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Understanding Imposter Syndrome

Updated: 7 days ago

To effectively tackle imposter syndrome, we must first understand where it came from. At it’s core, imposter syndrome is rooted in deep-seated beliefs and thought patterns, which are reinforced by the neural pathways in our brain.

These beliefs were planted by society, family, advertisements, strangers, magazines, religion, patriarchy, your social group, capitalism… you name it. Everyone's been sowing seeds in our brains about what is right and what is wrong and good and bad since the year Dot and we have been gardening them all. Probably with very little weeding. The more we repeat these opinions to ourselves, the stronger they become. But more importantly, each time we repeat them, we tweak them a bit to make it sound like our own, until eventually it gets relayed in our own voice; so we begin to think that these are thoughts are our beliefs we just logically arrived at.

I was trying to explain it to a mate’s kid the other day and said imagine your thoughts as trains travelling along a vast network of railway tracks. The more frequently a specific train (thought) travels along a particular route (neural pathway), the stronger and more established that route becomes. Imposter syndrome occurs when negative, self-doubting trains have become the dominant force in our mental landscape, carving out well-trodden tracks that feel almost impossible to deviate from.

The good news is our brain's inherent neuroplasticity allows us to reshape these pathways and rewire our thought patterns (or build new tracks). With persistence, dedication, and the right tools, you can break free from the clutches of imposter syndrome and emerge as your authentic, confident self, if you'd like to.

To combat imposter syndrome, we must first address the root of the problem: our mindset. Undoubtedly you have seen the suggestion to “be more positive” a thousand times like, it's just a switch that you can flick. But my suggestion is to get more factual, rather than getting tangled up in the drama. Stick to the reality of the situation. For example, if you're thinking “I can't do this.” you could counter that with. “This is a task”. If you're thinking “There are way too many things to do”, number them. If you're thinking “I'm not good enough for this.”, perhaps state what this is? And have a think about whether any humans have ever achieved that. Because if someone has, you could be one of those humans.

Neutralising the panic like this will step you away from responding from a fear reflex and into a place where your brain is back online and able to deal with the task in hand.

Developing emotional intelligence can help us better navigate the emotional ups and downs that often accompany imposter syndrome.

Instead of getting swept up in your emotions, practice observing and labelling them without judgement rather than being dragged along by an emotional rollercoaster. Easier said than done, of course, but as with everything, it is a practice. Putting a name to the sensations you are feeling engages a different part of your brain, since it slows down the feeling that can sometimes be out of control.

Simply by naming our emotions, we develop a level of emotional agility. It is the most basic trick in the work but hugely effective. Once we have identified what is going on for us, we are able to adapt and respond to our emotions in alignment with our values. And just like many other hard things in life: When it comes to our emotions, the only way around is through.

We cannot end impostor syndrome unless we are willing to feel our emotions. Starting with these few basic steps, noticing what you're feeling, acknowledging what you're feeling, and giving a name to that sensation allows us to begin training our brains that emotional responses are allowed and are a normal part of the human experience.

But by normalising what we're going through and the thoughts we're having, as human reactions we take one step further away from them being disasters, from us feeling like impostors, from us never getting things right, and all of the other stories that we tell ourselves.

This is the way that we begin to reclaim our minds. It may not be as easy as you would like at first, but it is a practice, and I promise you, it is so, so worth it.


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