Go Ahead and Celebrate: Overpowering Imposter Syndrome

Imposter-Syndrome-MaskIn a recent interview with ABC News Viola Davis made a comment that took the world by surprise and hit all to close to home for so many of us. Davis, who has won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony for her work said “I still feel like I’m going to wake up and everybody’s going to see me for the hack I am.” This nagging doubt that we are not enough, that our achievements are not deserved and the fear that we may be exposed as a fraud has been defined by psychologists as “Imposter Syndrome”  We look at others with love, respect and admiration. We celebrate their accomplishments, but when it comes to seeing that in ourselves we cant.

Self-doubt and fear are certainly part of the human experience. People often doubt their abilities to be good parents, employees, and friends, and sometimes people even struggle to envision their potential to succeed in certain endeavors. Fear, which frequently accompanies self-doubt, can thwart even the smartest, most talented, and most driven individuals from simply attempting a task or working towards a goal. People often say they are worried that their peers will find out “they don’t know what they are talking about” or that they will find out they are a “phony”. However, when one pushes beyond these feelings and takes action to bring a goal to fruition, the fruits of the labor involved can certainly be sweet and rewarding.

Relishing in one’s success and celebrating achievement is, for many, a short-term experience. Regardless of the time, effort, sweat, pain, and strife that led to reaching a goal, people often reach that mountaintop and feel like they need to get back down right away. But why? Why do some people put so much work towards achieving a goal, attain it, receive recognition for it, and then feel as though they are somehow undeserving or should hide their success? According to some experts in the field of mental health, imposter syndrome, or the imposter phenomenon, may be to blame.

maya-angelou-quote-600x400While not considered a clinical diagnosis, imposter syndrome occurs when a person feels as though he or she has achieved success fraudulently. Even if an individual reached a goal via the most genuine and authentic means, imposter syndrome can cause an individual to feel like a “fake.” When these feelings emerge, they can tarnish a person’s sense of accomplishment and potentially prevent future goals from being achieved. Additionally, such negative thoughts, when left unabated, can eventually manifest into symptoms of mental health disorders like depression. People will continue to ask questions like:

  • Do I have any business doing this job?
  • Who do I think I am accepting this praise / promotion / award / raise?
  • What if they figure me out?
  • Do I really deserve this?

Despite hard work and substantial effort, self-talk such as this often occurs and can sound like an annoying inner voice that is trying to minimize a person’s achievements and personal sense of pride. Fortunately, there is something that can be done about it.

Take overcoming some sort of trauma, for example. It can be difficult, require a lot of work, and challenge a person to his or her limits. However, persevering beyond the pain of the past is possible and most certainly warrants celebrating this sort of personal success. But what if the imposter phenomenon rears its ugly head and puts a damper on such a personal victory?

While not always easy to do, the key is to refocus one’s attention, remember what it took to get where you are,  smile, and continue the celebration. Turning negative thoughts and opinions that one has about one’s self into positive beliefs can extinguish the imposter phenomenon and allow a person to enjoy positive progress, recovery success, or any other beneficial outcome that resulted from putting the time and energy into achieving healing. Even if it seemed easier than expected to overcome a traumatic past, newfound confidence, beneficial coping skills, optimism for the future, and improved overall wellness can remain in the trophy case of life for as long as one wants.

At The Refuge, A Healing Place, men and women from all walks of life battling a variety of concerns, including trauma, addiction, and mental health issues, entrust the staff at this center to help them reach their treatment goals in a deeply meaningful manner. By participating in the holistic care available, men and women are able to heal in a multitude of ways, and are encouraged to truly celebrate the healing and recovery success that they have worked so hard to achieve. Even if imposter syndrome becomes an issue for an individual, and even if there is still more for the individual to do to truly become well again, achievements in healing (both big and small) are what The Refuge is all about – helping men and women develop the skills and confidence needed to live the healthy lives they deserve.

If you are questioning your success or doubt your place in the world, know that you can ‘name the beast’. Call out your fear, talk about it with someone you love and trust and be open to hearing and embracing their support and praise. You are worthy of success. You are worthy of others respect. You are worthy!