like you need to work harder than everyone else just to stay in place.
- You can’t accept compliments, but always feel uncomfortable, even apologetic, and need to rationalise how you ‘accidentally’ did something good or right.
- You shrug off success as a beyond your control, going-with-the-territory result of your hard work, rather than your ability.
- You’re a workaholic.
- You’re a perfectionist and feel you’re never quite finished with a project. When something is done, you see only the glaring flaws.
- Failure is not an option for you. You feel humiliated, even ashamed when you have to back down or cancel any project you’re working on. You feel people laugh at you or despise you for failing.
- You’re not comfortable with confidence. You feel awkward and fake when promoting your work or talent.
- Comparisons undermine and upset your brief flashes of self-confidence, and stop you functioning.
- You only see the negatives and the limitations of your work. You may have worked hard for years to achieve a certain level of ability, but you only see your shortcomings.
- You downplay your role in projects or in helping others, saying things like ‘anyone would do the same’ or ‘I had so much help from others’.
- You have irrational feelings and thoughts such as, ‘I’m useless’, ‘I can’t do it’ and even the dreaded, ‘I’m giving up’. This last is the worst, because you can lose a lot of creative, productive time, sometimes years, even a whole lifetime, because of this destructive mindset. I’ve also known people to destroy their work (I’ve done this) in the belief that it is trash.
So now we know what it is, how do we deal with it?
The important thing is to remember you’re not the only one with these kind of thoughts. I recently read somewhere that ‘experts’ (no idea who) say as many as 70% of people suffer from this disorder. 70%. It’s possible that out of ten people you know, more than half have the same sense of inadequacy and fear that you do, or I do. That’s a lot!
So it’s obvious that it’s not just—YOU—this problem isn’t something that only affects you. Does that help? It helps me A LOT to know that huge numbers of other writers feel the same as me. Just knowing that means that it’s not just me, therefore a lot of my thoughts have to be false.
Some things we can do:
- Know and acknowledge your strengths. Not everything you do is wrong or weak. Realise that you have assets and talents. If you don’t know what they are, ask your friends, family or trusted colleagues what they think are you best qualities or your biggest abilities. They will surprise you by seeing things that you didn’t even know were strengths. Hold on to what they tell you, write it down to look at when old doubts come back to haunt you.
- Share your feelings, don’t keep them bottled up inside, afraid to tell anyone how you feel. Often people will respond with compassion, support and even, ‘Yes, I worry about that too’. If they don’t, find another person to confide in, someone who ‘gets’ you.
- Count your blessings. Old school but it always helps to realise that there are many good things in your life. Start small, it is usually the small things in life that bring joy, rather than the big things. This attitude helps you to develop and keep a positive mindset.
- Make large projects or tasks manageable by breaking them down into components or sections—this will help you to feel less overwhelmed and less daunted by what you have to do.
- Grow to understand that it is not a failing to fail. EVERYONE fails sometimes, and you cannot go through life without that. So don’t fear it, but embrace it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and to connect with others as you are open about your fears and your failings.
- Recognise that you are always changing, always learning. Learning is not something we only do at school. Our whole lives are about moving on and increasing our abilities. Just because you struggle with something now, that doesn’t mean you will always struggle with it. There is always room to develop and to build on skills. So be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to learn new things.
- Don’t be afraid to admit if something isn’t working for you and give up on it. you will always learn something from any abandoned project. Don’t let it stop you from trying again with something else.
- Learn to accept compliments without shrugging them aside. Learn to say nice things, positive and nurturing things, to yourself. Refuse to allow mean thoughts about yourself and your abilities to flourish. Try to avoid comparing yourself with others. No one is the same. No one can be the same.
- Don’t let other people criticise you in a negative way. No one has the right to do that, and it’s usually born out of jealousy or guilt. If someone attacks you in this way, verbally, or on social media, however they do it, walk away, literally or virtually. Cut it off before it gets into you and eats away at your newly acquired self-esteem.
I hope this has helped. You can contact me if you want to talk more about this subject.
Further reading you might find useful: