This post was originally published on 5th September 2018 and updated on 2nd November 2019.
Rumour has it…I’m an onion.
Last year, I received some professional coaching as a parting gift from my old CEO. My sessions with the coach, Beth, were pretty epic. They often felt more like therapy sessions then coaching sessions. Either way, I found myself really needing them. It’s a great way to offload, and in the process, I started to learn a lot about myself.
During one of Beth’s earlier visits, I was described as an onion. Not because I smell like one (thankfully), but because I have lots of layers. Ironic, when people often say they like me for my simplicity.
I’m far from simple. I know that. But being described as an onion!?! I’m not sure I saw that as much of a compliment, but it does kinda make sense.
I seem to be pretty incapable of accepting compliments. Beth tried to help me explore why this might be. However, we drew a blank and parked that one, instead, focusing on things I can do to make receiving compliments easier.
As much as it is nice to draw a conclusion to things and to put certain behaviours in a box, or to categorise them, sometimes, we just have to give into the fact that we don’t know the root cause, it is just the way we are (for now at least). Despite not knowing the cause of this behaviour, it is still an area I am working to improve.
It seems to be my natural instinct to reply to a compliment with a negative.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, my friend complimented me on my driving skills. Instead of thanking her, my reaction was to laugh and tell her that she was the only person to think so (a handful of people haven’t been that kind about my driving in the past).
I don’t know why I react like this.
I am however, becoming more aware of it.
With Beth’s help, we began to explore ways to overcome this. Now when someone compliments me, I still go to respond with a negative, but I am training myself to pause before I respond, recognising the compliment and focusing on a more positive response. I am slowly getting better at saying thank you when someone says something nice, and as much as possible, I try to leave the negative response parked in the corner. Overtime, I hope that accepting compliments becomes a natural response, but for now, I’m grateful that I am at least noticing this behaviour, and working on ways to resolve it.
Throughout the coaching sessions, I also discovered that I suffer from Imposter Syndrome. I have suffered with Imposter Syndrome for much of my adult life without realising what it was. I always thought I just lacked confidence in my ability, but when I explained to Beth some of the things I have achieved in life, it became clear that those are not the actions of someone who lacks confidence.
What I do often experience, is the feeling that I have got to where I am in my life through sheer luck, and a fear that one day someone will find out and see me as some kinda fraudster. Classic Imposter Syndrome traits.
Some of the most influential women on our planet have been known to suffer with it, including Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and the ex President of the United States wife, Michelle Obama.
Although not classified as a mental illness, it can leave you feeling incredibly low and full of anxiety.
I can think back to a number of times when I would receive a negative comment about my performance at work, and I would let this fester away in my mind for days. The only way I can describe it was like having a dark cloud over my head that I just could not shift.
I don’t tend to get the dark cloud as much anymore, but more worrying in some ways, I can feel my heart racing at times, which comes with a dull ache in my chest and a kind of sinking feeling.
Part of me is grateful at being ‘diagnosed’ with having Imposter Syndrome. Giving a name to that feeling took a lot of weight off my shoulders, and made me feel a little bit less like I was going insane. The other part of me hates that I’ve let myself feel this way. But there are things I can do to manage this.
Imposter syndrome for me comes in waves. It is not something I suffer with all the time. One of my biggest triggers seems to be other people’s negative comments.
I’ve recently come out of a particularly bad wave of Imposter Syndrome, triggered by one persons comments, which made me doubt myself. I had the ‘sinking’ feeling for around three weeks in the end, and was struggling to see light at the end of the tunnel. And quite frankly, it was exhausting. It was all I could think about. It affected my performance at work and my mood at home. It was demoralising and made me feel horrendous.
I’m currently working with some new techniques to try to deal with these waves.
My current trend goes something like this:
Trigger > Reaction > Perspective
It’s during the ‘Reaction’ phase that I can find myself with the dark cloud over my head.
The ultimate goal is to avoid the trigger completely. However, in the meantime, I’m trying to switch to:
Trigger > Perspective > Reaction
The aim is for the reaction time to be reduced, and eventually for it to be removed altogether. By gaining perspective on the trigger first, I should then be able to control how I react. So if for example someone does make a comment about my performance, I stop to consider whether the comment was a dig at me, or whether it was the result of someone else having a bad day, or simply realising that there was some truth in the comment, and then working through the possible solutions in order to fix the problem. Fixating on other people’s comments, as I discovered, really isn’t healthy.
Ironically, the individual who made the comment that caused my last ‘wave’, doesn’t even know the impact it had on me, and carried on living their life none the wiser about the impact it had on me.
So how does all of this make me an onion?
I guess what I’m trying to say, is that even those of us who appear to have everything together on the surface, once you start to peel away the layers, we are more complex than people think.
We all go through different experiences and are affected by things in different ways. What impacts one person, won’t impact the next.
Some people are built with a great deal of resilience, others have to work on it.
Whilst I still have moments where I struggle with Imposter Syndrome and accepting compliments, I’m gradually learning different techniques to shift the dark cloud, and to make sure that if the cloud does make an appearance, I know what to do to ensure it doesn’t hang around for too long.
I’m learning to accept my different layers, my little quirks, but I’m also working on new ways to make them easier to live with.
None of us are perfect, but there are certainly ways we can improve some of the battles we face.
6 Comments Add yours
I have heard some of the most senior female executives say that they had imposter syndrome.
Its not alway being phony. Sometimes it is a lack of confidence. The good news is confidence comes and goes. You can work on it. Planning really helps. Moving from I think i can to i know I can to I’m confident I can.
What’s wonderful is your brutal honesty and current calmness under pressure. As cool as….
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The confidence point you raise is really interesting. I had always felt I lacked confidence, but when I started to talk to Beth about the things I have achieved, these were not typical of someone who suffers from a lack of confidence.
Since I have been more aware of imposter syndrome, and some of the methods I can use to keep the imposters away, I have found it much easier to manage.
I suspect it will never go away entirely, but if I can at least keep it at bay, my mind will be much better for it.