Lack of confidence? Or imposter syndrome?
Have you ever looked at talented people and thought, 'It must be so nice to be that confident'? They must know they're good at what they do, right? No sleepless nights of doubt for them!
But does the blessing of talent really lead to guaranteed self-confidence? If you’re good at something, will you automatically know that you’re good at it?
The truth is that the more conscientious and self-aware a person, the more they tend to doubt their own abilities. Studies (1) have confirmed that ‘imposter phenomenon’ troubles the skilled and sensitive, not the brashly overconfident.
Quite the opposite effect often characterises the overconfident – the now-famous Dunning-Kruger Effect (2). For these people, the less they know, the more they think they know. They do sometimes get to the top, of course, like a playground bully, brashly appropriating the work of others. Right now, a few of these ‘successful sociopaths’ seem to be running the world.
But in reality, it’s the multitudes of quietly dedicated, thoughtful people who, mindful of their consciences, are running and improving society. And most of them will have done their fair share of battling with exhausting self-doubt.
As a hypnotherapist, I’ve often been asked to help individuals overcome the self-effacing diffidence which makes them pass up opportunities and settle for less. For this is the sad consequence of imposter syndrome: it subtly persuades us that our real achievements are flukes or ‘not genuine’.
If you’re convinced to your very core that you’re flawed and inferior, external evidence won’t be enough to overcome your confirmation bias. In fact, challenging a conviction tends to ‘radicalise’ it – and, after all, low self-worth is part of a long-term belief system.
It takes a lot of energy to maintain a complicated belief like that: you have to discount all the evidence that contradicts it in order to fight against other possible interpretations of reality - and that energy is an investment.
When we’re emotionally invested in something, we hate to be told we’re wrong about it. And the brain, being a ‘prediction engine’, serves up emotional guesses about all the situations we encounter based upon stored information from the past.
That past information can be misleading and sometimes downright toxic. It may take the gentle influence of hypnotic suggestion to work around those old negative messages and implant new seeds for the future. These can grow out of sight until, like wildflowers splitting concrete, they crack the confines of old certainties.
1(McElwee, R. O. and Yurak, T. J. (5 October 2012). The Phenomenology of the Impostor Phenomenon. Individual Differences Research. Social Sciences Full Text (H.W. Wilson) 8(3): 184–197.)
2 ‘In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is.’ (Wikipedia article)
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