Impostor syndrome: “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
Many of the women that I work with suffer from various manifestations of imposter syndrome. Recently, I have noticed that many of my clients “handle” their imposter syndrome by slipping to a persistent helper role.
Imposter syndrome persistently tells us that we are a “fake” and that we will be found out; that eventually everyone will realize that we don’t belong and they will get rid of us. One tendency to combat these fears is to make yourself irreplaceable. For many women, this takes the form of caretaker or helper.
I recently had a client who expressed how important it was to her to always been seen as reliable and someone that others could always count on. She was always offering to support new projects and teams even when she knew that she didn’t have the time or capacity. More often than not, she would come to our sessions operating on fumes. Completely exhausted and frustrated that no one can do anything without her. She was burnt out and wanted to change this pattern.
As we explored her patterns, we came to understand that this was completely a mess of her own making. She consciously took on more than she was able and was reluctant to give up that part of her practice. On the one hand, she knew that it was making her miserable but at the same time, she didn’t want to give up that important position. She didn’t want people to gripe if she said no to work. She didn’t want people to judge her if she scaled back and she imagined a parade of horrible comments she believed her co-workers would make if she stopped helping everyone. She wanted to be needed. She wanted to be an essential player on every team. It made her feel safe and secure.
This is what imposter syndrome does! It creates patterns of coping with our fears of inadequacy. We craft ways to “cover up” our perceived shortcomings to keep our secret safe. In my client’s instance, she was bending over backwards to be available to anyone for any project, at any moment. She was constantly cancelling personal trips and social gatherings to jump on new projects. It had become part of her persona and it was what made her feel like she belonged–it helped to soothe the fears of inadequacy. It silenced the negative rantings in her head — they couldn’t possibly fire her even if they discovered her inadequacies, too many people NEEDED her!
The patterns that accompany imposter syndrome are not sustainable. It is neither fulfilling nor rewarding to be at everyone’s beck and call. While it filled my client with a momentary sense of pride, more often it made her angry and frustrated. She felt trapped and out of control. She believed she had nowhere to go but to a full-fledged, out-of-nowhere explosive resignation. But in order to avoid that meltdown, my client needed to take a hard look at her helper tendencies and invest in making some changes.
What is it costing you to say yes to work and projects that you really don’t want to do?
What is really motivating you to take on all these things?
What would it get you if you were better able to set boundaries?
What would it be like to be able to unplug and enjoy your personal life?
Changing how we think of ourselves and how we show up in our lives is painful. Facing the fears associated with setting boundaries is hard work — it is FAR easier to just keeping saying yes to every man, woman, child, and dog that want your time and energy. The only way to truly make the shift is to first get really clear on what your current pattern is costing you and what it will cost you in the long-term if you fail to make a change.
Are you sacrificing your personal life and relationships because you are afraid to say “no” at work? What is that costing you?
Some day, you will leave that job and your friends and family will still be there. Your body, your health, your mental well-being will still be with you. Are you investing in those as well? Is your pattern costing you all those things that will remain once this job is done?
Our patterns are persuasive and convincing. It’s easy to believe we are doing the right things. Those tendencies likely created your immediate success, after all. In order to break this cycle, we have to open our eyes and see that these patterns are costing us more than they are getting us. We have to start believing that if we remain in place, we will destroy everything. Because it’s true. We have to see the forest for the trees. We have to do the hard work.
In order to change we have to understand the cost-benefits of staying where we are versus evolving. If you need support deconstructing your current patterns, grab a free session and start re-investing in your own wellbeing. After all, it’s just a job…