Working on overcoming Imposter Syndrome

For a couple of years now, I saw conference talks on the imposter syndrome coming up every now and then, from different people in the field. Ever since I started to deal with my own “manipulator”, I figured it could be helpful to some people out there interested in trying the first steps in overcoming imposter syndrome on their own. Please note that the following has helped me in my journey. I don’t dare to say this will work all the time for everyone. It worked for me. So, maybe someone else is similarly as weird as I am, and it helps that person, too.

Some background

The following has a variety of influences. My earliest influence probably came from Secrets of Consulting by Jerry Weinberg (or was it More Secrets of Consulting? not sure) where he explains an item that he carries with him, that reminds him about his strengths, and how he wants to be courageous in different situations. I recall him calling this item his courage stick.

Of course, if you start reading Jerry Weinberg’s work, sooner or later, you will cross lessons from Virginia Satir. The stage director metaphor stems from the book “Your many faces” where she walks through a dysfunctional case first, then a one where the person stays in charge of the stage direction.

Other influences include Schulz von Thun and his writings on Gestalt therapy, as well as my recent encounters with the various materials in the ORSC cosmos. I recall a recent coaching session as a personal coach based on this.

While working through my steps, please make sure to not dive too deep into reliving your imposter moments. Especially when I mention detaching yourself from that recent experience, it’s important to live into just enough to get a brief connection, and not put into a realm. If you try this just on your own and find yourself always stuck and unable to detach yourself from the situation you worked through, find a person that can walk you through the steps, and be able to detach you from the imposter moment. Otherwise, you will have a very unpleasant situation relived, yet, still unable to turn this into anything more productive. Avoid that at all costs.

The steps

  1. Sit comfortably. Think about a recent situation where you felt – in hindsight maybe – that you encountered an imposter syndrome situation. Something is telling you that you’re just faking it without really knowing anything. Feel briefly back into that situation, just enough to get connected.
  2. How would you describe that feeling? Does it make some noise? Is there a particular smell? Is it some kind of person standing beside you? Try to find something on a sensory channel that represents that imposter moment. Make sure to not get too deep into it. If you feel anything overwhelming you, take a break, and maybe find another person able to safely guide you through this, yet keep you detached enough to not block yourself.
  3. Amplify and dampen the noise, smell, the person. Make the noise really loud, then turn down the volume. This might be especially tough for a moment to stay detached.
  4. Now, literally, take a step back from that situation. We’re in the here and now, you’re not in the situation at this point, but outside of it. We are able to take a look at that situation. What else do you see from this outside perspective that you could not see a moment ago? Something that makes you curious? Something that makes you fearful? Briefly describe it to yourself or the person guiding you.
  5. While continuing to look from the outside at that situation, how would you describe yourself? Can you find a suitable name?
  6. Start a conversation with your imposter moment self. What is the imposter moment self saying? Listen to yourself at that moment. While staying in the here and now detached from the situation.
  7. Having listened to yourself in that situation, how do you think that imposter moment is trying to be helpful to you? Everything happens for a reason. Some of our thoughts are guided by our past experiences, and that holds for all of us. Probably some previous experience might want to warn you about some unpleasant that happened, but you forgot about it. Try to take a look behind the curtain of your own self. Stay rationale and in the here and now while digging into it.
  8. Since you are in the here and now, and now tasted a bit of how the imposter syndrome may want to help you, with the current detachment, how would you respond to your imposter moment self? What do you tell it? What kind of gesture do you offer? How does your imposter moment self respond? Try to have a conversation with it.
  9. Maybe change your position and completely detach from the imposter moment. Maybe stand up, and shake your hands and legs. Turn yourself around 180 degrees.
  10. Having gone through reliving this moment, and starting a conversation with your imposter moment self, what do you take away? How would you like to be reminded about the helpfulness the imposter moment self is trying to offer? You are now in the position of the stage director of your own inner stage. How do you welcome the actor in the imposter moment, and make sure that its voice is going to heard?
  11. Maybe find a gesture, item, or touch on your own body that will remind you of what you learned as the stage director. This could be a touch on the elbow, an item like Jerry’s courage stick, or a scratch on the foot. Anything that will help you remind you of this situation.
  12. This last step is important: Before going into the next situation where you fear getting into an imposter moment situation the next time, rehearse the situation. Try imagining forward into the future, and remind yourself of the gesture, touch, or item from the previous step. How are you going to respond? Keep in mind that you are rehearsing the situation as the stage director. Make sure to incorporate other different actors that show up on stage as well in check, and make sure that you are directing, not them.

Final disclaimer

These steps are not guaranteed to succeed every time for everyone. It might be the case that the first two tries after the rehearsal do not work at all for you. Consider working on the next most recent situation again, getting outside guidance and help, and in extreme cases seek a totally different approach, as this one might not be working for you, but another might. If any of these situations make you feel uncomfortable, stop immediately, take a break, 10 minutes minimum, a couple of days is fine as well.

At some guided sessions I started to name my imposter moment self the “manipulator”. It took me a while to get used to noticing him showing up for me. Sometimes I miss that moment totally, and he starts to bring up his warning in unskillful ways. That’s ok. As you learn forward, you will get better at recognizing these moments for you earlier, maybe once or twice welcoming the “manipulator” to the stage, and providing him the feeling that his warning is now heard and addressed, mitigated, or whatever seems suitable. The more you practice, the more often you will notice that you stayed in charge as the stage director.

As I can’t stress this enough, get outside or even professional help if these steps do not succeed for you. An experienced coach or psychologist will be able to guide you through these moments and keep you detached, or have her own approach to getting you through it once she sees all the other clues that you are unable to see for yourself. For me, this approach worked over time. You might have different experiences demanding different approaches.

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