My friend, Barry Goldberg, shared an article about monsters in the spirit of Halloween. His focus was on the external monsters like skeletons, vampires, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. It is an excellent read at https://www.ibgoldberg.com/exorcising-business-monsters/ and certainly worth your time. My favorite monster is the Mummy, who wraps himself in his work schedule - usually, world domination or at least the next big promotion — the Mummy is unaware of his impact. Sound familiar?
I am taking a different perspective on the same theme in the spirit of the season. I want to discuss the monsters in your head. Self-doubt, guilt, shame, insecurity, and the imposter syndrome are real-life monsters that make dramatic appearances in your brain.
You have life all figured out, you are on track, and everything is lovely. If so, that is wonderful. As for the rest of us, the opposite is true. Most people struggle from time to time. Everyone faces self-doubt and other monsters at times. In fact, the higher you are in status, the more often these monsters make an appearance. What if I made the wrong decisions, and what if I am in-over-my-head?
Since the future is always uncertain, we are predisposed to doubt our impact on future outcomes. It is the infection of uncertainty that's both beautiful and scary at the same time. Here is a little secret. Self-doubt is normal. Nobody has a crystal ball. The farther into the future, we look, the more uncertain it becomes. We never predicted a pandemic in 2020. Now many people are facing change, redesign, or shift for the future.
To overcome the self-doubt monster, avoid absolute words like "always" and "never" that tend, ironically, never to be accurate. Speak to yourself in the third person as you would a friend or family member facing difficulty. I know this sounds lame, but it works. Use affirmations to attack the demons in your head. My go-to under challenging situations is "John, you got this!"
Another monster is guilt. Feeling guilty about the past (or the present) feels like an enormous burden. When the pandemic's initial impact hit my business, I felt guilty of not being better prepared. I am a business consultant; I should have prepared better. Yet, I woke every morning, headed to my office, and dealt with an awful, empty calendar. You might be thinking similar thoughts. How will I take care of my family? How will I pay the bills? Thankfully, I was able to pivot my approach, and you can shift too.
If you are an achiever in life, no one is harder on you than yourself. I get it. Here is a little secret. The brutal guilt monster is a fabrication of our minds. That is correct. No one can make us feel guilty. It is a ghost of our creation. Guess what? If we create it, we can kill it. My response to guilt is to focus on others. The funny thing about our brain is that we cannot be obsessed with ourselves when focused on others. It is like a switch that is either in the "me" position or on "others." I discovered when I am helping others; I no longer feel guilty about my circumstances.
Psychologist, John Grohol, says, "healthy" or "appropriate" guilt serves a purpose in trying to help redirect our moral or behavioral compass. Unhealthy guilt's goal, on the other hand, is only to make us feel bad. The more we focus on believing we need to do something more, the more it will continue to bother us and interfere with our lives. Nobody, including our friends or family members, leads perfect, guilt-free lives. Striving for perfection in any part of our lives is a powerful way to create or feed the guilt monster in our minds. Sometimes done is better than perfect.
Shame monsters are slightly different. Shame can start in our minds like guilt. However, shame can also begin externally, meaning others can shame us. Dr. David Sack says shame is among the most corrosive of human emotions, with the power to convince us that that little voice in our head is right after all—you know, the one that says "I knew you'd fail," "You'll never really belong," and "Who would love you?"
Shame and guilt are twin monsters who love to hang around with each other. They love to play together in your mind. The best antidote for shame is light. Brené Brown describes shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." No wonder, then, that the last thing we want to do when gripped by shame is talk about it. If we do, others may discover just how horrible we are. "The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives," Dr. Brown explains in her book Daring Greatly. "If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we've cut it off at the knees." By acknowledging shame, we refuse to let it fester or define us. "When we bury the story, we forever stay the subject of the story." Dr. Brown says, "If we own the story, we get to narrate the ending."
Like casting out a demon during an exorcism, we can attack a shame monster by talking about it with others. When you separate your actions from your self-worth, shame monsters are vulnerable. Good people do bad things. Smart people do dumb things. Prepared people make mistakes. Winners also fail. You may feel disappointed when others overlook your success, but it will not feel as bad as shame. You can indeed move on.
Insecure people are everywhere. The monster of insecurity creeps into everyone's mind from time to time. Nobody is safe all the time. Confidence and insecurity are on a spectrum. This spectrum means you can go from one to the other at any time and in any situation. Dr. Lisa Firestone, who co-authored the book Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, wrote, "The critical inner voice is formed out of painful early life experiences in which we witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes toward us or those close to us. As we grow up, we unconsciously adopt and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others."
According to Dr. Firestone, insecurity affects many areas of our lives. Every person will notice their inner critic being more vocal in one place or another. You may feel pretty confident at work but ultimately lost in your personal life or vice versa. You may even notice that when one area improves, the other gets worse. At one time or another, most of us can relate to having self-sabotaging thoughts about our careers. Old feelings that we are incompetent or that we will never be acknowledged or appreciated can send our insecurities through the roof.
To attack the insecurity monster, consider rational statements about how you are. Say everyone feels this way occasionally. Say I am human, and this is normal. If insecurity keeps you from asking someone on a date or going after a promotion, it's time to take action anyway. I call this going toward the resistance. Go toward your fears. Use fear as an indicator of the activity you must take. Brave people are afraid but go for it anyway. Baby steps will build your confidence. Self-compassion encourages an attitude of kindness and patience. It helps shed the insecurities of your past and become the person you want to be.
Imposter syndrome is a two-headed monster. These monsters battle over how you see yourself and how you think others see you. According to Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, Imposter Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It strikes smart, successful individuals. It often rears its head after an especially notable accomplishment, like admission to a prestigious university, public acclaim, winning an award, or earning a promotion.
The imposter syndrome "monster" is revealed while playing with the Ouija Board. No, I'm just kidding. According to Dr. Valerie Young, it reflects a belief that you're an inadequate and incompetent failure, despite evidence that indicates you're skilled and quite successful. It can also take various forms, depending on a person's background, personality, and circumstances. If you're familiar with the feeling of waiting for those around you to "find you out," it might be helpful to consider what type of imposter you are so you can problem-solve accordingly.
To overcome this monster (imposter syndrome), ask for help when you need it. Be vulnerable when you make a mistake. Mentor others to validate your expertise. When you share what you know, it benefits others and helps you heal your fraudulent feelings. Imagine that helping others is therapeutic for your issues.
As a business coach, my job is to search for these monsters in the minds of others. I feel like a member of ghostbusters. I just finished Michael Caine's extraordinary memoir about his acting career. The book is titled "Blowing the Bloody Doors Off." The eighty-five-year-old actor shares his powerful story of becoming an actor, movie star, and film legend. He shares beautiful stories and funny examples of these mental monsters during his career. Ironically, famous actors who pretend to be characters with human mental conditions also suffer from the same issues. Let that soak in a moment. If you are suffering from these monsters, remember you are human. The monsters are real. However, they can be forced back under the bed or into the closet from which they came. The best weapon for our adulthood monsters is the same as the monsters of our childhood – light. Just as daylight made things better when we were young, talking about these monsters accomplishes the same thing.