Even people with exceptional talents can feel insecure and struggle with low or unhealthy self-esteem.
Meryl Streep, for example, has said, “I have varying degrees of confidence and self-loathing….
“You can have a perfectly horrible day where you doubt your talent… Or that you’re boring and they’re going to find out that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
This is not an isolated feeling or an issue for only a few talented people.
Over the many years of researching creative people and reading many interviews with high ability people, I have seen quotes like Streep’s showing up often.
[Photo: Colin Firth and Meryl Streep - from post: We Need Healthy Self Respect to Be More Creative.]
Not just lack of confidence
Dr. Valerie Young has written about the topic for years, and explains “The Impostor Syndrome goes beyond lack of confidence.
“Everyone experiences bouts of self-doubt from time to time and especially when attempting something new.
“But for impostors self-doubt is chronic. You can feel self-doubt without experiencing shame at performing poorly as impostor do.
“It’s also possible to doubt your abilities without believing that you ultimately succeeded because of some sleight of hand or that you are fooling others.
“A person could have normal jitters before, say getting up to give their first speech, do well, and then draw from this experience to feel more confident about the next time.
“The impostor doesn’t think this way.
“Because no matter how well you did or how loud the applause, you always think you could have done better or that you just had a ‘good audience’ with no real bump in confidence.”
She includes a number of quotes in her book that exemplify impostor feelings and thinking, such as these:
Meryl Streep: “You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie?’ And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” Award-winning author Maya Angelou.
“Somewhere, deep inside, you don’t believe what they say. You think it’s a matter of time before you stumble and ‘they’ discover the truth.” Former CEO of Girls, Inc. Joyce Roché
“At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” Mike Myers
From book: The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, by Dr. Valerie Young.
She notes on her site that this is not an issue for only one gender:
“Men are attending my seminars in increasing numbers, and among graduate students the male-female ratio is roughly fifty-fifty.
“I’ve heard from or worked with countless men who suffer terribly from their fraud fears, including a member of the Canadian mounted police, an attorney who’d argued before the Supreme Court, a corporate CEO, and an entire team of aerospace engineers, one of whom spoke of the ‘sheer terror’ he feels when handed a major assignment.”
Referring to her book, she says “Despite the title you will find male voices reflected in the book. Once you read the book it will be clear why, in the end, there were more reasons than not to focus more so on women.”
Dr. Young notes that “Twenty years of well documented research by leading expert in motivation and personality psychology Carol Dweck and author of my new favorite book Mindset, confirms what I’ve been saying for years.
“Namely that for better or for worse, your perceptions of what it takes to be competent, has a powerful impact on how you measure yourself and therefore how you approach achievement itself.”
She adds, “This kind of chronic self-doubt robs you of your successes and ultimately your own happiness and fulfillment.”
Learn more about her book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women” and program at her site Overcome the Impostor Syndrome, and sign up for free “Impostor Buster” Words of the Week.
A common issue
Actor Shia LaBeouf thinks it is a common issue:
“Most actors on most days don’t think they’re worthy. I have no idea where this insecurity comes from, but it’s a God-sized hole. If I knew, I’d fill it, and I’d be on my way.”
LaBeouf, by the way, was accepted to Yale University but declined, saying that he is “getting the kind of education you don’t get at school.”
A British newspaper article says Helen Mirren “has talked of how insecure she has felt nearly all her life.”
And she said “I still get insecure.”
[From Helen Mirren: off the wall, by Lucy Cavendish, The Telegraph telegraph.co.uk 20 Jan 2008]
Mirren also said in her memoir that she “went to a shrink once. When I was about twenty-three I was very unhappy and, yes, self-obsessed and insecure.”
From post Helen Mirren on miserable self obsession.
Hilary Swank spent her childhood in a trailer park and has said, “I was a troubled kid. I felt like an outsider. I didn’t feel like I belonged, especially in the classroom. I just wish that I would have been more secure.”
Will Smith admits, “I still doubt myself every single day. What people believe is my self-confidence is actually my reaction to fear.”
[Also quoted in post The Self-Esteem Supercharger.]
John Lennon and self esteem
John Lennon once said, “Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.”
[Also used in my post Elaine Aron on our emotional challenges.]
Writer Larry Kane commented about his bio Lennon Revealed: “People would be surprised at how insecure John Lennon was, and his lack of self esteem.
“Throughout his life, even during the height of Beatle mania, he had poor self esteem, even though he exuded confidence.”
Self esteem is positive self-regard, a realistic acknowledgment of our talents and value as a person.
Maybe it is the primary antidote we can have to insecurity.
Authentic esteem is not the superficial efforts over recent years to make all children in school feel they are “special” – with high [often bloated] self-esteem falsely nurtured by school administrators who say things like “We don’t want anyone to feel left out, so everyone wins a spelling bee award” or “The valedictorian will be chosen by lottery.”
Many gifted and talented people feel insecure
Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, PhD [in his article: The Lowdown on High Self-Esteem] notes that people with inflated high self-esteem “think they make better impressions, have stronger friendships and better romantic lives.. but the data don’t support their self-flattering views.”
But many gifted and talented people suffer at times from a lack of healthy self esteem.
Another example: Nobel Prize laureate poet and writer Czeslaw Milosz confessed: “From early on writing for me has been a way to overcome my real or imagined worthlessness.”
Stephanie S. Tolan – co-author of the book Guiding the Gifted Child – finds that “Many gifted adults seem to know very little about their minds and how they differ from more ‘ordinary’ minds. The result of this lack of self-knowledge is often low, sometimes cripplingly low self esteem.”
[From her article Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem and the Gifted Adult.]
Marilyn J. Sorensen, PhD, author of the book Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem, says “People with low self-esteem generally find themselves at one of the extremes of achievement, either as an overachiever or as an underachiever.
“Some take the road of continually channeling their energies into attempts to receive recognition, approval, and affirmation, and become highly successful in their careers and educational endeavors; they are driven; they are ‘overachievers.’ Others slink back in fear, never realizing their skills or talents.”
Pursuing healthy esteem
So how to counteract and change unhealthy self esteem?
A start is to honestly recognize your abilities and accomplishments, without qualifying or deflating them, as in “Oh, anyone could do that.”
Another effective approach is the cognitive therapy strategy of getting aware of demeaning statements – especially automatic thoughts – you make about yourself (or accept from others), such as “I’m no good at doing that…” – then arguing the logic, validity, merits and faults of the statement, such as: “Well, maybe I am not as skilled as whoever.. but I have been told my work is good and I can get better if I choose to work at it.”
Overcoming impostor feelings
Also related to insecurity is the reaction that a number of talented actors and other people talk about: feeling oneself to be an “impostor.”
Research into this impostor phenomenon or syndrome began with the work of psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who found many women with notable achievements also had high levels of self-doubt which could not be equated with self-esteem, anxiety, or other traits, and seemed to involve a deep sense of inauthenticity and an inability to internalize their successes.
They often had the belief they were “fooling” other people, were “faking it” or getting by from having the right contacts or just being “lucky.” Many held a belief they would be exposed as frauds or fakes.
[From my article Gifted Women: Identity and Expression.]
Beating ourselves up by comparisons with idols and icons
Creativity coach and psychologist Eric Maisel thinks “It is a poignant feature of our species that we can contemplate intellectual work that we can’t quite accomplish…
“It is also natural that we will experience emotional pain when we recognize that the work that we would love to do, whether it is physics at the highest level or constitutional law at the highest level or psychological fiction at the highest level or biological research at the highest level is, if not completely unavailable to us, just unavailable enough to make it doubtful that we can proceed and just unavailable enough to make our efforts feel like torture.”
[Photo: Elodie Ghedin, Parasitologist/Virologist and a 2011 MacArthur Fellow.]
He asks, “How many smart people end up torturing themselves to the point of institutionalization over the fact that they can’t turn out poetry as brilliant as the poetry produced by their idols, can’t solve that mathematical problem that has thwarted all the biggest brains…?
“You can torture yourself in this fashion and threaten your mental health or you can surrender to nature’s ways.”
From his post The Smart Gap – How to deal with painful shortfalls in brainpower, by Eric Maisel, Ph.D.
One of his books: Mastering Creative Anxiety: 24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians, and Actors from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach.
Also read more about his program Infinite Meaning: The Breakthrough of Noimetic Psychology
Course Overview: “You can’t find the meaning of life – it never was lost! Meaning never was something to be found in a philosophy, a religion, a belief system, or a way of life. Rather, meaning is a psychological experience. And because it is a psychological experience, you can create it.”