What is imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome is a pattern of thinking where people doubt their own success and ability, despite evidence to the contrary. They feel that any success is down to luck. People with imposter syndrome will feel that they don’t deserve their success and will downplay it for fear of being found to actually be the fraud they believe themselves to be (1, 2)
History of Imposter syndrome and how it works
Rather than being a condition, imposter syndrome was a phrase used by Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 paper (2).
Imposter syndrome can be broken down into 6 parts (3)
This is a four-part cycle that is repeated constantly. The imposter is given a task which will be measured, anxiety and doubt over the result leads to over-preparation (more work than needed to make sure they don’t fail) or procrastination (avoiding the task until the last minute). These actions distract from the anxiety. Once the task has been measured the result is discounted as the result of over-preparation or luck after procrastination (4)
The need to be special or the best
Those with imposter syndrome feel the need to be the best and when confronted with people of equal or more ability, conclude that they are, in fact, inadequate.
Like the need to be the best, the person with imposter syndrome will set their expectations impossibly high and expect everything in all aspects of their lives and work to run flawlessly. When expectations are not met they become overwhelmed and blames themselves again for being a failure.
Fear of failure
But unfortunately, failing is one of the imposters biggest fears – leading to over-preparation or procrastination.
Denial of competence and discounting praise
The person with impostor syndrome will dismiss positive feedback and actively try to discredit any praise
Fear and guilt about success
Imposter syndrome leads the person to feel guilt about their success, feel different from those around them, and feel anxious about any subsequent tasks.
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The effects of imposter syndrome
As anyone who has suffered from anxiety can attest, anxiety can be completely debilitating. The imposter cycle and the need to constantly meet high expectations, while not enjoying the fruits of your results, leads to stress, anxiety, shame, low self-worth and depression (2)
Who it affects
Although initially thought to affect women the most, research has been undertaken which states that men and women are both affected equally (2). It affects people who have some measure of success in their lives (5). It affects people with low self-esteem, who have had a critical or unstable upbringing and those who feel out of place.
It has affected many famous people as their quotes show us.
“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”
“I don’t know whether every author feels it, but I think quite a lot do — that I am pretending to be something I am not, because, even nowadays, I do not quite feel as though I am an author.”
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ”
How this relates to alcohol
I’ll tell you why I am writing about this in a minute, but I read a very interesting article, which can be found here, that discussed why imposter syndrome is prevalent in adult children of alcoholics. The insecurity, low self-esteem, critical upbringing and self-doubt all take root within whatever that adult is trying to achieve (6). Often these adult children have their own alcohol problems.
And it is easy to see why. The characteristics of people suffering from imposter syndrome are very similar to the characteristics of people suffering from an alcohol problem. Especially if looking at functioning or high functioning alcohol problems. These people will be the achievers, putting pressure on themselves and then, when they can’t take the anxiety, pressure, feelings of failure, inability to meet their own expectations, they suppress those feeling with alcohol.
The same for parents; expecting to run the gauntlet of parenthood and work, unsupported while comparing themselves constantly to the social media perfect images of other people managing beautifully. See my post Why do people drink for more on this.
Recovery websites talk about how imposter syndrome can lead people to relapse because they feel that their sober selves are imposters.
Why am I writing about imposter syndrome?
I fought so hard for 12 years to get sober, and always feared that if I succeeded, I would be miserable, frustrated and craving every day. When I quit smoking, at 30 years old, it just happened. I got my first really bad chest infection and something in my brain said ‘that’s enough of that’ and I stopped. But I always put that down to the fact that I only really smoked when I drank so I wasn’t ‘properly’ addicted. I worried that wanting to drink every day mean that I wouldn’t be able to live a craving free life. When I finally quit, on 29th April 2018, the same thing happened. Don’t get me wrong I had vile moments, but the further I went along my sober path, the less power these moments and craving had over me. Now I am basically completely craving free.
When I realised this was the case, and I had already started this blog – at 14 months sober – I began to panic. Maybe I hadn’t really had a problem at all! Maybe I didn’t have the right to talk to people who were suffering now, because I wasn’t suffering anymore! I felt like a fake and a fraud!!
I talked to My Love about it, downplaying my worries and saying I knew I was being ridiculous. I knew my past, the alcohol fuelled actions, the rollercoaster emotions, the tears, the anxiety, the shame, the fear, the loss of control.
Nevertheless, there was a niggling doubt constantly that I was going to be found to be an imposter and somehow all my past suffering hadn’t really happened. And then BAM! Not 3 months into my blog, a comment from a reader arrived saying I had never had a problem and I had to get over myself and spend time with my family rather than blogging about not having a problem.
I was expecting negative comments, no one is mad enough to go into the world of social media and blogging without expecting some nasty trolling, but this first comment hit me in the solar plexus of my deepest concern!
How imposter syndrome has affected my life
I have been affected by imposter syndrome my whole life. Not going for jobs I didn’t think I was good enough for despite high qualifications, having a degree and two masters and still not feeling clever enough, not pursing a PhD despite a 95% grade on my master’s dissertation, never writing in case no-one wanted to read it, never singing in case I wasn’t the best and struggling with friendships because I was sure they would see through me and realise I am nothing.
Yet I could not believe that I was going to be challenged for succeeding and overcoming the biggest obstacle I had ever faced!!! I had my own worries about my success and my own survivor’s guilt that I was now OK, but some many people aren’t. The reason many people speak out about their problems is to help other people to get to where they are, not to be pulled down and told they are a fraud!!
I was terrified about starting this blog as it played into all my fears about people, being found out, exposing myself and not being good enough. I worried that if I got horrible comments they would feed my negative self-beliefs so much that they would send me back into the clutches of alcohol. But I did it anyway because I knew that if it helped just one person to learn to love themselves enough to stop drinking and to look for happiness, then it was enough.
I realise that many of my posts have a rosy glow but that is because I am so damn grateful for the life I now have. When I used to read articles about how life could be better, they fired my motivation to quit drinking. My next post, as requested by my beloved sister is called Furious Sober Yoga Mummy and acknowledges all the shitty stuff that comes with the good stuff!!
How I am dealing with imposter syndrome
I do not know how to deal with imposter syndrome yet, but like everything in my blog, it’s a healing journey that I am on. I have always managed my imposter syndrome by powering through it. I am trying now to overcome it with the help of everything I have learned on my journey to sobriety.
I have to say that once I got over the shock and worry of my negative comment it inspired me to keep going. I thought about everything I had been through, all the crap and all the achievements on my journey to sobriety and I am bloody proud of myself. It has been a hell of a journey, but I managed it and this is one thing I am not going to let my imposter self take away from me.
I think overcoming imposter syndrome has a lot to do with awareness of your inner voice. If you can take control of that voice and those thoughts, the imposter syndrome will eventually have less power over you. See my post Change your thoughts to change you life for more on this.
It’s also helps to reach out. When I got the negative comment I reached out to my Instagram followers and their love and support was amazing. Helped me to see that my story was valid and helpful.
This is a fantastic blog post that I read about overcoming imposter syndrome so have a read if you want more.
I have always loved the following two quotes which have scared and inspired me in equal measure in the mad, unstable world that we live in. I will share them with you before I go.
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” Bertrand Russell
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” Yeats
Let’s start loving ourselves enough to give the world more of the best and wise people it deserves.
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