Unmasking Impostor Syndrome Costumes


There are countless of studies that have shown that many high-achieving women of color not only face systemic challenges, but also internal challenges from ongoing efforts to prove worth of acceptance, respect, and acknowledge. Underneath impostor syndrome, there is lack of security about one’s sense of belonging, which is not truly addressed through more achievement or validation of achievement, instead through curiosity and tending to the caveat of unmet needs and longings that would breed costumes and masks of impostor syndrome. We learn to disrupt the patterns that impostor syndrome tries to generate by tending to the underlying experiences that caused us to feel emotionally isolated, and how the costumes we wear in the company of others amplify the isolation. 

As Halloween approaches, it seems worthwhile to explore the different types of customer and masks stemming from Impostor Syndrome with real time strategies on how to unmask them and thrive. 

Introducing the Perfectionist:

Underneath its costume is the fear of not having control, and also the fear of one’s presence not being enough. 

How to unmask it and thrive:

  • Do opposite of what fear would compel you to do in search of control.
  • Normalize how it’s a vulnerable experience for any human-being to have  something out of their control, because it’s an emotional risk.  
  • Remember, that no one ever has full control, no matter how confident they appear to be, or how much things seemingly go their way. 
  • Think of someone that you admire, is it safe to say that they’ve experienced some fears, challenges, and insecurities? It’s very likely. In remembering this, you become less isolated and burdened by perfectionism’s influence. 

Introducing the Superhero:

Underneath its costume is the fear of not measuring up to others, which then causes self to overwork in attempt to compensate for fear.  

How to unmask it and thrive:

  • Remind yourself that it’s not by luck that you are where you are. Go back, and recall step-by-step, how you have arrived to where you are now. I bet there are some details that you tend to overlook; details that are significant to your development. 
  • Give credit where it’s due, even when that means taking time to celebrate an experience that’s about you, prior to moving on to the next thing. 
  • Remind yourself that you belong just as much as anyone else, and you don’t have to do it all in order to prove that to yourself or others. You simply have to show up as yourself, even when it feels like a huge risk.

Introducing the Natural Genius:

Underneath its costume is the fear of one’s intelligence being questioned by others if some things are not easily grasped at first try. There is also the constant fear of falling behind on deadlines or tasks due to one’s pace that is underestimated to be below the pacing of others. 

How to unmask it and thrive:

  • Remember that challenges and failures can and do happen to everyone.
  • Think of an inspirational person in your personal life, or even career field, and I challenge you to find evidence in their life that shows absence of any failure. I’d be surprised if you did.
  • Affirmation: “I don’t need to contribute something to every space I’m in as proof that I deserve to be there.  My presence is ENOUGH. I am ENOUGH. “ 

Introducing the Solo Artist:

Underneath its costume is the fear that not going at things alone would signify ‘unworthiness’, ‘fraudulence’, or ‘undeserving-ness’ to others.   

How to unmask it and thrive:

  • Let this reality simmer: Everyone needs help along the way. It’s inhumane not to.  
  • Can you think of anyone who hasn’t needed help ever? Probably not. So, then what makes you the exception in such a way that goes against your humanity? 
  • Healthy Reminder: We can give our very best without having to do it all. Sometimes, giving our best is knowing when to bring in additional support.
  • Affirmation: “Even though, I’ve gotten pretty good at doing things on my own, may I remember that I was never meant to rely solely on myself.” 

Lastly, coming to the stage is the Expert:

Underneath its costume is the fear of being exposed as inexperienced or without creative initiative.   

How to unmask it and thrive:

  • Recommendation: Remember, it’s okay to not always know what you’re doing. Allow yourself to enjoy the process of becoming an expert.    
  • Reminder of Transition Cycles: We become experts by opening ourselves up to the unknown. Then there are cycles where we return to being a student, and cycles where we are again, experts. Each cycle does not negate the other; it builds upon the other. 
  • Reflection Time:  You know more now than you did six months ago, and you’ll know more six months from now than you do right now. Find relief in this fact (whether  or not you believe it), you always know more than you did the day before. Even, when there are areas for which you feel like you know very little.

As you’ve gone through the showcase of impostor syndrome and it’s masks/costumes, take time reflect on how these costumes generate fear and worry tactics in their very own ways. Sometimes, the deepest indicators of our needs will come from the themes and the frequency of changing into its costumes. You have the right to be curious about whether or not impostor syndrome is contributing to work and personal life burnout through false sense responsibility, if its causes you to feel helpless to perfectionism’s demands when in fact you have healthier, self-affirming choices to choose from, and if it’s causing you to miss out on some really good things, because has you overestimating what can go wrong.  

Take all the intentional time you need, it might feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll be glad uncovered these masks. Halloween can also be a day where we uncover our masks, and 2020 seems like an important time as any to do so. 

Carmelle Ellison, LCSW

I help high-achieving adults, especially in the BIPOC community live authentically wholesome lives via telehealth therapy throughout California.


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