I love to write and used to write daily. It saved me growing up as I didn’t know how to communicate my feelings otherwise. Actually I tried, but since it was often discouraged I used poetry, prose, and short stories to express myself. I began using a journal almost as soon as I learned to write. I guess that makes me a writer; though I have never worn that title. When I started painting it was equally difficult to call myself a painter. In fact, I am still much more comfortable with the title of therapist than artist. I felt like an impostor since I didn’t grow up drawing or making art. I remember falling in love with Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, nearly a decade after I took up painting and pursued conceptual assemblage, because she put a voice to my feelings of insecurity and inferiority that stemmed from the competitive nature of Art Education. Holding onto the negative aspects of constructive criticism more than the positive, I often felt inadequate, which fueled the internal message that I wasn’t good enough. In some ways I was right…
Of course I wasn’t as good as the master artists: Picasso, Van Gogh, etc. … I was just getting started, and I certainly wasn’t dedicating nearly as much time as a full-time professional and/or commercial artist.We can always come up short or even feel ‘better than’ if we compare ourselves to others, but in both instances we discount our own journeys and prevent the joy of being ourselves.
I’ve had a long history of discounting my strengths in order to magnify my shortcomings. This only led to me feeling like a complete fraud, not only in art-making, but in most endeavors. Recent example: opening private practice a couple of years ago and now preparing to shift my niche to embrace my love of nature. In fact, starting my own business not only
brought all of my self-doubt to the surface, it became a true test of my commitment to stay the course even when I had no idea if I could really handle such responsibility. It didn’t matter that I had always preferred to work independently. I didn’t care that I had proven success in most every other professional role I’d taken. Instead, all I could hear was the voice of terror and attack that I could’t really work for myself, get paid for work that I love, and make enough to live off of. It didn’t help that I was diagnosed with a chronic disease only days after giving my notice to leave a full-time position. Honestly, I have been wading through my own s#*& ever since and learning not to listen to the stories that want to hold me back.
It was difficult to accept I could be relatively good at something if I wasn’t perfect. Even more difficult is to own and celebrate my strengths. I’ve often been so busy trying to overcompensate for and cover-up my human limitations that I never actually slowed down to truly embrace my many gifts and talents. Instead, I spent most of my life trying to succeed academically, professionally, financially, etc. to prove my worth while also trying to avoid being seen too much for fear of being judged. Chronic self-doubt, also know as the imposter syndrome, kept me striving like a hamster on a wheel. Luckily, I have learned to thank that voice of doubt kindly for trying to protect me from ridicule or harsh critique and proceed anyway. However, it is important to note that a terror barrier can still arise. The terror barrier is the actual physical response to fear and the unknown. You may experience heart palpitations, sweaty palms, tension, decreased appetite or irregular digestion, etc. as you step out of your comfort zone. The trick is to do it anyway…do it scared, expect the fear (aka terror barrier), and keep your eye on the end goal. So, what to do when that voice of doubt sets it to settle the nerves?
now gain the chance to go beyond rather than get stuck unknowingly. Consider using a journal to explore your fear with words or a blank book with images. You can select colors and graphics from a magazine, art catalog, or create your own with paints, pastels, or markers.
2. Thank Your Fear.
Once you have acknowledged your fear, it is important to show gratitude for that instinctual and protective part of you that is hard-wired to avoid pain, embarrassment, and danger. It makes sense that we would not want to risk public ridicule as we are biologically set to remain a part of the pack rather than separated from the tribe, but we are no longer a tribal culture. We can survive without the approval of everyone as long as those closest to us continue to support and encourage us. More importantly, we don’t need to win the acceptance of the mass majority if we have our own commitment to stay true to ourselves first and foremost. Try writing yourself a genuine thank-you note or letter as a reminder that “You’ve got this!”
3. Personify Your Fear.
Acknowledging and thanking you fear may be enough to take that next big step, but our egos are tricky and just as you move through the fear another voice of guilt or shame may arise. If this is the case personifying your inner critic may help you find the humor in how outrageous the claims can be. For example, I like to imagine my critic as a scared toddler just wanting to be all grown-up and protect me. She is adorable, but I can’t actually let my life’s decisions be dictated by a 3 or 4 year old. Before I had moved through much of my own relational trauma I used to hear a rageful, attacking voice, which I saw as a black silhouette. I share those as a reminder that you may have more than one character or even a shape-shifter who quickly changes. However you experience your inner dialogue it is important to visualize your personification in a way that feels best suited for you. You can start by describing your inner critic or drawing it out. You could also look for similar roles in illustrated books such as ones found in the children’s section of your local bookstore or library. You may even copy or combine creatures found online. Whatever you choose…have fun with it. The goal is to reduce the power your fear has had over you. Just because you think it doesn’t make it true. Always test your thoughts…especially when they are fear-based.
I’d love to hear how these exercises go! Or maybe you have done something similar in the past…please do tell. I absolutely adore hearing from you and would love to know what you find most helpful in busting through your terror barrier and overcoming your impostor syndrome!