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Irish People and the Imposter Syndrome

I want to draw attention to a very strange and unique Irish phenomenon. There is little more we Irish despise than receiving a compliment or having to talk about ourselves.

We are so petrified of sounding or looking full of it that we would prefer to keep our mouths shut, to belittle ourselves or even lie in order to avoid it.

We are far too humble for our own good.

One such incident occurred last Saturday night after a cover gig we played in Sligo.

A lovely stranger came up to chat to us and compliment our gig. We graciously thanked him (something we are getting much better at), and then talked about how wild the night was and the funny people in the crowd. One person in particular came to mind, who was repeatedly clapping loudly out of time and completely distracted us so we had to work very hard to keep our own time.

The guy we were speaking to told us he had noticed him and proceeded to say ..

“Now, I don’t know much about music but it sounded pretty out of time..” or something along those lines. What we found out next is that this guy ABSOLUTELY knows A LOT about music - not only was he a sound engineer and a producer, but he was also a guitarist! So an actual musician claimed he didn't know much about music!! What is going on in the world that you would feel the need to tell a lie like that?!?

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. I have experienced this many, many times with various different people, (ourselves included), all of whom have talents but do not believe in themselves. We downplay ourselves on a daily basis by pointing out the things we could have done better or saying that we are still working on it etc.

Go to nearly any other country in the world and our conversation with Mr. Sound engineer/ producer/ guitarist would have gone a lot different. For example in the States, the first thing someone would tell you is who they are, what they do and, in particular, if you had something in common they would be sure to tell you ASAP and give you a business card. So why are Irish people so reluctant?

I have a few ideas on that. I find that when you do tell someone that you do something, you feel there is an extremely high expectation to be phenomenal/world class at it. We can’t bear this because none of us believe in ourselves. Instead we prefer to belittle ourselves so that no one expects anything and thus we feel less pressure to perform or prove our worth. If we end up surprising someone that’s all the better, but we still don’t want to admit we are good at something.

Irish people suffer hugely from imposter syndrome - we simply do not believe in ourselves enough. I think this is something that is deeply ingrained in us throughout history. We stay humble, we don’t talk too much and we don’t take compliments well.

I feel this might stem from the suffering we endured when the British invaded us and belittled our language and our culture. At that time we unfortunately had to just sit down, keep our mouths shut and take it.

I don’t know if we have ever recovered.

It’s funny but we also don’t give compliments very well either. Another thing we despise is someone else believing they’re better than they are - we can’t stand it, so we make cutting jokes in order to take them down a peg or two and this in turn makes us feel better. (For more on this see: Bono Might Be A Pox).

It could be that people also think you should know that you’re good already, so they don’t feel the need, and perhaps they feel another compliment would only give you a big head. People may even avoid saying anything at all and ignore the topic, as if it never happened. This can sometimes feel worse than a joke.

If you have a good think about it I’m sure you can remember reacting this way yourself, it’s an automatic reaction for some people.

So really it's a vicious cycle. We don’t want to be made fun of so we don’t tell people anything or expect anything. How awful and sad is that?

There are so many amazingly talented people in Ireland and very few of us believe we will ever be good enough. Sometimes this lack of belief literally gets us nowhere. Without self belief it’s very difficult to convince anyone else to.

Do you know what? It’s fucking lovely to get a compliment. We all need it sometimes even when we say and wish that we didn’t.

Here’s an exercise - Try it out, compliment someone. The more we do it the less uncomfortable we will feel. It actually can feel amazing to boost someone’s esteem.

I have to admit that I have avoided giving compliments a little bit myself in certain circumstances and I do feel bad about it. For example, I won’t give a compliment to someone that I know would never compliment someone else. I also tend not to give a compliment to someone who I think is fishing for it. I think I’ve just had too many bad experiences in my past, in not getting compliments myself when I really wanted them or needed them, where I have been made feel like I was fishing for them.

Well, I’ve come to a stage in my life where I am accepting compliments graciously and showing genuine appreciation for them. Because I really do. I still do find it uncomfortable sometimes and I can be unsure what to say back but I always say thank you and I mean it.

I am very aware that I have a talent and I have worked hard on it over the years and I really enjoy what I do. I am a bit of a perfectionist, I am always striving to be better and I am my own worst critic, but I know that I am good at what I do.

I do have to remind myself of my achievements and talents on those particularly low days, I have to.

Diana Ross said it very well “I have to show the world all that I can be, all my abilities, there’s so much more to me”. - “I’m Coming Out”.

Even the most successful people in the world suffer from self doubt. We are human. But I think Irish people suffer from it even more so. Which is why I think when we see an Irish person become successful it’s difficult for us to accept. We probably all wish we could achieve the same success but we can’t help but feel like they are too big for their boots. It’s not our fault, we were brought up that way.

However, we can make that extra effort to tell our friends, family and even strangers, when we think they are doing amazing. Just a couple of words in person or in a text can really make someone’s day. Do yourself a favour and say thank you and be gracious when you receive compliments. We all deserve a bit of love. There is nothing better when you're performing than feeling the love in a room and people showing their appreciation.

Sometimes we can show it more than we can say it, by little gestures like clapping at a performance, buying or sharing someone’s work, spreading the word and showing interest in what someone is doing.

Last weekend my heart was full singing “Show Me Love” to a crowded room who were moving closer to me, clapping with me and singing back at me, while not giving me much space to move. I could genuinely feel the love. They were showing me and it felt amazing.

Why can’t we all do the same?


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