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How to Thrive When Creative Imposter Syndrome Looms

Updated: Feb 13

“Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’”

Imposter Syndrome is a malaise on our creativity. The feeling that you’re not worthy of your life, your work or your success, threatens your overall happiness and originality, and decimates your self belief, allowing self doubt to take over. 

As women, we suffer it even more so. In fact 54% of women say they suffer from Imposter Syndrome, compared to 34% of men according to a survey of 5000 UK adults.

Do you? 

Imposter Syndrome is not uncommon, and also not to be ashamed of. The more we share our experiences and suffering, the more we can work together to overcome it, and overpower it. Even Michelle Obama is a sufferer, saying “I had to overcome the question ‘am I good enough? It’s dogged me for most of my life. Many women and young girls walk around with that question in their minds.”

Women have strived for years to be free of others’ limitations, yet, Imposter Syndrome causes us to limit our careers and successes in our minds. We are making ourselves smaller for no reason. 

Often Creative Imposter Syndrome comes from years of systemic mockery and belittling from going down the artistic path. Gentle ribbing from friends, sanctions from parents, and even your unwanted but deep held beliefs, can have an effect on how you see yourself as an artist. 

But feeling like an imposter can lead to shame, anxiety, and even depression, when you should be enjoying this life you’ve made for yourself. Imposter syndrome can stop you going for goals as you don’t feel you deserve them, or have earned them, it also stops you enjoying them when you’re there. 

Many of us are suffering, but what’s the antidote? Once we understand our imposter syndrome, we can use the feelings more creatively.

1. Remove yourself from toxic environments 

Where did the critical voice come from? How do you stop it? Is someone else actually telling you you don’t deserve the achievement? 

Observe when your critical voice arises, so you know when you need to put your armour up. If someone else is feeding this imposter syndrome, create some distance.

Us creatives need a healthy environment to thrive. 

2. Be your own ‘scene’ 

One of the key factors of imposter syndrome is feeling like you don’t ‘fit in’. That the art world or a particular community isn’t for you. 

But, really, do you even want to fit in? 

You are the only you, and in art, your identity can be your power. Not fitting in is an opportunity. Revel in your differences and have confidence in your uniqueness. 

Don’t let the fear of breaking out from the mould stop you. Have faith that you belong where you want to be. 

3. Remember, you are worthy 

Feeling unworthy of your success or achievements is a typical symptom of Creative Imposter Syndrome. It’s tragic that for many women, it’s impossible to just enjoy achievements and successes. Some women just keep raising the bar, rather than celebrating the small wins and goals along the way. 

Mantras and affirmations can really help here. Talking confidently to yourself, every day, and reminding yourself that you’re worthy of all the positive success can help to retrain your brain.

Self doubt is debilitating, practise radical self love instead.

4. Use any criticism as fire 

Putting yourself out there artistically is hard

“Being in any creative field makes you more susceptible to imposter feelings… the very nature of creative work makes everyone more vulnerable to feeling inadequate,” says internationally recognised imposter syndrome expert Dr. Valerie Young.

Allowing yourself to be creatively vulnerable, and letting others see it, is scary. The more connected you are to your work often the better it is, but the more daunting it is to make public, and the more rejection and judgement can hurt.

This can cause some Creative Imposter Syndrome sufferers to self sabotage, by never ‘finishing’, not pricing work fairly (to you), discounting your hard work, or not displaying publicly. 

Know that art is subjective, and you can’t please everyone. With keyboard warriors rife, it’s even easier for people to criticise you and anything in the public eye is open to scrutiny. You need a thick skin to be able to flip any criticism around, and make it a positive. 

5. Use visualisation techniques to avoid feeling intimidated 

If you’re given the opportunity to present or exhibit your art, and you feel like an imposter, or anxious, the most cliched visualisation technique is to imagine everyone naked. But, what if you imagined everyone loved and adored you instead? 

You’re the only one who has control over what’s happening in your brain. Wouldn’t you rather imagine everyone with beaming smiles, rapturous applause and enthusiastic nods of appreciation, than seeing their wobbly bits? 

Control your mind to see and hear what you want to hear, rather than imagining something negative, or naked. 

6. Own being an artist 

If you say you’re an artist, you’re an artist. Don’t let anyone else’s measure of verification, or any arbitrary measure of success you’ve been fed as a child, feed your belief. 

If you’re having trouble believing it, practice actually saying it out loud. Whether that’s in the mirror, when you fill in forms, to your friends and family – even shout ‘I AM AN ARTIST!’ from the rooftops (or at the sea) if you need. 

The more you tell yourself you’re an artist, the more you’ll believe it. 

7. Enjoy your success

Instead of questioning the success you work for, and manage to achieve, enjoy it. 

Not having a quantitative measure of success can affect creatives especially. It’s not like we have more and more qualifications we can reach. There comes a point when we just have to believe that we are good enough ourselves, and no amount of external validation of this will verify.

8. Keep a positivity journal 

Your journal doesn’t have to be some epic tome. You could just write a few lines any time you feel positive towards your creative life, and if someone else offers some positivity too. Rejecting compliments is a symptom of Imposter Syndrome, why not take them and write them down to read later? 

Let the negative thoughts flow through you and make the positive ones stay. 

Silencing the imposter syndrome 

Creative imposter syndrome prevents you from taking risks with your art, from enjoying the success you achieve, and from going for goals in your career. You need to let go of perfectionism and not let it silence you.  

Unfortunately imposter Syndrome is a very normal part of being an artist, particularly a female artist. Recent studies show that underrepresented populations (people of colour, women, and those in the LGBTQ+ community) are more likely to suffer from Creative Imposter Syndrome, or any kind of imposter syndrome in fact. This indicates that the systems of oppression, lack of representation, discrimination and biases we know exist, are all contributing to how we feel.

While this obviously goes deeper into society, the most effective way we can control our reaction to it, is to control what goes on in our own brains, and how we deal with it. It’s important to learn to identify the feelings, and channel them in a positive and productive way – rather than letting them negatively take over the experience of being an artist. 

Creating despite the imposter syndrome is brave. Practice the points above every day, and in time it will get easier, and your mind will be freer to create. 

Remember, one of my favourite mantras: If not you, then who? If not now, then when? 

Victoria Philpott

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