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Are we obsessed with imposters?

Have you ever noticed, it seems like many books and films run with a story line involving an imposter? There’s often a character masquerading as someone they’re not and often for some kind ofl gain.

Take The Man in the Iron Mask, The Talented Mr Ripley, Catch Me If You Can, Face/Off, A Knight’s Tale and Sommersby to name just a few.

Take Sommersby, where Richard Gere poses as a farmer returning from the war to reclaim ‘his’ wife and farm. US Marshalls arrive to arrest the farmer for murder and he’s faced with an impossible dilemma. Either he admits he’s an imposter in order to free himself from the murder charge and lose the farm and ‘his’ wife or he maintains his guise and will be put to death by hanging. He chooses the latter.

There is tale after tale where imposters play a part where they’re fearful of detection and at great pains to hide their true identity.

Just as it can be like this in real life too.

Staying Safe and Small

So many people talk about suffering from ‘Imposter Syndrome’. They feel they are acting a part and one they feel they’re not very good at. They allow it to hold them back, keep them small and stuck firmly in their comfort zone. They expect to be ‘found out’ at any time and exposed as a fraud, failure or unworthy in some way. It’s as if the real them is somehow less than the version of themselves they present to the outside world!

Does this resonate with you at all? Are you reading and nodding your head and silently thinking ‘yes, that’s me!’?

Well, please stop right now and read on…

I dislike the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’. Why? Let me explain. In my view rather than solving problems by identifying an issue, the term actually perpetuates and exacerbates the issues. It encourages unhelpful thinking patterns and limits our beliefs.

It’s all to do with labeling, which is a double-edged sword if ever there was one!

Yes there can be pros associated with labelling, such as:

  • Knowing what you’re dealing with
  • Being able to find out more information about it
  • Bonding with other people who have the same issue
  • Understanding why you feel the way you feel.

I’m not knocking these as benefits, because understanding is often the first step on the path to resolution.

However, there are potentially disasterous downsides too, as in:

  • Using the label as an excuse
  • Allowing the label to define who you are
  • Being judged by others
  • Letting the label become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When it comes to ‘Imposter Syndrome’, I think the cons far outweigh the pros.

By acknowledging Imposter Syndrome as a ‘thing’, we just perpetuate the belief that it’s real and it’s going to get in our way. We use it to explain away the fact that we’ve not started something or we’ve given up on doing it, saying things like, “I’m having a bad day, my imposter syndrome’s kicked in and it’s stopped me doing anything.” We might even say it almost nonchalantly, looking for a sympathetic I’ve-been-there-too look and comments. All this does though, is send our mind conscious and unconscious messages that it’s ok. That it’s ok not to try, it’s ok to stop, it’s ok to feel this way because you’ve got Imposter Syndrome. The End!

This is not the end

It’s not the end though. What you’re likely experiencing is a challenge or a bump in the road that you can navigate round, through or over. The doubts or fears you feel are simply your unconscious mind trying to keep you safe, to get you to pay more attention, after all it’s job is to keep you alive. Though natural, these doubts and fears hold us back.

It’s said that on the other side of fear lies joy. When you understand that, you know that you can keep going and achieve great things.

At its worst, buying into Imposter Syndrome can lead to feelings of shame, anxiety, chronic self-doubt and even depression.

Breaking your patterns and changing your beliefs

It really doesn’t have to be that way.

So when you’re feeling doubtful about your abilities and as if everyone else knows more than you, here’s something practical you can do:

  1. In pencil, write down your feelings and thenexamine what they are and where they’re coming from. For example, ‘I think I’m going to mess up because I’ve always been told I’d never amount to much.
  2. Then in pen, write down all the things you know and can do that counter those feelings. For example, ‘I’ve set up a successful business and people ask for my advice all the time about [x’].
  3. After that on make a list of all your achievements and successes; praise you’ve received at work; testimonials and reviews; the things that friends and family say about you.
  4. Use the information to create new, positive statements about yourself. For example, ‘This new thing I’m about to do is scary; however, I know I can do it because I’ve already set up a successful business’.
  5. Stick up your positive statements and list of achievements somewhere you can see them.
  6. Say them out loud and proud into the mirror each day, standing tall and strong head up.
  7. Each evening write down 3 things you’re proud of or have achieved that day.
  8. Visualise your success.
  9. Repeat often!

When you find yourself caught up in unhelpful thought patterns, you can also use a pattern interrupt to change your thinking. What’s a pattern interrupt? Well, imagine that instead of driving your usual way to work you’re diverted because of roadworks. It jolts you wide wake because it’s unexpected.  It’s not that you weren’t awake before, but it snaps you out of ‘automatic pilot’ mode. That’s a pattern interrupt.

To so this for yourself, simply identify the thought pattern you keep repeating and would like to break – like holding yourself back whenever you’re about to step out of your comfort zone. Then, devise a pattern interrupt that you know will jolt you awake and use it each time you feel yourself running that old familiar pattern.

Now NLP training and coaching are both brilliant for breaking free from unhelpful thought patterns, dissolving self doubt and creating permanent positive change. If you’d like to know more book a call online or check out the NLP Practitioner training on offer.

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