Many of us with eating disordered history have experienced the “unicorn effect,” where we hold ourselves to an extreme standard. We offer kindness to those around us, but restrict compassion when applying it to ourselves.
For example, sometimes I feel as if I’m fooling the outside world in one way or another. It feels like I don’t have a “real” eating disorder, despite fighting one for 15 years. Occasionally, it feels like I’m pretending to be a qualified mental health professional, despite my graduate education and clinical experience. Sometimes, it feels like I’m a terrible friend and family member, despite my loved ones expressing gratitude towards me.
How could my clients possibly trust me with their mental health? Why would my friends ask me for advice? Am I actually healthy and just exaggerating to my treatment team?
This line of thinking is where the “sick enough” paradox intensifies.
So where does imposter syndrome come from? Personally, it started with intense self-criticism, perfectionism, and self-doubt.
So, how do we combat imposter syndrome to experience the true identity of who we are versus who we fear we might be?
One of my favorite tools is Cognitive Restructuring, an effective form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). First, we have to understand that our thoughts aren’t necessarily true. Next is practicing challenging those defeating thoughts.
Your 3-step practice
Grab a pen and paper: here are three helpful concepts and sequential exercises:
1. Calm yourself
Take a moment to be still. Breathe deeply and slowly through your nose so your stomach rises before your chest. Slowly exhale comfortably. Repeat as necessary. Draw awareness to your current mood.
Identify the unhelpful thought. Now, say it aloud or write it down. Here’s the eye opening part: imagine what a good friend would say to you in response.
You can also reverse this by imagining your friend saying the unhelpful thought and responding in kind.
3. Socratic questioning
Ask yourself these questions:
Am I basing this thought on facts or feelings?
Am I looking at all the evidence, or just what supports my thought?
Is this thought truly black and white? Or in reality, is it more complicated?
[Disclaimer]: These exercises are not intended to be a replacement for psychotherapy. If you liked them, a CBT therapist might be right for you, and it is an Evidenced Based Treatment for eating disorders.
You are enough
It’s an ongoing struggle, but I practice these thought challenging exercises when the “fooling feeling” sets in. With these exercises, I’ve experience less self-doubt, maintained the perspective that I’m capable, have been able to allow myself to take up space, and remind myself that I am enough.
You are enough, despite those intrusive thoughts.