Even very talented people may experience fraud or impostor feelings, which can lead to insecurity about their abilities, despite their accomplishments.
“I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Jodie Foster made that comment in her acceptance speech as recipient of the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award several years ago.
A highly accomplished actor, director and producer, Foster also said, “I suppose that’s my one little secret, the secret of my success.”
From my article: Jodie Foster on impostor feelings and faking it.
Stephen King relates in his book “On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft” a story about his high school teacher critiquing some of his work:
“What I don’t understand, Stevie,” [my teacher said] is why you’d write junk like this… You’re talented. Why do you want to waste your abilities?
“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since — too many, I think — being ashamed about what I write.
“I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
Shame is connected with one’s identity and sense of acceptance by others, and can disrupt and destabilize esteem and confidence in abilities, leading to a self-diminishing judgment: “If I feel this bad about myself, I must really be inferior.”
Psychiatrist Michael Lewis, author of the book Shame: The Exposed Self, considers shame to be so powerful because it’s about the perception of having a “defective self.. rotten and no good.”
But, he notes, “We don’t want to live in a world in which there is no shame or guilt. We want just enough to help us not do some of the awful things we could do.”
Unhealthy self-esteem may be another part of impostor feelings.
Photographer Anne Geddes writes in her autobiography, “Labor of Love,” about her childhood on a cattle farm in Australia, with an “emotionally remote mother and a father who regularly demeaned his children” and growing up with no sense of self-worth.
Belief change coach and author Morty Lefkoe writes about the impact of childhood experiences, especially with parents, and more importantly the beliefs we may develop about ourselves and the world in reaction to those experiences.
He comments in an article (“Are you really an imposter?” on his site mortylefkoe.com):
“One belief that could explain the doubts experienced by successful people is I’m a fake, a fraud and a phony. Sometimes this belief is formed in childhood when parents or other significant adults acknowledge you frequently for things when you don’t think you deserve the praise.
“An example could be parents who say: ‘This is a beautiful picture you drew,’ when you don’t think it is beautiful at all.”
You can try his Lefkoe Method program for overcoming self-limiting beliefs, for free, at his site ReCreate Your Life.
Impostor feelings about our abilities can lead to a sense of unease and insecurity that can stand in the way of embracing or more fully developing our creative talents.
Valerie Young, Ed.D., an expert on the impostor syndrome, commented in an Entrepreneur magazine article:
“Millions of people, from entrepreneurs to celebrities, have a hard time internalizing their accomplishments. They explain away their success as luck or timing. They feel this sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Dr. Young has developed a program to help people deal with the challenges – see her site Overcome the Impostor Syndrome.
Read more quotes by Morty Lefkoe, Valerie Young, and artists including actors Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet; writer Jonathan Safran Foer and others in my article “Getting beyond impostor feelings.”
Do you experience these kinds of feelings?
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Last reviewed: 5 May 2014