The Imposter Complex Makes You Doubt Your Capacity — Tanya Geisler
We’ve established that the Imposter Complex is trying to keep you alone and isolated. (By the way, here is why I say Imposter Complex instead of Imposter Syndrome.)
But, ironically, that objective rarely works alone; more often, it interplays with the second objective: The Imposter Complex wants you to doubt your capacity.
Which sounds like:
“I’ve never done xyz, so I can’t do xyz.”
“I just got lucky with that win.”
“They’re just being nice when they tell me I did a fabulous job.”
“I don’t have anything useful to add to the conversation.”
“I’m not ready yet.”
Lies…every last one. (Trust me… even if you could argue the case for any of these extremely well, I’m certain I’m right about this.)
Back in 1978, when Clinical Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes were studying the Imposter Phenomenon at Oberlin College in Ohio, what they noticed at its most BASELINE was:
“Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the imposter belief.” The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention.
In other words, folks who experience the Imposter Complex dismiss their success and over-identify with their failures.
In other OTHER words, the Imposter Complex wants you to doubt your capacity.
You’re running a scam on everyone…you’re not super sure how. But you know it’s working — for now. And, tick tock, it’s just a matter of time before this all crumbles beneath you.
Now, this is going to present in one’s life in a number of different ways, depending on which behavioural trait has its hooks in you you identify with the most. (Not sure? Take the quiz here.)
Each Imposter Complex Behavioural Trait Colludes with Doubting your Capacity
If you’re a people-pleaser, it’s pretty much a given that you will discount the praise of others, when they tell you you’ve done a good job, or when they invite you to step up and lead. I mean, they don’t mean what they’re talking about, right? (No…actually, they’re not.)
If you have leaky boundaries, you may shelve what you think you know, what you THINK you are capable of, in favour of others’ perspectives, which erodes your confidence in your knowing even more.
If you tend to compare, you know all you’ve done will never quite stack up to what others have done. Or you may despair that you’ll never be capable of what you see others doing. (30 before 30 and 40 before 40-type lists are notorious for causing these reactions!)
If you’re a perfectionist, you know all you’ve done will never quite stack up to your impossibly high standards of what you OUGHT to be capable of.
If you’re a procrastinator, every second you spend staring at that blinking cursor erodes your belief that you know what you’re even writing in the first place.
If you tend to diminish, welp… doubting your capacity, or at least DIMINISHING your capacity is the name of the game. Don’t shine too bright, or you’ll be cut down.
It is my true and deep desire that you know that all of these behavioural traits, in and of themselves, are not problematic. We are social beings, and so the relational focus on comparison and leaky boundaries makes perfect sense. People-pleasing and diminishment have deep roots in survival. Perfectionism and procrastination are two sides of the same coin: the desire for excellence and the resistance to that expectation.
But when these behavioural traits keep us alone and isolated, doubting our capacity, and out of action? That’s when it’s an issue. Which brings us back to this time and place.
No matter which behavioural trait is keeping your belief about your capacity at bay, the best and only way to wriggle free is by deepening into the TRUTH about said capacity.
Simple, not easy.
There’s another factor that shows up when the Imposter Complex is jonesing to have us doubt our capacity. It will have us FURTHER DISCOUNT the value of our contributions if we feel they came too easily to us. As though there is a direct causal relationship between the effort expended and the merit of the outcome. It lives inside of a Puritanical need for value to equal sweat equity. It likes to negate alllll the work that got us to this place of good work which affords us a quality of ease that comes with practice. Writing. Experience. Learning. Failing. Calibrating. Because that is the investment you’ve made in building your capacity.
But for the Imposter Complex, it doesn’t count.
So we need to make it count.
The Imposter Complex wants you to doubt your capacity. Don’t let it.
Go Inside First
We need/must/are required to look long and hard and close at the TRUTH about our capacity.
This requires us to KNOW ourselves.
Our strengths, our values, how we do what we do.
And uncomfortably, this means we have to look at what we have DONE.
Oh, how we resist this. How we resist looking at the proof of what we have accomplished.
The reason is simple.
The ego wants to want more than it wants to get.
That’s just true.
And still. Your job IS to do an analysis of all you’ve done. In my line of work, we call this Bolstering your Authority Thesis.
When was the last time you listed every.single.thing you ever did brilliantly well? Every.single.thing you delivered, sold, created, influenced, decided, authored, won, crafted?
When was the last time you listed every.single.thing you have survived? Every.single.thing you have healed and fixed and released?
Yes, I’m talking about that grade 7 science fair project and the time you asked for the business and the time you raised your hand and the time you claimed what you knew and the time you overcame THE THING and the time you had the hard conversation and the time you risked the heartbreak and the time you called them in and the time you did NOT tolerate it and the time you broke the record and the time you chose you and the time you did not back down and the time you got back up and the time you said yes when you meant it and the time you dug deep in spite of the fear and the time they recognized you but you realized the recognition of your self was more valuable. All those times. And then some.
When was the last time you did that?
Oh… you haven’t ever?
And why not?
I’ve already named it as the work of the ego above… so there’s that.
And ALSO, we struggle with owning up to our accomplishments because we don’t PAUSE in celebration. We don’t rest in celebration to integrate the hard work. We’re on to the next thing. Wanting to want, not wanting to get.
Celebration offers us the chance to remember that there was once a time when you believed what you have just done was not possible.
So yes. Get every.single.thing you’ve ever done written out. Keep on writing until you have run out of paper then buy another ream. You’ll know when you’re done.
And on an on-going basis, track your wins. All of them.
Because in doing so, you are building a new narrative. One that celebrates your resilience and tenacity and helps you to recognize all the times you’ve stood in your doubt at this very precipice of your desires. Of expansion. Of a breakthrough.
Remember all the times that you decided to jump and discovered that the party was indeed on the other side of resistance?
And ONCE you’ve done that internal analysis of your capacity — or, in other words, realized that you are a badass — THEN you have a fighting chance of believing people when they tell you that you are truly remarkable. (I highly recommend you believe them. It’s simply the arrogance of the Imposter Complex that has you disbelieving them after YOU’VE already done the analysis.)
But I repeat: you MUST go inside before you can receive what others on the outside are telling you. And when you’re there, gather it alllll up. The reference letters, the sweet tweets, the cards, the emails. Gather it all up and hold the sacredness of accolades as true. Feel the gift of the acknowledgments and notice how the doubt of your capacity starts to melt away.
You did things.
All the things.
And there are oh-so-many more things for you to do.
The Imposter Complex wants you to doubt your capacity. Don’t let it.
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