One of my favorite literary concepts is “Kill Your Darlings”. I discovered it after attending a ‘Kill Your Darlings” party in Bushwick — an open mic in which writers read aloud their favorites lines or passages they had to kill for the greater good of their story.

William Faulkner coined the phrase when he said, ‘in writing you must kill all your darlings.”

Romantic, isn’t it?

Lately, I’ve been trying to apply this concept to my thoughts. Except my darlings aren’t the beautiful, true thoughts I need to get rid of, my darlings are the warped, wrong ones that I keep believing are true. Like Gollum in Lord of The Things, my ‘precious’ thoughts are keeping me alone, miserable and losing weight by the day.

In fact, I had one too many ‘darling’ thoughts while writing this goddam newsletter. Thoughts that told me to stop trying to write and start accepting that I’ll never produce anything of quality. You know the type.

Then the irony became too clear: I was having imposter syndrome while writing about imposter syndrome. And all of these darling thoughts I keep having are a result of this condition I’ve been unknowingly living with.

Identified in 1978 in their article, “ The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes, imposter syndrome is an experience of feeling incompetent and of having deceived others about one’s abilities. It was first observed in highly successful female college students and professionals who, despite their accomplishments, were unable to internalize a sense of themselves as competent and talented.

But it’s not just about success. Clance and Imes believe the syndrome is as a result of seeking self-esteem by trying to live up to an idealized image to compensate for feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.

It’s the denial of concrete facts for the delusional twisting of some alternative fact that proves you’re not actually smart enough or pretty enough or good enough.

The Cycle

The Need For Validation which leads to The Strive for Perfection/Success which leads to Achievement which leads to Feelings of Doubt which leads to Stress, Sabotage and That Never Ending Feeling of Discontent

“For those…who experience impostor fears, the need to keep moving and accomplishing can feel like a compulsion. There is always more to prove.”
-Joyce M. Roché

Like any important psychological finding, Imes and Clance’s 1985 research paper lead to many other findings, with psychologists looking to correlate specific traits or symptoms in those who develop imposter syndrome.

Based on her fixed mindset model, Carol Dweck believes “impostors are persons who invest heavily in trying to live up to an idealized self-image in order to get the validation necessary to feel good about themselves.

As long as admiration from others is present, they may maintain a feeling of worth, but when others are not validating them, their good self-feeling may plummet since it is based on external feedback.”

Bussotti (1990) investigated the family back and found impostor feelings are likely to come from families in which support for the individual is lacking, communications and behaviors, are controlled by rules, and considerable conflict is present.

These discoveries only emphasized the scale that Imes and Clance used to measure imposter syndrome.

Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome:

a) fear of failure
b) attribution of success to luck, error, or charm
c) the desire to stand out
d) the feeling of having given others a false impression
e) the discounting of recognition from others.

Cause & Effect: The Link Between Imposter Syndrome and Social Anxiety

According to Imes, impostor feelings are frequently accompanied by worry, depression, and anxiety.

In 1983, Dr. Topping found a strong positive correlation between the impostor phenomenon and trait anxiety (anxiety as part of the personality as opposed to state anxiety, anxiety produced by an event). This finding suggested that people who have impostor feelings are likely to be people who experience anxiety in many situations.

Hmm, I wonder why mixing a desire with success due to an unconscious need for validation combined with the inability to ever be happy or feel successful when you do achieve that success would lead to feelings of stress and anxiety?

You can’t go to a party without overthinking every interaction. You can’t go to work without worrying about being fired. You can’t take a compliment without wondering what they aren’t telling you.

“I don’t just study impostorism, I experienced it. And I didn’t just experience it, I inhabited it. It was like a little house I lived in. Of course, no one else knew I was there. It was my secret. It nearly always is. That’s how impostorism gets such a good grip—it pays you hush money. If you don’t tell anyone about those feelings, then people are less likely to think, ‘Hmm…maybe she really doesn’t deserve to be here.’ No need to give them any ideas, right? – Amy Cuddy

You’re living in this delusional state of perfection you can’t achieve. You’re so obsessed with being found out, you’re fretting over every minor, insignificant interaction.

Anxiety + Imposter Syndrome = Insecurity + Need for Approval

It’s a stress inducing combination and the only way to get rid of it is to remove both sides of the equation.

How To Get Rid of It

Self Worth is the neutralizer for insecurity and need for approval.

According to Imes, the central task of psychotherapy with impostors is to lessen the client’s dependence on others’ positive evaluations for his or her self-esteem and to build a more internalized sense of self-worth.

In their 1978 paper, Clance and Imes proposed multiple therapeutic approaches they used for their participants/clients with impostor phenomenon.

Make A List of ‘Victims’ – One assignment consisted of the participants recalling all of the people they believe they have fooled, or tricked in the past. Once you’ve made the list, try to explain it to someone else. See if they agree. (They won’t). Then erase everyone.

Look At Your Compliments Objectively – write down any positive feedback they would receive. Later, recall why you received this feedback, and what about it made you perceive it in a negative light.

Reframe Your Sentences- Reframe common thoughts and ideas about performance. An example would be to change: “I might fail this exam” to “I will do well on this exam”.

Remember, it all boils down to your ability to let go of the ‘darling’ thoughts you’ve become accustomed to accepting. It means presenting yourself with hard, logical facts that eradicate the ‘’darling” ones you love to keep around.

Imposter syndrome isn’t just the inability to accept success, it’s the inability to accept yourself.

And if you’re still having trouble, just remember that there’s absolutely no way, and I mean no way, that you can ever be as fake, deluded or as much of an imposter as Billy McFarland.

Founder of Words of Women

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