Massage & Bodywork

MAY | JUNE 2019

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52 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k m a y / j u n e 2 0 1 9 These are feelings many business owners experience. They're also common indicators of "impostor syndrome." Impostor syndrome is common and pervasive in all professions, including massage. I've got some going on right now as I write this article. Who am I to write about this topic? I feel it when someone asks about massage for migraines. What do I know? I've only taken a few CE classes about headaches; there's so much more to learn! These feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty of our place and skills are human, normal, and not entirely a bad thing. Take heart: there are plenty of techniques to help conquer these feelings that can limit our success. But let's back up and get some real definition. The term impostor phenomenon was coined in the late 1970s by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance and was later popularized as impostor syndrome, a term commonly used for the phenomenon today. They found the phenomenon occurs among high achievers—especially women— who struggle to internalize their success. 1 Rowan Blaisdell, former massage therapist, current psychotherapist, and host of the Therapy for Humans podcast (, describes impostor syndrome as the feeling you don't belong or haven't earned your place. It's feeling not smart enough or not experienced enough. Impostor syndrome often includes the fear you will be "found out" and uncovered as a fraud. Blaisdell says impostor syndrome is often rooted in low self-esteem, performance anxiety, and the fear of failure. A work or home environment where people are harshly criticized for mistakes can increase these feelings. Impostor syndrome is common in people starting a new endeavor, like beginning massage school or opening a business. While it is normal for a new venture to cause self-doubt, impostor syndrome can allow the fear to overtake the feeling of accomplishment that has truly been earned. 2 The Impostor Cycle Impostor syndrome can manifest and repeat in a predictable pattern, aptly called the impostor cycle. The cycle begins with a specific task or project. Imagine you need to prepare a 10-minute presentation about your massage practice for a new networking group. The first stage is characterized by anxiety and self-doubt. Maybe you think about how embarrassed you'll be if it doesn't go well. You imagine you'll never get a referral from anyone who saw you flop, and even worse, you'll need to hide when you see Bob the insurance guy at the grocery store. It's going to be a nightmare. At this point, the cycle can take two tracks: overpreparation or procrastination (or a combination of both). You stress about every potential detail. You overthink what you should say, what kind of media to use in the presentation, how much research to incorporate. You worry that it will be boring, so you add some humor, then take it out because you worry you'll look unserious. In short: you put a whole bunch of effort into proving you are worthy of being a massage therapist. Or maybe you're a procrastinator. You feel paralyzed by all the ideas and by the fear of getting it wrong so you put off working on the presentation until the last minute. But you get it done in a whirlwind of adrenaline and coffee. Once the presentation is complete, you feel an initial sense of relief and accomplishment because it's over! You did it! You likely get a good response. Yay! But here's where it gets tricky again. In cases of overpreparation, you may attribute that positive feedback to the depth of effort you put into the project. You may feel like you have to work much harder than others, because you're terrible at presentations and talking about massage. It's so hard for you. In cases of procrastination, you attribute that positive response to luck, pure and simple. You did well because you got lucky with the right audience on the right morning. At this point, you ignore or resist any positive feedback and fall into the final stage of the impostor cycle: feeling anxious—maybe depressed—and like a fraud who may get found out. This cycle repeats and may lead to you turning down every new experience offered. As a massage therapist and business owner, impostor syndrome could lead you to: • Turn down an invitation to talk to a group of oncology patients about self- care because you feel unqualified even though you have advanced training and several years of experience working with people with cancer. • Not speak up about how massage can help when an acquaintance mentions their rotator cuff injury. Thinking that you don't really belong in a room full of business owners. Having a mostly full schedule, but feeling like you "just got lucky" with running a business. Turning down a chance to talk about massage to potential clients because you don't know enough.

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