Name and Tame Imposter Syndrome

In the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, a young miller’s daughter is tricked into giving her most valuable possessions to a little man. First a necklace, then a ring. Then with nothing left to give, she’s forced to promise her first child when she becomes the queen.

The only way she can wriggle out of extortion is by naming the villain. When she exposes the little man’s name — Rumpelstiltskin — she defeats him.

This is not unlike how you can defeat imposter syndrome, said Casey Erin Clark, Co-Founder of Vital Voice Training, a coaching company. At the 2020 NextGen Government Training Summit, Clark explained that imposter syndrome is a fear that tricks you into thinking it’s real and founded on reasonable things: I don’t have these skills. I didn’t reach those goals. I’m too young. I’m too old.

“At its core, it is fear,” Clark said. And not just any fear – fictional fear. Factual fear is actually a threat to your safety and wellbeing. Fictional fears blow insecurities out of proportion. And, it’s a lot like a little man that threatens you into submitting to him.

If you can name imposter syndrome for what it is, a fictional fear, then you can start to do something about it.

Tame It

Clark offered a few strategies to manage imposter syndrome.

Before the effects hit, gather your brag files. Practice being the parent who puts up your own art and accomplishments on the fridge. The nice email someone sent you, the compliments you received — these serve as concrete pieces of proof that you are, in fact, brilliant and qualified when your brain tells you otherwise.

During the effects of imposter syndrome, it helps not to judge yourself. As much as imposter syndrome may be a fictional fear, you still feel fear. And that is normal. As Clark put it, “it’s the cost of admission to an interesting life.” It’s impossible to be without fear in life, so stop shaming yourself for it.

After you get over imposter syndrome, reward yourself. You want to create a positive feedback loop that associates bravery with pleasure. It can be small, like eating some chocolate, taking a walk or listening to a song that you love. “You must learn to reward yourself for doing hard things,” Clark said.

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