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THE MAN IN THE MIRROR. Many of us feel it - here is the truth behind the imposters. Blog by Tiffany Barnard

21st of October 2021

How many of you feel like you have managed to get where you are in life through dumb luck?

Do you worry about being exposed for the fraud that you’re sure you are?

Or maybe you feel that what you’re doing is so easy that any fool would manage to do it just as well…

These are all feelings that I can totally relate to since I harboured them for most of my adult life!

I started working in the family business right out of university at the grand old age of 20.

No! I wasn’t some kind of child prodigy…or any kind of prodigy for that matter! The truth is, I was born in October and in the English education system that means that you are either the oldest in the class or the youngest…I was the youngest.

Then I went to Buckingham University because I could do a 3 year Business degree in 2 years. You see, I was just desperate to start working and earning my own money! I was done asking for things!

So there I am, thrown in at the deep end of the family business, which was a hotel by the way, with 350 staff under me, every single one of whom was older than me…

My Dad was totally tied up at that time with a massive new project of his own and anyway, he figured I would be fine…

I, on the other hand, knew that I hadn’t got the first idea of what I was doing and thankfully I had a mentor! Debbie.

Debbie was my food and beverage manager and we had known each other for years! In fact, Debbie had been my swim coach when I was little!

Anyway, I digress…

I found my way through thanks to Debbie. Then Debbie left… I had lost my sounding board and I was on my own. It was okay. Nothing collapsed and the business carried on quite successfully, but I started to think that it was no thanks to me. Or if I was indeed getting it right, it was a fluke. After all, the hotel had been there for years!

Fast forward and 6 years later I set up my own company and I started winning international tenders and the company grew, but in my mind that was only because it was easy. Obviously!

I was haunted by the thought that any day someone would ask me a question that would expose me to the world as a fraud! That they would all see that I had only made it that far in life thanks to dumb luck and the good fortune that my family had a business for me to work in.

It wasn’t until years later, when I started studying to become a coach that I realised that not only did that feeling have a name but that, according to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, 70% of people experience such doubts at one time or another!

And it is true! I have found with my clients that such feelings do indeed run rife in high functioning people!

You may have heard about it - IMPOSTER SYNDROME.

I don’t know why it is called a ‘syndrome’ which evokes ideas of sickness, disease, and disorders, when it is not a mental disorder.

It is a phenomenon, or an experience if you like, and it reflects a belief that you are an inadequate and incompetent failure despite any and all evidence that indicates you’re actually skilled and quite successful.

  • You doubt your abilities and feel like a total phony.
  • You tend to dwell on past mistakes.
  • You belittle your abilities, achievements, and accomplishments.
  • You feel as though you could be busted at any second.

Whenever someone says something nice to you, you find it impossible to simply say, “Thank You” and reply instead with throw away comments such as - it was easy, anyone could have done it; it wasn’t done as well as it should have been done…

You see, it doesn’t matter how positive the feedback, you always have a negative rationalisation for it.

Since people who experience Imposter Syndrome have insanely high expectations of themselves, self-doubt is ever-present. The problem is that the negative self-talk that you use to explain away the ‘wins’ that you have, feeds your anxiety, increases your doubts and smashes your self-confidence!

Your inner critic loves these kinds of irrational beliefs and unfortunately thrives on them trapping you in a vicious circle.

Although Imposter Syndrome was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their paper titled ‘The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention it was the internationally renowned expert on the syndrome, Dr Valerie Young, that identified the 5 different types of Imposter Syndrome.

Yes! We come in different flavours known as competence types and they are:

  • THE PERFECTIONIST who tend to set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any perceived mistake will make them doubt their own competence and they will have feelings of shame.
  • THE EXPERT feels obliged to know everything before they embark on a project. They won’t even think to apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the advert, and might even be hesitant to ask a question because they’re afraid of looking stupid because they don’t know the answer already. Any lack of knowledge leads to feelings of inadequacy and shame.
  • THE NATURAL GENIUS believe that talent is naturally inherent.  They judge their ‘successes’ by how quickly and easily something was done. If they struggle to master something new, if the skills don’t come easily, they feel shame because they aren’t good enough.
  • THE SOLOIST feels as though they have to accomplish all tasks on their own for them to count as achievements. Asking for help is a sign of weakness, needing help is a sign of failure and provokes feelings of shame.
  • THE SUPERHUMANS are convinced that they are frauds amongst their genuine colleagues, and so push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They often feel the need to excel in all areas of their life, at work, as parents and as partners and are overly focused on external validation and feel guilty if they are not working or feel unproductive. (By the way, this is me.)

If any of that sounds at all familiar, take heart! First of all, Imposter Syndrome is totally normal, and the chances are that 70% of the people around you also feel like you do!

Which is reassuring but doesn’t really help…I know! But here’s what you need to do:

  • Start saying “Thank You” when people compliment you.
  • Be aware of your negative inner voice and consciously change the script in your head.
  • Keep a record of your wins and read through it when you’re feeling sketchy.
  • Accept that no one knows everything! (Except possibly mothers…)
  • Recognise the difference between fact and fiction… What’s true and what’s in your imagination?
  • And, perhaps most important, talk about how you’re feeling with someone! When you put a voice to these extreme feelings you will see that they immediately lose some of their power over you.

Please believe me when I tell you that you are absolutely as good as the people around you believe you to be so when someone says something nice to you, know that it is coming from a positive place, from an objective place and then go ahead tell your inner voice to shut it!

 

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P.S. If you find yourself nodding to what I have written here, let me know. I’ve been where you are, and I can definitely show you the way out.

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Tiffany Barnard is an accredited Life Coach, she is trained and has certifications in Life Coaching, Executive Coaching, Entrepreneurship Coaching, REBT Mindset Coaching. She is also is a member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and the Association for Coaching.

Link to Tiffany Barnard's accreditation and profile on the Association for Coaching website Link to Tiffany Barnard's accreditation and profile on the EMCC Global website