Imposter Syndrome: Who Do I Think I Am?

Masks

Did you ever have the feeling that the lights will come up, the curtain will rise, and the whole world will see you for the fraud you really are? I don’t know you, but chances are, if you’ve clicked on an article about imposter syndrome, you probably aren’t really a fraud. You’re likely someone who takes seriously your work, achievements, and your position in the world. You will do anything to avoid the sting of not being taken seriously…including convincing yourself that you’re a fraud.

Sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life that we live as if we are on stage. Every aspect of our lives involves playing a role. At home, we can be more casual with some of these roles, but once we enter the public – such as our workplace – we are often required to put on a costume and act out specific roles in order to earn a paycheck. Through the lens of the person-as-actor, those of us who struggle with imposter syndrome fear our disguise – that of Super Parent, All-Put-Together Bank Executive, Well-Rehearsed Musician – will be torn off.

So…what do we do? Battling imposter syndrome takes practice and, furthermore, usually involves adjusting your thinking.

Celebrate your successes. Take an objective look at how you got where you are and discard the temptation to slather on the judgment. Why did your boss ask you to take on these added responsibilities? What made the executives upstairs select you to make that presentation? What reason did your agent send you to that audition? Only look at the good stuff and go no further. Is it possible that someone selected you because you are reliable?  And that you’re super easy to work with?

Avoid the temptation to go full-on imposter syndrome. When was the last time that fear of exposure overwhelmed you?  We often believe that imposter syndrome comes on without a warning, but if you slowed down the tape, you’d see where you started going down the rabbit hole. Did you find yourself lose sleep because you panicked about what the next day would bring you? Could preparation for a presentation or audition help you sleep a little easier?  Sometimes it’s tempting to just go along with it and say, “See, I knew I wasn’t worthy of anything good in my life.” Find ways to make things easier for yourself instead of putting yourself through the discomfort of worrying about being a fraud.

You are not alone. Admitting to a trusted colleague that you battle imposter syndrome might be helpful. You might find that they also struggle and could help you to see that you’re not the only one who fears the mask will be torn off. There’s also power in being vulnerable with another person. Vulnerability does not equal weakness.

Sometimes considering how we received credit in our family-of-origin pinpoints where imposter syndrome resides in you. We learned that to celebrate our successes was the same as being pompous. This can lead to discomfort in taking pride in our accomplishments. Did you find that you only got attention when you scored goals or achieved scholarships? In some families, love feels contingent upon achieving something.  That could get pretty confusing, too. A skilled therapist could help you untie some of these knots.  You may become more comfortable in your roles and you may tear away some of the barriers to your success.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, you can reach me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Creativity Can Save Your Life

A common complaint that clients bring into therapy is that their work lacks creativity. Some people feel trapped in their jobs due to the need to provide for their families.   It may also be to determine how to feel better about going to the same job day after day.  The ongoing emptiness of a miserable job can lead to anxiety and depression.  Unfulfilling work can cause looming dread on Sundays, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.  In extreme cases, some people have expressed that ending their lives would be a better alternative than their current position.

When clients present their work complaints to me, we often explore how they found their way into their current career. I may ask them to consider some of these possible scenarios:

  • Does this career field now feel stale?
  • Did this work opportunity feel like an obligation?
  • Did a loved one deter you from pursuing an artistic endeavor?

A book that I often recommend to clients is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a fantastic read, especially for those who feel drawn to artistic pursuits. This is not a how-to manual about leaving your job and suddenly becoming an artist, composer, cupcake creator, or master basket weaver. Cameron believes that each one of us is a creative being, no matter what we do for a living. Even if you consider your job routine or mundane, following the steps in the book may help you approach certain tasks in new and innovative ways.

The book consists of twelve chapters, inspired by Ms. Cameron’s success using a 12-step program to conquer her alcohol addiction. Each chapter involves a topic designed to help restore one’s inherent creativity. There is a weekly reading on a specific topic, such as recovering a sense of connection, abundance, and strength. There are exercises at the end of each chapter that ask you to recall things like what you did for fun as a child or how creativity was viewed in your home.

The author believes that, due to various factors, people’s creativity becomes “blocked” and they may be unable to express themselves freely. We may have grown up with a tyrannical parent who discounted our artistic abilities or had a teacher who made some unfortunate comments about a project we labored over. We may feel paralyzed by these attitudes and by investing the energy in the program, we might find the power to crush the voice of our inner critic.

This is not your run-of-the-mill self-help book because of the process.  The magic happens for readers of The Artist’s Way when they regularly engage in the two main requirements of the book: 1) Morning Pages and 2) Artist Dates.

Morning Pages consist of three pages of long-hand writing every morning. The idea is to write whatever comes to mind, without the structure of proper grammar or punctuation. There is even value if you only write “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be writing” over and over again.  It is basically draining your brain out every morning and leaving it on the paper. The book recommends that readers keep these pages to themselves, for now.  Writing like this can help you connect with the thoughts that reside under the surface of your psyche.

The book also recommends making quality time for yourself to engage in some creative activity such as visiting a museum or taking in a concert. The Artist Date inspires creativity. The author writes that people find the desire to discover new creative or artistic activities.  Or they felt motivated to pick up an instrument they had set aside years ago, for example.

There is great value in reading this book on your own, but it can also be useful in a group setting with others experiencing similar challenges. Some of the exercises require digging into your past to explore the roots of the obstacles to self-expression. Encountering some of these memories might be upsetting.  Working through them with a trained professional may result in a renewed sense of satisfaction with your work.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, you can reach me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Monday Morning Negative Self-Talk

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Negative Self-Talk that happens on a Monday is harder to swallow than self-talk that happens on other days of the week.  Or maybe that’s just me.  I had the kind of morning that caused me to reflect on the Negative Self-Talk that chimed into my brain first thing in the morning.  One where I wished I could call it a day by the time 10AM rolled around.

Tidying up the house, I picked up a bunch of things that needed to be taken to other rooms. The bottle of water cradled in my right arm was cap-less because I was swigging it while cleaning up. When I dropped something on the floor, I bent over, not realizing that the water cascaded out of the bottle until there was a puddle at my feet.

I exclaimed a few choice words. Typical names or traits I call myself rambled out of my mouth as reflexively as any sort of curse word. (There might have been one or two of those, too.)  The sorts of words I exclaimed definitely fell into the category of “negative self-talk”.

After sopping up the water with a wad of Bounty, I headed downstairs to do some mundane tasks on my laptop. I set up shop at the kitchen table with the newly refilled bottle of water (with the cap securely tightened). Now is a good time for a snack, I thought.  And I pulled the box of Cheez-Its from the cabinet. I got down to business, typing away, doing my thing. Man, those crackers were tasty. Sip, sip. Crunch, crunch.

Engrossed in my laptop screen, I failed to realize the box of crackers that teetered close to the edge of the table.  I managed to knock the open box over.  Cheez-Its subsequently decorated the kitchen floor.

And then another string of the “typical names or traits I call myself” escaped my lips.

Even therapists aren’t immune from negative self-talk.  Furthermore, therapists aren’t immune from a lot of things, but that’s a whole other blog post for another day.

Through the course of the day, I reflected on how that nagging little voice and the unpleasant repercussions it can cause, including low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. The running commentary doesn’t have to control us. Working with a therapist can help govern how much it affects our feelings.

The way many therapists operate, including myself, is getting to know you, based on your own history, strengths, and preferences.  Together, we develop a plan of what might work best. Feeling better in your own skin can involve some detective work such as establishing connections between the patterns of our families and how we react to adversity as adults.

It can also be helpful to take a look at situations similar to the one I had this morning. How do you respond when you mess up? Like the time you accidentally left the lights on and your car battery went dead. Or last week when you said you’d pick up dinner for your family and then you accidentally went home from work without it. What sorts of things do you say to yourself?

Finally, you might have never given a thought to that internal tape that comments on your movements throughout the day. I will often encourage my clients to spend the week really paying attention to what it says. When we see each other again, we first categorize what we’ve heard.  Then we develop ways of responding to that voice with something more constructive than the usual litany of “typical traits and names”.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, you can reach me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

It’s Mid-November. Feeling stressed yet?

holiday-stress-post-image

It’s Mid-November. Do you have holiday stress yet?

Holiday stress season is upon us!  Christmas decorations have been up in some stores since Labor Day, but most definitely, you’ve seen them when you were picking up Halloween candy. This week, the election commercials have been replaced with those featuring happy people bringing massive turkeys to their candlelit tables, surrounded by smiling family members.

But we all know this is not the norm. (We do know this, right?) Just because it’s Thanksgiving or any other holiday doesn’t mean that the difficulties in our lives go away. We may have a sick parent, a child with an addiction, a sibling going through a bankruptcy, or enduring our first holiday season without a cherished loved one. For so many reasons, we could be carrying around an ideal of what holidays should be like and in most cases, they usually don’t live up to the image that we thought. These expectations could be due to our holding on to cherished childhood memories, long before we had a concept of family conflict or that the gifts under the tree may have put our moms and dads into financial peril.

We all have different triggers that affect our enjoyment of the holidays. Some of these include:

  • Political opinions – No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, chances are you also have a family member on the other side. And there’s a pretty good chance that someone in attendance might enjoy riling you up and engaging you in uncomfortable debates.
  • Criticism by family members – Holidays might involve a barrage of insults (some of them might be couched in what the insulter thinks are compliments) showered upon our cooking, appearance, the gifts we’ve selected, what our home looks like, what we’re doing with our lives, or who we married.
  • Competition or comparisons between siblings or other family members. Family members have a way of reminding you of your sibling’s superstar career successes.  They seem to do this while you’re you’re going through a career transition or job loss.
  • Financial woes – Difficulty making ends meet may prevent you from bringing the sort of gifts you would have liked. This might lead you to feel embarrassed or worried that you’ve disappointed others.

You might ask yourself, well, how can I get through this? It’s the same stuff, different year! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Cherish each other – Holidays are a time when we get to be around people we truly love. If holidays are tense for you, aim to surround yourself with people who bring you energy, not cause you stress. It may make the stressful times a little calmer.
  • Adjust your expectations – Sometimes we need to be more realistic with our time and our abilities. Do we really need to invest ten hours in making the spritz cookies that were Grandma’s signature Christmas staple? Is it worthwhile to stand in Black Friday lines in the middle of the night to buy your kid the hottest new toy that will just end up in a garage sale next year?
  • Establish boundaries – It may be difficult for you in general, but a skill worth sharpening is learning to say no when things don’t feel right to you. Furthermore, say no to overspending and limit participation in social engagements that aren’t enriching. Even give yourself a curfew to cut out of uncomfortable family gatherings early.
  • This time will pass – Come January, the hustle and bustle will be behind us. Before the stress of the season sets in, put something enjoyable on your calendar for January.  Some great self-care includes a massage, brunch with friends, or allow yourself a time to simply stay home and veg.
  • Take care of yourself – Make sure you get rest and have some down time in these next few weeks. Seek support and if you’re still not feeling right after the holidays, a professional can help you find your way. It may be the best holiday gift you receive!

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, I’d love to hear from you.  I can be reached at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Caregiving in the Imperfect Family

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Rising rates of life expectancy can mean extended time with loved ones.  It can also mean increased responsibilities in providing care to an aging parent. Caregiving demands typically fall on individuals as their parents may find it difficult to care for themselves. Sometimes it may be necessary to move him or her in with a relative, into a nursing facility, or arrange care for them.

Companies sell services to family members who may already be stretched raising their children and juggling professional obligations. The people portrayed in commercials for prescription plans or wheelchair-friendly showers always appear sweet, jovial, and loving – the perfect image of what an aging relative embodies.

But this is probably not the experience of most children caring for aging parents. By the time we’ve assumed care for them, we’ve already experienced a lifetime with them. Television often propagates an image of parents who are supportive, caring, and willing to dole out helpful advice. What if life with you mother had been on the receiving end of her criticism or if your father walked out on your family? And now that she has dementia or he has cancer and you need to care for them, it may be doubly stressful for you.

Because every family is different, every challenge will be different. It’s safe to say that there are some very common stressors for caregivers. Some of these include the following:

Conflict with your parent. They may not be open to giving up their independence and may express great dissatisfaction with you for suggesting they stop driving after they’ve had an accident. Or they may disagree with what sorts of care you’ve arranged for them.

Dealing with old family wounds. Your parent may have legitimately let you down and it may be hard to put this behind you when you are responsible for tending to their personal needs.

Disagreeing with your siblings about how to care for your parent. Dissenting opinions on what kind of care your parent needs may cause a great deal of friction between siblings.

Your own life might be a shambles. Mom or Dad’s illness doesn’t wait until your life is neat as a pin. A chronic illness or a tremendous decline in cognitive capacity may feel like it happens at the absolutely worst time. You may be dealing with your own family issues or be going to school full-time.  You may be having marital problems or struggling with your own illness, or any number of issues.

One of the most basic ways to handle the myriad stressors of caregiving is comprised in one tiny word: self-care.

Think about the interminable safety video before a flight. As the narration drones on, the flight attendants show you that when the oxygen masks drop out from the ceiling, you must put yours on first before you can help your neighbor. When we are in a caregiving role, we often put their needs first, even if they weren’t Parent of the Year.

We cannot deal with the endless stressors of caregiving if our own tank is running on empty. It’s important for us to take time for ourselves; this can mean different things for different people. It can involve tapping into our support system and going out for a girl’s night out or a round of golf with our buddies.

You might also find that now is the time to seek the assistance from an empathic and trusted therapist. Old family wounds may interfere with your ability to meet the needs of your parent. You may also feel better by sharing with someone who can help you navigate difficult caregiving choices.

Our experience as caregivers might feel more like being on an airplane that’s losing altitude.  So remember the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask first.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, my practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.  I can be reached at christine@snyderlcsw.com.