I’ve been writing a blog post entitled “Nine Ways to Beat Anxiety”. It’s sat there, unfinished, for weeks. In the meantime, my anxiety levels, which started rising when I decided to apply for a very competitive fellowship, have skyrocketed. Eventually I faced the facts – I was suffering a major relapse of Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome is marked by the desperate feeling that some day someone is going to discover your dirty little secret – you’re just an impostor. You don’t belong where you are. You’ve faked your way. And some day, they are going to find out.
Impostor Syndrome took its toll on me. I started to say Yes to everything that might allay my Impostor anxiety. Looking back it was easy to see how it all snowballed. A host of changes looming this year, major milestones and deadlines, it all came to a head recently. I broke out in a rash, went to see my GP and wept (doctors are human too), and wept again when I saw my counsellor.
Deep down I couldn’t shake this feeling like I just wasn’t good enough, and I felt like I was paddling desperately to keep my head above the water. I also felt extremely time-pressured and like there was no escape.
I tried lots of things. I explored self-compassion – showing myself compassion, loving myself despite my imperfections. I started reading Brene Brown. I confessed to my husband, who already knew, really. Eventually, all of the above helped me make an enormous decision that lifted the burden significantly. But more on that in another post.
I’m now feeling a lot better. But not before I had done some soul-searching. I tried to search for the origin of these “not good enough” messages. I always assumed that someone, somewhere had said things that made me feel this way. But when I looked back, I realised that nobody had ever said to me that I was hopeless, or not a worthy person. I have had negative feedback, awkward moments, humiliation, embarrassment, times of extreme discomfort or stress, but mostly, the messages were internal. I interpreted negative feedback, no matter how minor, to mean that I was intrinsically “no good” as a person, and I was intensely uncomfortable with this feeling. So I always strived to be perfect, to avoid the burning shame of feeling inadequate. But the messages were all mine. The tape, the voice was mine. I couldn’t blame anyone else – I had, effectively, imprisoned myself.
The way forward, then, is to see myself as who I am. Not black and white, good or bad, but a human being intrinsically worthy of love and belonging. And to have the courage to stand up, feeling vulnerable, but accept my imperfections, even accept that I might fail. To have the courage to challenge my beliefs. To finally be kind to myself. This is the ultimate courage – to stand up to my own criticisms. It’s the only way to free myself from this prison of self-doubt. I have been my own worst enemy, for decades. But through these next few difficult weeks, I am going to be brave, by saying “I Am Enough”. That whatever outcomes arise from the day, the week, the month, or from this fellowship application, I am and always will be worthy of love and belonging.
I Am Enough.
Have you ever suffered from Impostor Syndrome? How did you cope with it?