According to studies, 70% of us have experienced the imposter syndrome- the fear of being found out…( the expression was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes.)
We might be a fraud after all and our game will be revealed. That we didn’t deserve our success, we just got lucky. We will be shamed. Especially high achievers suffer from this phenomenon.
- Dysphoric moods
- Emotional instability
- Negative self-evaluations
Which we compensate for by
- Undermining achievments
- Or not finishing work
As a professional Madonna tribute, I know about feeling like a fraud. Because I was one.
I became successful stepping into the shoes of the queen of Pop.
First off: who do I think I am to do that?
And secondly, how can I ever be good enough when my success came from being someone else? Doesn’t that prove my lesser-ness?
High achievers have learned how to be their greater version, how to stretch their potential, how to play the system. The feeling of “little me” underneath that must not be seen can become debilitating.
We can feel like we are hiding in full sight. We might be.
I had the opportunity to take this to the extreme. Vogue.
Many of us put on a show in order to succeed. We play the roles we think we need to play. In order to get what we think we need. Or want.
We play the good child, good student, good employee, boss, business owner, spouse, we grow into our roles and often identify with them. When we grow up to do more than the role, we hit against the idea of being a fraud. We expereince Imposter syndrome.
And underneath is still the “just you”. That may or may not want something completely different. The “you” that may just a break from the treadmill. The “You” that yearns to be free.
And are “you” ever going to be good enough? Or will you always have to play it up?
When I first auditioned for an agency to become a Madonna tribute- I was extremely conflicted. I have always felt special, like a star that just needs to be discovered, nurtured and boom the world will know. But I hadn’t made it yet. So I was a waitress. And became a singing teacher. I had begun to question my star destiny.
And then followed this audition, my first ever in London. To pretend to be the queen of Pop. Good luck.
I didn’t sing a Madonna song. I sang the song I’d recorded with Sony Music.
(Sony had dropped me after the song didn’t take off)
Maybe they’d see that I can do Madonna. I was excited. And they did. They chose me.
Phew. That means I’m no longer solely responsible
Consensual agreement on a reality is often key to us feeling more confident. If we are all in agreement that I can be Madonna, it’s easier for me to relax into it. A sense of belonging emerges. (The imposter syndrome whispers “I don’t belong here!”) My nervous system can relax and my light begins to shine.
I amp it up amp it up amp it up. Fan the flame. Now you can all experience my fire. My experience goes two ways.
Nr.1 : you’ll love it and we can all agree that I am indeed a superstar. Something else.
Experience nr2: someone will point out that now is enough and I’m too much and who do I think I am? That it’s somehow wrong/offputting/insulting/making others uncomfortable.
I will feel shamed and retrieve into my little shell. Sorry about that. I didn’t mean harm.
And next time I have the opportunity to step up I’m likely to feel like I shouldn’t (Imposter synrome or imposing syndrome?)
I might want to under-mine the things that I have done to make sure I don’t get encouraged to step out and up. (Imposter syndrome at work)
I might feel anxious of the shame that could come back and avoid it at all costs.
I takes me back to my first big gig at the theatre- it was a splendid night. I was 19 and did a 20mins solo show in 2 houses. I had a very warm reception in house one and a standing ovation in house 2. They celebrated me as the new star to come and it was glorious. I didn’t want this to go to my head.
To me, it was going to be real when the paper said so. Because the 400 people that witnessed it that night were great but the paper was there for eternity to make me real.
And the paper came out and it said I was somewhere between Luke warm charming and totally boring. Using old material and riding on the Lolita energy. It was like the reporter was in a different show. I felt like someone had emptied a bucket of cold water over my head.
It was so shameful. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t know how to go out on the street again . How would I look anyone in the eye in case they’d read this? People would look at me and think that I was rubbish. How could I face the people in the theatre after this failure? Had I let everyone down? I called the director up.
I wanted him to say the journalist was crazy and that they’d book me straight away. So I could forget about it and move on.
He said this was probably really good for me that he’d written that.
I was struck. What? How could this be good for me? He believed this? On whose side were they on?
I was even more ashamed
Did I need to be punished and humbled? Had I done something wrong? Was shining and giving it my all not what I had been booked to do? I was confused and hurt and ashamed. Maybe I had made the whole success thing up and I was deluded. Just a fraud.
That is the price of standing out. They will take you down. Isn’t it better to hide?
And every time we outperform ourselves or are chosen or put ourselves forward for success, we risk this feeling of embarrassment and shame. To be outed like this.
And we risk getting what we want. Which gives rise to the next opportunity of being outed.
And when this getting what we want bumps against what we think we should have/deserve or any other internal unconscious agreement, we feel a slight ping of guilt.
Imposter syndrome feeds off that guilt and that understanding that guilt is bad and must be avoided.
You can do empowerment classes. You can practice exposure therapy and numb to the effect. You can retrieve. We have many options. You can also choose guilt. Because when we befriend the boundaries of what’s ok to experience, we stretch. We allow ourselves to grow.
What if there was a way to grow with and through our experiences including embarrassment. If we didn’t have to run away from being uncomfortable? What if behind this pain was a treasure?
What would it be like to be fully and unashamedly YOU?