Impostor! Impostor Syndrome and You

Have you ever felt like you don’t actually deserve the attention or success you have had? Do you ever feel like the good things that happen are because of something outside of your control or a mistake someone else made regarding you? Do you feel like if people actually knew and understood, they would take away those successes?

Well, my friend, you just may be suffering from Impostor Syndrome. And let me tell you, it’s not the most fun thing in the world.

Impostor Syndrome is defined as a persistent, internalized fear that you will be exposed as a fraud, that your successes come from external sources rather than your own abilities and self-worth (source). It is a trick that causes us to doubt the worth of our work and our successes and feel as if we don’t deserve the good things that happen to us.

And it’s often our brains lying to us.

Unfortunately, this is a common feeling among high-achievers, particularly women (though this idea may be incorrect… some emerging evidence suggests it affects men and women equally). I first encountered this idea while I was in grad school, and I think it’s pretty relevant to writers, too. We can experience this feeling when we receive compliments or awards or publications, any time our work achieves some level of success or recognition. It keeps us from ever feeling like we have made progress in our skill, talent, and career. Even the greats, like Stephen King, will tell you they still don’t feel like masters (see his book, On Writing). Many writers who have “made it” still feel like impostors. Just like us.

You see, we consistently put our souls out for the world to see whenever we share our writing. It is easy to think that people who say negative things are correct while those who say positive things are just “being nice” or have fallen for a “trick” of some sort. We attribute what success or acclaim we gain to luck rather than our hard work or our talents.

And this is unfair to us and our readers. Let me tell you why I think this.

When we shrug off a compliment and tell ourselves it’s not because of anything we did, that people will figure out soon enough that what we did isn’t worthy of attention or adoration by anyone, we prevent ourselves from taking pride in a job that not everyone can or will do. Writing is hard business. And by ignoring or downplaying the compliments or good reviews because of our feelings, we are invalidating our worth and the worth of our work. That’s not fair to you.

On the other side of the coin, when you ignore or shrug off a compliment, readers do not find it attractive or humble. It can be just as invalidating to them. You are telling them that their opinion doesn’t affect you at all, which can translate to you not caring about their opinion. And as writers, our life and the life of our stories depends on readers. We need connections, and we need to make our audience feel appreciated. If they took the time to write to you or leave a review, your work affected them. End of story. Say thank you and accept the praise.

So next time you’re feeling like a failure, remember that it might not be true. Take a few minutes to step back and look at your feedback. Don’t dwell on the negative reviews (people tend to remember the negative over the positive, no matter the difference in numbers). Realize that not everyone is going to like your work, but that doesn’t say anything about you as a writer. Take pride in your successes, accept the accolades you receive, and most of all, keep writing no matter what your mind tries to tell you.

Because as long as you keep creating, these feelings lose.

Your turn: Do you have any suggestions for dealing with impostor syndrome? Anything to add? Tell me in the comments below!

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