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  • How Do I Deal with Imposter Syndrome? A Jungian View

    How do I deal with imposter syndrome? This is a vital question for many people who outwardly seem to be very accomplished and capable.

    deal with imposter syndrome
    Fake It and Hope to Make It? …How Do I Deal with Imposter Syndrome?
    (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

    “Imposter syndrome” refers to the psychological state in which  people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. It’s not an officially recognized psychological disorder, but the term “imposter syndrome” has been around since clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes published their paper on “The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women” in 1978. Their initial work was on the imposter syndrome in high achieving women, but over time, it came to be realized that people of all kinds were subject to, and forced to deal with imposter syndrome.

    When people are subject to imposter syndrome, they doubt their own accomplishments and they have a deep fear of being exposed as a fraud. People who are dealing with this issue may have ample evidence that they are successful and capable, and yet, they often fear that others will see “that I’m not really the person I pretend to be”.

    If you’re subject to “imposter syndrome”, the anxiety and fear can be excruciating, and the effort to hide what are experienced as “failures and inadequacies” can be exhausting. So, how do I deal with imposter syndrome? How can I feel good about who I really am?

    The Inner Narrative of Imposter Syndrome

    In order to deal with imposter syndrome, we first have to become conscious of the inner story that it generates in us. Imposter syndrome produces anxiety-laden narratives that undercut our accomplishments.

    If we land a good job, imposter syndrome tells us that we either put one over on the interviewers, or that they were short on good candidates, and “desperate, and so they had to pick me”. A common feature of imposter narrative is the feeling that our inadequacies and general ineptitude are just about to be exposed. The senior executive riding the elevator up to her office finds the inner voice telling her that “today will be the day”. This means that the day when her professional weaknesses and general lack of skills get exposed has finally arrived. The professional who has demonstrated great skill in doing one professional activity is bombarded with a sense of foreboding and failure if he has to do something slightly different from the familiar. “Now everyone will see who you really are”, the inner voice tells him.

    What makes it essential to deal with imposter syndrome is the way it can stop us from seeking new opportunities, exploring new areas of our lives, and putting our energy out into the world.

    In Jungian terms, the imposter syndrome is a powerful affect-laden complex. It is sensitive to, and triggered by. situations where we might be capable and confident in our own abilities. It seems to want us to not trust ourselves. Why?

    Avoidance is Not the Way to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

    Avoiding looking at our imposter syndrome, and avoiding the feelings that go with it, is not going to help us to get out from under its self-sabotaging energy. Research shows that people with imposter syndrome tend to greatly doubt their abilities and to have a deep fear of failure. They often have a perception of phoniness about themselves that others often don’t experience. They often perceive others as having very high expectations of them, and that can often align with their own sense of perfectionism. They also tend to be people who have a strong need to achieve something of significance, and have a very strong need to be liked.

    If we can stand to look at our imposter syndrome, we can see that it is often rooted in shame that originates very early in life. We may have experienced deep toxic shame at an early point in life’s journey, and now something in us is defending us from ever experiencing that again. As a defense against shame, it keeps us in a place of self-doubt and disengagement from life’s challenges. If this is the dynamic, we need to confront our need for healing.

    Persona and Imposter Syndrome

    From a Jungian perspective, imposter syndrome is rooted in the persona, that part of ourselves that we show to others and the social world. This social aspect or mask is something we can easily over-identify with, and mistake for being who we really are. Yet we’re actually much more than that.

    We can deal with imposter syndrome by working on affirming our strengths and abilities. That may be very worthwhile. Yet a more lasting, deeper healing may come from the place of deep acceptance, when we are finally ready to experience, to be kind to, and to love the whole of who we are.

    Working in a stable, trusting relationship with a Jungian can be one of the best ways to reach this deep acceptance and cherishing of who we are, both conscious and unconscious. To have respect and love for our own personal way through our life, and to feel that we are living that life out, is ultimately the best way to deal with imposter syndrome.

    Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

    © 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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