Gifted and Talented but Insecure

Even people with exceptional talents and accomplishments 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 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 often seen many quotes like Streep’s.

[Photo: Colin Firth and Meryl Streep – from post: We Need Healthy Self Respect to Be More Creative.]

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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 and on her site 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.

Overcome the Impostor Syndrome

 She notes on her site Overcome the Impostor Syndrome 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.”

Our mindset

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.

Getting beyond impostor feelings

Also see article: Getting beyond impostor feelings – which includes videos with Valerie Young, and information about the belief change programs from The Lefkoe Insitute.


A common challenge for creative people

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.”

From post Shia LaBeouf on fame and meaning and insecurity

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.”

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Helen Mirren in The Hundred-Foot Journey

Although she has portrayed many confident – even imperious – characters, 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 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.

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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.”

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.]

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Also see article:

Getting beyond impostor feelings – Many talented and creative people experience impostor feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments. How can we change, to be more confident and creative?

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DIY Self-Esteem course“Sometimes it feels like everyone else is in on some big secret that you weren’t told about.

“It’s like, how is everyone doing that? How is everyone just so OK?

“Was I off school on the day they handed out the self-esteem manuals?

“Because, for you, feeling normal, feeling comfortable, just doesn’t come all that naturally.

“You’re always just a little bit on edge.”

From site for self-guided course: DIY Self-Esteem by Joanna Moore.

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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.”

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.”

Why Smart People Hurt bookFrom his post The Smart Gap – How to deal with painful shortfalls in brainpower.

See more quotes in article: Brainpower and The Smart Gap.

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.”

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More article:

Self concept / self esteem articles

Ranking and Self-EsteemElaine Aron, PhD says “Research (and my own experience as a therapist) finds that low self-esteem underlies most depression, anxiety, and failed relationships. Yet in spite of our focus on raising self-esteem, we have had little success. In fact, research [indicates] low self-esteem is in a sense natural, one result of our instinct to rank ourselves among others…”

Exceptional, gifted adults without enough positive self-regard.

Being Creative and Self-critical.


Originally posted 2013-01-28 21:05:58.


  1. says

    Every day intelligent, competent people drop out of school, take jobs far below their true abilities and aspirations, and allow long-held creative or entrepreneurial dreams to wither all in an attempt to avoid detection. These are of course the extreme cases. Most people who identify with the impostor syndrome don’t give up or give in. Like you, they press on in spite of the persistent self-doubt to get the degree, advance in their field, take on the challenge, and by and large succeed, sometimes spectacularly so.

  2. says

    I’m very happy to find this web site. I need to to thank you for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely liked every little bit of it and i also have you book-marked to look at new stuff in your site.

  3. Kimi Ynigues says

    @Timothy Tang.

    I think you miss the point of art. Artists don’t create art because they seek extrinsic rewards, if that were the case Picasso would have been a house painter, and Mozart would have written jingles. There are ideas that form within an artist that batter down the doors to get out. There are so many shy actors who do not seek fame, but to gain insight to another personality and capture the physicality and nuances, the turn of phrase in a way that evokes meaning. Art allows one to express oneself creatively. A writer writes fiction to elucidate feelings that less intuitive people wouldn’t understand otherwise.
    I have spent weeks creating things that were torn down in a day by people who couldn’t appreciate what I had made. If another artist I admired were to do likewise, then I might be devastated and question my knowledge, skill and talent.

  4. HelenaYellow says

    Timothy Tang: “It is a risk for people in the entertainment industry to feel self-doubt because it is mostly entertaining–a forgettable experience most of the time.”

    I’m shocked by everything you’ve written, but especially by this.

  5. Timothy Tang says

    Oops I think I went off course a little. On my view of the arts, I would just like to add that because the arts such as music, theater, film and literature deals mainly with entertaining, it may not allow the artists to feel like they are making a big social impact hence the self-doubts, unless they do lots of ‘real-life’ documentary-type movies like Precious and help the audience connect and understand the problems faced by massive underprivileged groups of people in society. These actors would be honored with flowers and Oscar nominations.

    It is a risk for people in the entertainment industry to feel self-doubt because it is mostly entertaining–a forgettable experience most of the time.

  6. Timothy Tang says

    *oops I forgot to engage the notification setting hence the late reply*

    To Cat:
    “The arts have been a powerful source of meaning and growth throughout history. Music, theater, film and literature are not superficial but are rich expressions of our deep and varied experiences.”

    Yes, this is true but more specifically because there are so many gaps between the artists and the audience, it is an occupational hazard for the artists to feel the lack of a strong connection and feedback leading to their feelings of distance, emptiness, self-doubt etc. In this sense, acting without good audience connection would therefore seem as a superficial job rather than a hands-on get-your-hands-dirty job like teaching that can connect teachers to social people and issues. However, actors can be proactive and get over this occupational hazard by using social networking to make the invaluable connections to the audience instead of being distant. The actors in the article did mention they feel self-doubt and insecurity because they did not have a good sense of how their work is affecting people in order to gauge where they themselves stand. Molly Quinn is a good example of an actress who connects to her audience to receive ‘real’ feedback on Facebook. The other artists who use twitter are also making the connection. I doubt the artists mentioned in this article use Facebook or twitter?

    I believe the meaning of life is about experiencing connections(and some disconnections). The lack of it will definitely bring a huge sense of meaninglessness.

  7. says

    Superficial abilities that do not have much impact on improving people’s lives will naturally cause self-doubt.

    Where is the talented ability that can cause improvement in people’s lives? It is not found in acting, poetry, (bad)music but it is found in the areas of philosophy and knowledge such as helping people understand problems and find the meaning of life.

    • says

      The arts have been a powerful source of meaning and growth throughout history. Music, theater, film and literature are not superficial but are rich expressions of our deep and varied experiences.

      When we suffer from insecurity and fear, it’s not because we’re superficial. Acting in particular requires a courage and emotional depth that should be honored and not ridiculed.

      Philosophy and other avenues of study are also valuable, and different personality types are drawn to different types of information. It sounds like you are more drawn to academics. That’s great. Just consider that ‘finding the meaning of life’ may take many forms.


  1. […] Young, it appears that a root cause of this is the internal dialogue and explanatory style.  Dr. Young says that it goes beyond the occasional lack of self-confidence. It is a chronic lack of self-confidence […]

  2. […] I used to think that I had a lot of self-confidence. I felt good about myself because I went to top schools and got good marks. I believed in my intelligence. But I didn’t really believe in myself. I didn’t believe that I could be successful at most things if I worked hard and tried my best. I didn’t like to do anything I wasn’t already good at because it made me feel very uncomfortable. And on the rare occasions where I did try something new, if I wasn’t great at it immediately, I would quit. I would quit, and I would pretend that I was quitting because I didn’t like it. The truth was, failure, or even the prospect of failure, terrified me. I was afraid to fail, because I thought it meant I myself was a failure. I wasn’t self-confident, I was an insecure overachiever. […]

  3. […] I have to think he was at best unsure. Van Gogh had one cheerleader: his brother Theo. Bella has thousands of people cheering for her, and she still seemed unsure. I don’t think that’s unusual, because even the most talented people are unsure. They lack of self-confidence — they feel like frauds.  […]

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