Why I Don’t Care How You Got Imposter Syndrome – And Nor Should You

There are times when looking for root causes is useful, and times when it keeps you stuck. And with Imposter Syndrome, most of us pick the wrong option.

Back in my engineering days, I specialised in lean manufacturing (think: ‘just in time’) and Six Sigma, designing quality in to products and processes and making things as efficiently as possible. Root cause analysis was the bread-and-butter of my team’s work. When something goes wrong on a production line that costs $2,000 a minute to stop, you need an emergency quick fix to keep things run at the right quality level, but then you want to dive in and find out exactly why and how it happened, so it doesn’t happen again.

But the ‘why’ isn’t something like ‘Joe put the wrong widget on the wrong fitting’ – that’s just a surface-level symptom. There’s a ‘why’ and ‘how’ beneath that. And one beneath that. How was it possible for Joe to make that mistake? How could we alter the design or manufacturing process to make it something Joe doesn’t ever need to think about again, even if someone has just distracted him or he’s tired from a long shift? Digging through the layers takes you to the original cause of the mistake that stopped the line. When you fix that, the problem will never happen again.

When I’m working with business leaders on Imposter Syndrome, I make sure they have those ’sticky plasters’ – the emergency quick fixes they need for when they’re about to walk into a client pitch or suggesting a radical improvement in a meeting. Their performance in those moments is as important as keeping that production line moving, with the right quality coming out at the end.

But I also work with them at the deeper level, understanding the core triggers for Imposter Syndrome – they’re unique to each of us – and clearing those out, so that it’s no longer something that needs to bother them. Because, unlike Joe’s production line, we don’t have machines checking for quality and mistakes as Imposter Syndrome triggers our subconscious self-sabotage behaviours. We usually don’t even realise it was running until it’s too late; until we’ve turned down that golden opportunity or justified not negotiating a pay rise or convinced ourselves that the brilliant idea we held back from suggesting was rubbish, anyway.

And, just like Joe, the bits of Imposter Syndrome we are consciously aware of, such as our behaviours and self-talk, are surface-level symptoms. Trying to solve the problem at that level isn’t really a solution. That’s why you can’t ‘fix’ Imposter Syndrome at the thinking level, with positive thinking or contradicting your own self-talk or even trying to change limiting beliefs.

Pretending and pushing on through doesn’t work with Imposter Syndrome, because the damage tends to happen before we even realise it had come out to play. It’s running at the deeply subconscious identity level – ‘who am I, to…?’. Dealing with it at that level clears out the root cause triggers. And that’s what I love helping people to do.

But I don’t care how my clients got Imposter Syndrome. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care.

I’m not interested in diving into ‘causal events’, looking for someone to blame or hold accountable.

I won’t spend their time on finding the trigger that allows them to say, “I’ve got Imposter Syndrome, because…”

I’m not negating the trauma, PTSD or core belief triggering experience that may have happened. But I am saying that we move towards our destination by looking out front, not getting lost, gazing into the rear view mirror.

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Imagine going to your chosen health professional for help with, say, lower back pain. You will most likely be given something to ease the current pain and inflammation and then, hopefully, be referred to someone to find out what is causing it, so it can be healed.

Maybe the conclusion from that is it was the way you’re sitting at your desk at work. But imagine if before the pro would help you to fix this, they insisted on knowing why your boss had set the desk up this way and what happened in your childhood to mean that you accepted having an uncomfortable desk and didn’t complain about it or didn’t even notice it? We’d feel pretty narked at being forced to navel-gaze, when what we want is a solution.

Yet that’s what so many of us unwittingly do with Imposter Syndrome. Because sometimes it feels safer to look for an event to blame than to set ourselves free.

Searching for the how, why & when is a this-feels-safe distraction from actually clearing the problem. And it keeps us stuck with Imposter Syndrome.

When we spend our time and energy looking into the original trigger event (hint: there often wasn’t one), it risks setting us up to feel like a victim, handing our power over our present performance to some person or problem in the past that caused us to pick up that limiting belief.

It risks Imposter Syndrome becoming a ‘badge of honour’, as we tell ourselves stories that justify and validate why we can’t achieve our dreams. Those mind-story dramas become our excuses for playing safe and being hemmed in by our fears, as we remind ourselves that we can’t do ‘X’, because… And, as I explain in Ditching Imposter Syndrome, this keeps us neurologically stuck, hard-wiring those stories into your brain.

Looking for someone or something external to blame does not help you to heal Imposter Syndrome. It digs you in more deeply. In fact, blame doesn’t help in any way, ever. It disempowers us, because something was done to us, by that external force, and we’re allowing that to have a major say in how we think, feel and act, right here, right now, even though it is long gone.

If you have a consciously known trigger event for your Imposter Syndrome, then clearing that is certainly worthwhile. Taking time to resolve the emotions that may have come with it, to reach a place of acceptance and forgiveness, can be vital. But there’s no point in putting time, effort and energy into playing detective, if the answer isn’t obvious, when you could put those resources into setting yourself free from Imposter Syndrome, instead.

And so that is why I don’t care how, when or why you got Imposter Syndrome. My role is to help you to set yourself free from it and that starts with understanding where you are now and who you want to allow yourself to become. It doesn’t need a history book.

x Clare

P.S. Need one of those production-line-has-stopped emergency quick fixes I was talking about? Here’s where to get instant access.

About the author

Clare Josa

Clare is considered a global authority in the fields of Imposter Syndrome, burnout and toxic resilience, and has been an international keynote speaker for over 20 years.

The author of 8 books, a reformed engineer and the former Head of Market Research for one of the world's most disruptive brands, she blends research-backed practical inspiration with demystified ancient wisdom, to help you create breakthroughs in ways that are fast, fun and forever.

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