Speak Your Shame

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What is Imposter Syndrome?

I first heard about Imposter Syndrome when I attended a workshop, a life coach held, who spoke about his experience with a brutal boss who he later found out acted that way because she felt like a phony.

Recently I read an article about Kurt Cobain’s documentary: Montage of Heck and in the article it stated that shame was what made Kurt into who he was and that he suffered from Imposter Syndrome.

So what is this exactly?

“Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Notably, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

It’s interesting that the definition above states that it’s particularly common in high achieving women. What is it about type A personality women that allows some of them to not really own their successes and accomplishments and to feel shame and like a fraud that they don’t belong in the board room, in the corner office, as a speaker at a high profile event etc. Could it be that right from the start we’re made to feel like we’re ‘less than’? That we don’t quite measure up to men. After all, in 2015 women still earn 70 cents on the dollar to what a man earns. That really our role is to reproduce and take care of our partners and pursuing a career is selfish. So when we do get the amazing career that we’ve worked so hard for, we feel a sense of shame that we don’t deserve it. That we faked our way to the top. This is a heavy, draining burden to live with. Even celebrity women suffer with this. Here are some quotes from some famous women who feel like phonies:

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.” – Tina Fey

“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert.  How do these people believe all this about me?  I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization

“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented.  I’m really not very good.  It’s all been a big sham.” – Michelle Pfeifer

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this.  I’m a fraud.” – Kate Winslett

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “ – Maya Angelou

Kyle Eschenroeder, http://startupbros.com/21-ways-overcome-impostor-syndrome/

The reality is, this is a phenomenon that many people suffer with especially women. The main thing is you need to recognize and realise what that feeling of shame feels like for you. When does it surface? What does it feel like in your body? What was the circumstance or scenario that preceded this feeling? What type of people bring about this feeling in you? Once you start to recognize what this is and the signs of shame you can start to make change. You need to be able call a thing a thing in order to move past it. For those who suffer with this syndrome, know that ultimately you are not a fraud or a phony and you deserve every bit of the success that you have achieved. Also know that you are not alone in this.


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The Scarlet Letter

Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter is a novel written in the 19th century by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The plot is about a woman who is found guilty of adultery as she has an affair and conceives a daughter. As part of her punishment she is required to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her dress to publically shame her (“A” for adulterer).

The term ‘Scarlet Letter’ has gone on to symbolize shame. Though this was a fictional story it still has relevance. Though back then people didn’t physically have to bear their shame on their clothing, they were publically shamed and ostracized from their communities when they did something that went against societies rules of conformity. Even today in other parts of the world, women are still publically stoned for committing adultery. Or there are ‘honour killings’, often done to daughters who have brought shame upon the family.

In present day North American society our equivalent to the Scarlet Letter is judgement. With ourselves, we don’t wear the Scarlet Letter on our clothes; however, we bear the Scarlet Letter in our thoughts. We imprint it and brand it in our minds that we can never let it go. We continually beat ourselves up, berate ourselves and judge ourselves for doing whatever we did to bring shame upon ourselves and others. And if we do speak our shame to others, depending on who we choose to share with, those people may not have our best interests at heart and choose to make us feel even worse. They will use that as an opportunity to judge you and put you down in order to make themselves feel better and to hate themselves a little less for the burden of their own Scarlet Letter. Because of course, according to those types of individuals whatever YOU did is somehow much worse.

Use the act of forgiveness to forgive yourself and others for any and all things that you need to move on from the past. Forgiveness will slowly erode the Scarlet Letter you have etched in your mind. Once you do that, the shame will slowly start to dissipate. Once the shame is gone, you can then continue on a path towards a more healthy loving relationship with yourself.