There is a lot of rhetoric across the Internet about imposter syndrome, and I hate most of it. To me, the advice often lingers on the surface rather than getting down to the root and providing holistic solutions. The following, I hope, is a journey down deeper.
Batting against imposter syndrome—the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved—is so prevalent that it has woven its way into almost every women’s conference and inspiring Instagram post. Yet I still meet more women than not who wrestle with ownership of their skills, value, or titles: “Who am I to ___?”
Granted, we’ve collectively come a long way. There are more feminine leaders, business owners, and breadwinners than ever before, but I still can’t shake the felt reality of sitting across a friend for coffee, or at a dinner with a new client, and recognizing that underneath their often powerhouse-esque outfit is someone scared out of their mind they are going to be found out for not being good enough. It’s no wonder that some reports indicate as much as 60% of women never negotiate their pay (St. Catherine University, 2021) despite the fact that women earn 83 cents for every dollar men earn, and the gap is even worse for women of color (Bleiweis, 2020).
If resolving this mental hurdle was as simple as choosing to believe in ourselves, most of us would have tried that a long time ago. It seems completing the shift from disbelief to belief, from incapable to capable, must require something deeper.
So, do we want to pursue it? Healing from imposter syndrome is a deep internal work, but one that can lead you to a place of true and grounded confidence.
Tune into your body
At all times, your body is doing work on your behalf to keep you safe. With kindness and beauty, she’s not only keeping your heart beating, your organs digesting, and your lungs breathing to keep you alive, but she is also on alert for potential harm that could come your way.
For many of us, our bodies are on overdrive in this area. Evolved from the place that would help us run or hide from a saber-toothed tiger way-back-when, this is often the part of our brain that now reacts when we get an urgent email or run late to yoga class. Simply put, most of our bodies are really freaking out all the time, even when they don’t need to be.
There is no shame in this—a lot of this is born out of very real trauma. But for a lot of us, as helpful as this bodily tool has historically been, it’s likely hindering us from daily mental clarity and freedom.
A lot of what I’m referring to is your nervous system, more specifically something called Polyvagal Theory—a theory highlighting the way the nervous system interacts with our mind and emotions (Porges, 2022). The theory asserts, “When humans feel safe, their nervous systems support the homeostatic functions of health, growth, and restoration, while they simultaneously become accessible to others without feeling or expressing threat and vulnerability” (p. 1). Essentially, whether or not you feel safe will impact the way the rest of your body functions, and vice versa.
Creating safety in your body looks different for all of us depending on our background and the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but some things to include more regularly in your days to promote a deeper sense of bodily safety could look like the following:
- Starting the day in a brief meditation as opposed to scrolling on your phone
- Going on a walk around the block if you start to feel overwhelmed
- Staying hydrated and eating nourishing foods
- Incorporating movement that feels good
- Laughing with people you love
- Asking for a hug from trusted friends
- Creating an intentional nighttime ritual
Your body is your greatest tool. Learn how to work with her instead of against her.
Cultivate an honest and compassionate view of yourself*
We all have a default state of being—it’s who you are when you’re not trying to impress anybody or not experiencing anything particularly emotional. It’s just you, being you. At this moment, if you can, settle into this. Then ask yourself: Does this version of me actually believe I am capable and skilled in my field? Confident in my character? Deserving of good things? Get honest. If so, how beautiful! You are so deserving! If not, there may be some work to be done in shifting what I call your self-worth baseline.
A study on PTSD demonstrated that everyday symptoms of trauma interfere “with one’s life and leads to self-denial, resulting in a decline in self-esteem” (Omasu et al., 2018, p. 95). More simply put by psychologist Dr. Nicole LePera (2020), “When we have unresolved trauma, we have low self worth.” Hence, when we begin to recognize a low self-worth that overly focuses on limitations, we have an opportunity to go deeper into our past pain that may subconsciously be causing subtle or major self-sabotage in everything from work to relationships.
It’s not a light or easy journey. The path of inner healing* is a difficult and sacred road. But if you truly desire to step fully into your identity and a more wholehearted life, this is the kind of work that will support you in getting there. When you believe in your worth, you have more space to receive what is good, adapt to what is not, and live from that fullness rather than a fear of what you lack.
*This work is highly recommended to do alongside a professional therapist or trusted advisor.
Practice the person you want to be
Our perception of our own abilities has a direct impact on how well we perform, according to research. In a study by Morales-Rodríguez and Pérez-Mármol (2019) on the relationship between self-efficacy—“the judgments that individuals make about abilities… in order to achieve the desired performance” (p. 1)—and psychological distress, a strong correlation was found between anxiety levels and low perceived self-efficacy.
Imposter syndrome, then, can begin to be dismantled when conscious action takes place. When you set a vision for who you are becoming, and take steps toward making her your reality, you narrow your focus in such a way that imposter syndrome has no place.
I invite you to try what I aptly and ironically call “The Practice.” Before you even get out of bed, simply close your eyes and walk through your day ahead. What are you wearing? What kind of energy are you bringing to your partner, your clients, your kids? How are you nailing that presentation or meeting? By creating a physiological dress rehearsal for yourself, you are naturally setting yourself up to show up as your truest, kindest, most confident, insert-your-adjective-here self. You also become more resilient, and less anxious in your ability to pivot when the day doesn’t go as planned, because you’ve prepared yourself for the potential of the day before it even started.
Your mind is powerful, and will believe what you envision. By fixating yourself clearly and confidently within your day-to-day reality, you release yourself from the pressures of imposter syndrome.
Get outside of yourself
In reality, imposter syndrome is an internal concern of how we are perceived by the outside world. It’s a mistrust between who we believe ourselves to be and its alignment with who we appear to be to others. While the messy feelings of imposter syndrome may occur while we’re alone, these feelings absolutely affect how we interact with the people around us. To take it even deeper, think about it: If we are constantly fearful that we can’t measure up to our or others’ expectations, are we really showing up with and giving our full selves to those around us?
A blog from the Biophysical Society explains:
“With imposter syndrome, we magnify this tension between our personal and community identities as evidence that we’re not ‘real’ community members. Instead of celebrating the ways in which we identify with the community, we struggle to reconcile the ways in which we don’t” (Ramirez-Alvarado & Wynne, n.d.).
So what if, instead of focusing on ourselves—and in the process, creating a tension between ourselves and our community—we were able to shift our view to the world around us? Our neighbors? Their needs? How can we use our gifts to serve them? When we focus on our perceived shortcomings, we also cut short our ability to leverage our gifts for those we work and live alongside. Finding practical ways to serve—whether cooking a meal for a friend, applying yourself with purpose in your job, or finding ways to be active in the needs of your city—can shake us out of believing outcomes are dependent on our ability to measure up, and make space for more collaborative, welcoming possibilities.
If I could hold your beautiful face and look into your eyes, I would tell you with the utmost conviction that you have the most wonderful life ahead of you. And you have a lot of power to mold it into what you want it to look like, and who you want to become. In the areas where you might not have that power, you do have the ability to adapt, to grow, and to lean into your community and resources. But imposter syndrome doesn’t have to be a hindrance to that. So go be bold. The world needs your voice. We are waiting for you.