Karie sits in the boardroom around the table with her co-workers. Having just presented the fall vision, her manager asks for feedback from the team. Karie knows what she wants to say, even how to say it. Just as she begins to open her mouth and give her response, however, she hears a voice whisper sternly.
Don’t you dare say anything.
Scanning the room, Karie notices no one has spoken. The cautionary voice stems from her own mind.
You could look like a fool.
As another team member begins to give feedback on the presentation, the voice continues, louder, more forceful.
See, you can’t even find the confidence to get the words out. You don’t belong here. You’re putting on the suit and the heels, but you may as well be playing dress up. What will happen when they realize you’re a fake? There’s no way you’re supposed to be part of such an influential team in this company!
The voice can often be relentless. What Karie is hearing are lies from Imposter Syndrome, a term coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. Those who experience the Imposter Syndrome struggle to internalize their successes, positions, and accomplishments. They fear they will be found to be a “fraud” or a “phony.” Imposter Syndrome can present a burden―from the boardroom to the dinner table, from the stage to the cubicle. It can stifle the influence we have as a coach, leader, mom, pastor, teacher, or even friend.
Many people struggle in this way, consistently believing they arrived at their state of success by mistake. Equally daunting, some surmise perhaps their achievements are the result of some sort of undeserved good fortune―threatening to disappear at any moment and expose they were a fake all along.
At home, new parents often describe feeling as though they are not cut out to parent their own children, second-guessing if they will ever get it right. In ministry teams, those who are asked to serve on committees at church wonder if the selection team really knew what they were doing when offering a position of leadership.
Imposter Syndrome can influence many areas of our lives, so it’s important to acknowledge its effects. As people created to join God in his mission to the world, we must confront the Imposter Syndrome at its core. We all have a purpose God intentionally designed for us to live out: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10). Without question, the Imposter Syndrome will hold us back, preventing us from enjoying―and sharing―all God has for us.
What can we do to beat the Imposter Syndrome when its voice begins to ring in our ears? At its core, the Imposter Syndrome finds success because we believe the lies regarding who we are and why we don’t belong. To address this problem, we must seek out the truth―the truth about who we are, whose we are, and who God created us to be.
Truth #1―Imposter Syndrome is a real problem.
Like anything else, we cannot begin to address a problem if we don’t admit one exists. For many who struggle with the Imposter Syndrome, it is easy to become convinced it’s not a problem or maybe it’s not that bad. If we are able to recognize this syndrome could be holding us back, then we can confront the lies and begin to discern what is true.
Truth # 2―We must discover our actual strengths and weaknesses.
To know what is true about who we are takes accurately assessing our strengths and weaknesses. Examine past experiences. When were you able to thrive? What held you back? As we can often be our own worst critic, don’t rely solely on your own impressions of yourself and events. Choose a few people you trust, and let them give you honest feedback. Once you realize what your strengths are, you will be able to live more fully in who you were made to be. Conversely, acknowledging your weaknesses can help you to decipher between a fact―I am not especially good at this particular thing―and a lie―I’m not good enough, and I don’t deserve to be on this team.
Truth # 3―We must remind ourselves what is true.
Discovering the truth about who we are will only get us so far. For many of us, the lies we have heard have been silencing the truth for a long time. It will take some healthy reminders―and time―to be able to readily call out a lie and, ultimately, believe what is true. Invite others to help you change the narrative you believe about yourself. Place written reminders in places you can see them often. Take time to journal some true thoughts at the end of the day. Write out what lies you are tempted to believe―then cross them out and write down what is true.
Truth # 4―Your identity is that of a daughter of the King.
The most important thing we can do to beat the Imposter Syndrome is to make it a matter of prayer. We must not downplay the fact that the Enemy is the biggest imposter and the Prince of Lies. There is a battle going on between the truth of our identity in Christ―as children of the Most High God―and the lies Satan wants us to believe about who we are. It would not be an overreaction to take this matter into a season of prayer and fasting. If we are going to begin to believe truth over lies, it can only happen with the power of God’s Spirit acting in our lives daily.
We are all a work in progress. We will never arrive at a place of perfection having figured out how to navigate the complexity of our lives. However, Jesus has done everything necessary for us to step more fully into who God has created us to be. Let us press on knowing that after we begin to believe Jesus is who he said he is, we have the power to believe we are who he says we are―beloved daughters of the King.
Pastor Stephanie O’Brien is a Lead Pastor at Mill City Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a program director and professor at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. She writes about what she sees God doing at PastorSteph.com. You can keep up with her online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @PastorSteph.