Low self-esteem is how we evaluate and think about ourselves. Many of us live with a harsh inner judge, our critic, who sees flaws that no one else notices, much less cares about. It tyrannizes us about how we look, how we should act, what we should have done differently, or should be doing that we’re not. When we’re self-critical, our self-esteem is low, and we lose confidence in our abilities. Our critic also makes us sensitive to criticism, because it mirrors the doubts we already have about ourselves and our behavior. Moreover, we imagine other people think what our critic thinks. In other words, we project our critic onto other people. Even if when questioned, they deny our assumptions, we likely won’t believe them.
Imposter Syndrome in Relationships
Healthy relationships depend on self-esteem. These imposter fears can cause us to provoke arguments and assume we’re being judged or rejected when we’re not. We may push people who want to get close to use or love us away for fear of being judged or found out. This makes it hard to have a committed, intimate relationship. We might settle for someone who needs us, is dependent on us, abuses us, or in our mind is in some way beneath us. This way, we’re assured they won’t leave us.
Shame and low self-esteem lead to cognitive distortions. Our thoughts often reflect thinking that is shame-based (“should’s” and self-criticisms), inflexible, black and white, and negative projections. Other cognitive distortions include overgeneralizing, catastrophic thinking, and hyperfocus on details, which obfuscate the main objective.
Our shame filters reality and skews how our perceptions. A typical pattern is to project the negative and dismiss the positive. We filter reality to exclude the positive while magnifying the negative and our fears. We take things personally and overgeneralize something small to condemn ourselves and our potential. We use black and white, all-or-nothing thinking to rule out a middle ground and other possibilities and options. We believe I must be perfect and please everyone (impossible) or I’m a failure and no good. These thinking habits distort reality, lower our self-esteem, and can create anxiety and depression.
Many people with imposter syndrome are perfectionists. They set unrealistic, demanding goals for themselves and regard any failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness. Perfection is an illusion, and perfectionism is driven by shame and reinforces shame. The fear of failure or making mistakes can be paralyzing. This can lead to avoidance, giving up, and procrastination. Our inner critic interferes with our attempts to take risks, achieve, create, and learn. The disparity between reality and our expectations generates internal conflict, self-doubt, and fear of mistakes that cause suffering and serious symptoms. (To overcome perfectionism, do the exercises in the e-workbook: “I’m Not Perfect – I’m Only Human” – How to Beat Perfectionism.)
We can overcome shame, low self-esteem, and perfectionism by changing our thoughts and behavior, healing our wounds, and developing self-compassion. Do the steps in Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.
© Darlene Lancer 2019