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Ep 110. Self-love, Imposter Syndrome, Therapy and the F word (failure!) with Dr. Soph

June 15, 2020

Clinical Psychologist and Yoga Teacher Dr. Sophie Mort joins me on the podcast this week. Taking psychology out of the therapy room, she wants to help you overcome your insecurities, experience self-love and live the life you deserve. We discuss: One of the most helpful approaches to self-love I’ve ever heard The incredibly common struggles […]

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Clinical Psychologist and Yoga Teacher Dr. Sophie Mort joins me on the podcast this week. Taking psychology out of the therapy room, she wants to help you overcome your insecurities, experience self-love and live the life you deserve.

We discuss:

  • One of the most helpful approaches to self-love I’ve ever heard
  • The incredibly common struggles that you probably believe only affect you
  • Imposter syndrome and how to stop it from holding you back
  • Creating distance from negative self-talk

Transcript

Chloe Brotheridge: Hello, and welcome to the Calmer You podcast. This is your host, Chloe Brotheridge. I’m a coach, a hypnotherapist, and I’m the author of The Anxiety Solution, and Brave New Girl. This podcast is all about helping you to become your happiest and most confident self.

Today’s guest

Today I’m talking to the really very lovely and smart and wonderful psychotherapist, Dr. Sophie Mort. Basically, I would like to be her friend. I think you’ll agree.

In this podcast

We discuss basically one of the most helpful approaches to self-love that I have ever heard. Also, we get into the incredibly common struggles that you probably believe only affects you. She shares her experience of imposter syndrome and how to stop it from actually holding you back. And we talked about creating distance from negative self-talk and therapy. This is a really juicy and relevant episode. I think you’re gonna love it.

Free resources

Just to remind you about the free resources that I have for confidence over on my website. You can head over to Calmer-you.com/confidence and get loads of freebies over there. I’ll also tell you about my latest podcasts and courses as well as my 121 sessions and my app. So check all of that out at Calmer-you.com. So let’s get into the interview with Dr. Soph.

Welcome, Dr. Soph. How are you? Thanks for joining me. Please share with everyone listening what it is that you do, the therapy you practice and how you got to where you are today?

Introduction

Dr Soph: Hi, I’m a clinical psychologist and I try and get therapy or psychology out of the therapy room and into people’s lives in ways that make sense to them. That means I share psychological information in written form. On a blog on Instagram.

I’m doing all sorts of other things I can’t tell you about right now. But that will involve disseminating all the psychological information that people need, and can’t necessarily access because there are so many barriers to getting therapy. I also have a private clinic where I see a few people every day in online therapy.

Background

My whole life was basically studying and that’s probably the short answer. I did an undergraduate in psychology, a master’s in neuroscience and a doctorate in clinical psychology working in the NHS that whole time. Up until two years ago, I worked in Hampton Hospital.

The same questions

The NHS, I think, is probably the most important thing that we have as British people. But, I needed to be doing something else. People are on waiting lists for a really long time. Often what’s happening is they get to the top of the waiting list, they’d get that one seat in front of me. And irrespective of what service I was working on in therapy, they were coming with the same issues, which was, for example, why do I feel this way? Why am I panicking, feeling distressed? Does it mean I’m crazy if I’m experiencing emotions, struggles, anxiety? What are the most basic skills I need to know now?

Often after that first therapy session of giving people what I call psychology 101 people didn’t necessarily need support anymore. Now that’s not the same for everyone. I decided if I could find a way to give everyone this basic information before they need it, then maybe we wouldn’t have people’s distress escalating, as much as it often does. Maybe that would take away some of the burden on waiting lists and help everyone to understand themselves a little bit more. So that’s what I set out on my own. And it’s just gone from there.

Panic attacks

Chloe Brotheridge: Amazing. Yeah. I love what you do and the information that you share. How you share it is really inspiring and useful. It’s such an interesting thing that you mentioned there about people thinking that they’re crazy in therapy. For feeling anxious, or maybe they’re having panic attacks. And, you know, I’ve had panic attacks myself, and you do feel like you’re gonna go crazy.

Dr Soph: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve had panic attacks, and I genuinely thought it was the end of the world.

Chloe Brotheridge: So sometimes it’s enough. It sounds like you’re saying it’s normal to feel this way. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna lose your mind.

therapy

Panic attacks

Dr Soph: I remember many of my panic attacks because they are the reason I became a psychologist and practice therapy. From the age of 18, I started having panic attacks. And no one could tell me what was going on for me. When I went to the doctors, they told me I was depressed, which I wasn’t. I was having panic attacks and didn’t know what’s going on. I just needed some help.

When I first had those experiences of panic. My mind went to what could this be? The only reference I had was, well, it feels like I’m losing my mind. Anytime someone talks about mental health in movies, the news and my social circle, what’s been talked about is that a person’s losing their mind. They’re crazy. I must be going crazy.

Do you think you are going crazy?

The first sensation of panic that I wrote in my body quickly escalated to panic attacks because like, Oh my god, I’m going crazy. If I’d had that experience and known, anytime your brain detects something dangerous, or that it thinks is dangerous or stressful in your environment, it only has one way of being and purpose. Keeping you safe. It’s to prepare you to run or fight for your life, your heart will race, your palms will sweat, your mind will race. All of these things will happen. And it’s totally normal.

We call that anxiety leading up to a panic attack. If someone had told me in therapy, it’s totally normal, okay, that would have helped. And if someone had told me the way that you cope was doing x, y, and Zed, I would have done those things.

Those first few panic attacks would have been interpreted in a very different way than me as an 18 year old thinking I was losing my mind and having nowhere to turn. The first moment when people start to struggle is a real opportunity to help because it’s the difference between someone going away and thinking there’s something wrong with me and I need to hide that and I feel ashamed of it.

Online therapy

Chloe Brotheridge: It’s such a simple but powerful thing to be aware of. I was curious about what your opinion is about online therapy accounts or therapists on Instagram or people who have set up accounts where they’re talking about mental health. They’re talking about giving their advice. Do you feel like that is helpful or can it be counterproductive or can it be overwhelming? What’s your opinion on that?

Dr Soph: Well, I always think there’s never one answer, and it’s almost always all at once. I think therapists setting up accounts on Instagram has been a cultural phenomenon. There are already more people than we’ll ever know.

What I mean by that is psychology and therapy based information is normally kept behind closed doors behind waiting lists kept in universities and dusty old textbooks. It’s deeply inaccessible.

Therapists setting up spaces where they’re making therapy information widely available and accessible, I mean that people anywhere in the world can now learn about themselves. That is a social justice issue, right? People should be able to learn about themselves, and now people can.

Where the advise is coming from

Yes, it’s deeply overwhelming. Because suddenly you have thousands of people offering advice and not just therapists. We have people without any kind of clinical qualification with lived experience offering advice. Fantastic. We have therapists offering advice, and we don’t know where to turn. You could read one post on Instagram, for example, that tells you to do x and then you read another one says don’t do x do y. Then another one saying no. It’s really overwhelming. We don’t know who to trust. Especially when therapy is happening online.

Social media can be detrimental to people’s health

We don’t actually know the people in real life who are giving the information out. And yeah, sometimes it’s risky. It’s true. You know, Instagram, for example, isn’t a private platform. If you put a comment up, anyone can read it. There’s no proper guidelines yet in the UK, for example, on how therapists should exist in the online space. So I think it’s a game changer.

The reality is social media is detrimental to people’s health. 1 billion people now use Instagram, for example, therapy I think, have the responsibility to meet people where they’re at and overcome barriers that get in the way of people understanding themselves. But we need to be really careful. You’d have a good answer to this. What do you think about that as you are based in the online space?

Therapists DM policy

Chloe Brotheridge: Personally, I sometimes feel a bit torn because I get a lot of people dming me wanting therapy advice. It’s very difficult to do that. And obviously not a good idea to do that when they’re not your clients. So very problematic.

Dr Soph: A strong dm policy. That really changed it for me, you know. I’m afraid I cannot answer any personal question. Is that what you’ve had to do?

Chloe Brotheridge: Yeah, So trying to explain to people that without knowing their history and not being their therapist, I can’t give people advice.

Dr Soph: It just kept getting dangerous.

Chloe Brotheridge: That was my main thought on it. But yeah, I think it’s complicated as the answer. It’s complicated.

Personalised support isn’t best via social media

therapy

Dr Soph: I think as long as you’re really clear. I have a really strong policy on how I use Instagram. There are lots of disclaimers that this is generalist information. This isn’t about anyone in specific. This is the kind of stuff that you could find in a book on a shelf. If you DM me, I will have to politely decline or I might not even see the message because we get so many messages, right? We cannot give people personalised information and online therapy. But there are crisis lines we could, for example, already have on our page to share.

Common issues

Chloe Brotheridge: Yeah, definitely. And in terms of the sorts of issues that you tend to see, or the things that you come across again, and again, can you describe, obviously, it’s helpful for people to feel a bit less alone? And just hearing about how common some of these things are? Can you describe a little bit about the sorts of issues that you help people with and come across a lot?

Not feeling like I’m good enough

Dr Soph: I’d say as a rule, I’m a generalist. I’m not a therapist who has a specific model that they work in a specific client group or diagnosis. Generally what I’m coming across is an extreme feeling of failure and extreme concern. We are not enough as we are. The consequences of that often being, for example, perfectionism, people-pleasing, really strong, negative inner critic, an constant comparison of the self to others.

Mainly I work with women in their 20s and 30s, who, for example, on paper might look like they’re killing it, but on the inside are really struggling.

Chloe Brotheridge: Yeah, and it’s, it’s interesting how common those things are. Yet when you are experiencing that deep sense that you’re a failure, that you’re not good enough, you’re bad, you feel like you’re the only one in the world who has ever felt like that?

The system sets us up for failure

Dr Soph: Yes, it’s so alienating. It’s a very smart system that’s been set up to keep us in this feeling of vulnerability, this feeling of failure, which means we’re really susceptible, for example, to marketing or to anything that people can sell us to fix us. You know, at the most simple level, part of the reason we all feel like we’re failing is because we’re constantly surrounded by images in magazines, TV movies, of these people who are deemed to be worthy and lovable and they look a certain way they laugh a certain way. They act a certain way and have everything. We’re taught these people are what we should aspire to. We’re never really told that those people don’t even really exist either. They’ve been created as characters. And are also in therapy.

The myth of perfection

We’re rarely exposed to people with flaws and vulnerabilities or who are struggling. So our brain basically learns, those people are good. And because none of us can kind of reach perfect level, we’ve also been assaulted, perfectionism is possible. And the moment we look in the mirror, the moment we start trying to do anything, pretty much our whole existence is I’m falling short of that person. I’m falling short of this idea I’ve been sold. My worth is based on my productivity and how I come across in the world. So yeah, people aren’t failing. They’re just unable to ever become this perfect idea that we’ve been sold on.

Chloe Brotheridge: Yeah, totally. I think even though we’ve had the body positivity movement we haven’t yet embraced that it’s okay to just be how you are and embrace how you look. Then we’ve got a culture where someone made a mistake 10 years ago, and they get completely attacked. It’s a sense that you’re not allowed to ever make a mistake, because that’s terrible. I was thinking this week about how I’m less interested in the mistakes people made and more interested in how they overcame them. Whether in therapy or not.

Cancelled culture

Dr Soph: I was thinking this week about how I’m less interested in the mistakes people made and more interested in how they recover from the mistake and how how they learn from it. Did they apologise for it. And cancelled culture is something that doesn’t allow for growth. It’s interesting because that creates more problems inside us. It perpetuates this idea of I need to be perfect on the finished product immediately, because if I make a mistake, I will be destroyed. We literally see that happening in the media all the time.

It’s not just an idea we have in our heads. It’s a reality we’ve seen if I mess up, I’ll be abandoned, which is pretty much all over biggest fears, I think.

Body positivity made me think of a couple of things, which is, what we often do as humans is, we kind of get these new ideas such as body positivity, the idea that we can love ourselves, whatever size we’re at, but they often end up being co-opted by these by people who say, well, you can love yourself, up to a point.

Body neutrality

And the second thing I was thinking is body neutrality. That is more interesting. I’ve been following and researching the people who talk about it, because body positivity still has this message of we need to be beautiful to be worthy. Yes, you can be beautiful at any size, but you must be beautiful. Whereas body neutrality, if I understand it, right suggests It just doesn’t matter what your body is. Just doesn’t matter who you are, your worth isn’t based on that whatsoever. We want to be neutral about how we show up. That means we can be more positive about who we are. We don’t need therapy for that.

Chloe Brotheridge: Yeah, that makes so much sense. Not thinking about your body and just being in the moment and being yourself and not having to not having to try to think you’re beautiful. It doesn’t matter.

Dr Soph: Often what happens in those situations is you just think no matter what I do, I can’t find myself beautiful. So I’m failing at body positivity even though I believe it’s a really great idea. Body neutrality, I suppose isn’t saying, like, whatever body whatever it’s like okay, no body. You are part of me. I will look after you. But my emotions towards you don’t have to be based around whether I think that you’re beautiful or not.

Chloe Brotheridge: Such a good thing to remember. I saw one of your posts on Instagram about self-love being an action. Can you explain what you mean when you share about that?

Self-love

Dr Soph: We need to love ourselves because we spend all our time with our thoughts. We spend all our time with ourselves. And actually, when we don’t feel good about ourselves, it makes everything else harder. The only thing is that me and a lot of people I spoke to were thinking was that I don’t have the warm and fuzzies about myself all the time. As I said, it’s almost impossible if you grew up in this capitalist society to believe that you’re enough the way you are. So I was thinking, Okay, what does this even mean? And have you read the book All About Love by Bell Hooks?

Yeah, it’s just extraordinary. Actually, a lot of us don’t truly know what love means. That what I hear in therapy. We’ve all been raised by different people and we all internalise love to be either what we see in the movies as deeply romantic and often sexual. For example, you might be told as a little woman, you love your family, no matter what, even if they’re nasty to you. You might be taught love is pain, he might be taught love is doing what you are told. So we often have these quite conflicting messages about what love is.

Love is an action

M. Scott Peck has this quote, which is Love is an action and it’s the idea that you extend yourself for the nurturing of your own or another person’s soul. I don’t think he means as I think it’s a soul a spirit of faith. If you think about that, in terms of self-love, you don’t have to have this warm and fuzzy feeling about yourself. What you’re doing is you’re choosing to act. You’re choosing to ask yourself, okay, how are you? What do you feel? What do you need right now in this moment? How do I extend myself to meet your needs, basically. And suddenly, that means that it doesn’t matter how you feel, you can constantly be choosing to show yourself self-love. You don’t need therapy for that.

Chloe Brotheridge: I love that and, you know, when you’re feeling really Rubbish or you’re experiencing depression or your self-esteem is on the floor to try to love yourself can be like this impossible fair away thing. Another thing that you’ve got to try and do and fail at.

Dr Soph: Oh, I know, relentless, the list of things that we need to do? Self-love is choosing to show up to yourself, I think over and over and sometimes realising that means you can’t show up to yourself. What you need in that moment is to be okay with the fact that you can’t show up to yourself.

Chloe Brotheridge: I saw you suggest somewhere that maybe all these podcasts and self-help books could be an avoidance strategy. Can you share what you meant by that.

Avoidance strategy

Dr Soph: Okay, so I love podcasts. And I love books. We need more and more access to information that can help us understand ourselves. At the same time, it can become an avoidance strategy. For example, you notice that you are worried about something or you want to learn more about yourself or you have a certain emotional feeling. So what you do is you buy a self-help book or you line up the next podcast for therapy, and suddenly because you’ve done something you feel better. Then suddenly, the feeling comes back. Dammit, I’ll line up the next podcast or get the next self-help book.

You never actually read it or do it. I know a lot of people myself included that have had whole bookcases of self-help and whole podcast lists to listen to. But just the act of lining them up has made me feel better. I want to grow, understand myself, and feel better. So I consume as much information as I possibly can podcast after podcast book after book, never actually taking time for example, to reflect past the point of discomfort or engage in a really honest, painful dialogue about what it means to engage in the exercises that I recommended.

Distraction by self-help books and podcasts

The moment you finish one book or podcast, you line up the neck straight away. So you’re constantly consuming staying in your head and in your logic, but at a very superficial level without ever really bringing it into your body. So, ideally, what we do is, we learn about ourselves. We pause, we ask what that means to us. When the urge to avoid or move on comes up, we sit with it, we do the exercises that are recommended. After that, if we feel we need more information, we move on to the next one.

Chloe Brotheridge: I’ve definitely done that as well. Reading through of self-help book with every intention of doing the exercises, but because it’s a bit hard, and actually, it’s causing me to actually have to reflect on things that might be painful, I just avoid them. But actually, we’re going to get so much more from it if we can properly engage with it and stay with it, even if it’s uncomfortable. Rather than trying to get our next fix with the next thing. Therapy takes work.

Knowledge isn’t enough

Dr Soph: It’s funny because I absolutely do what you’re saying. And often I think, I’ll come back to it. I’ll come back and do that. In the moment I really believe that. And then I wonder why it’s uncomfortable. Most of us think that knowledge is power. Don’t get me wrong. Knowledge is power. But most of us think knowledge is enough. Most of the healing we need to engage in actually involves our body and our emotions and moving through things.

Chloe Brotheridge: It’s not quite enough just to read a self help book. We need to engage with it.

Dr Soph: Do the work. Learning about yourself often really sucks. You may find out things you don’t like. We would avoid that. So a little bit of self-kindness, a little bit of that self-love. I have reached a point in this book where I’m just really overwhelmed. So what do I need to do? I need to take a break. But my next act of self-love is making sure I come back to the action.

Chloe Brotheridge: Thank you for saying that because I think there can be this idea that it just should be positive.

The downside of self-help books

Dr Soph: Once you reach that point where you feel really safe in therapy, and you’re able to really look at the things that you really struggle with and you look into the darkest corners of your mind. Yeah, it can be horrifying and without someone there who makes you feel safe enough to talk about it, or safe enough to know that they’re not going to judge you on top of how much you’re going to judge yourself.

It can be almost impossible to do that. Self-help books may not be enough for everyone. You might actually need to teach someone but at the same time, self-help books can be a real dream, because there’s no one looking at you whilst you’re doing the exercises. You can return a deeply personal way where you know you’re not being judged by anyone else.

Chloe Brotheridge: That’s an important point. You need a therapist that you can trust. One you can really open up to because it can be very confronting to go into all the things that you’re ashamed of.

Chloe Brotheridge: Is there anything that you’re struggling with at the moment? And how are you managing it right now?

Imposter syndrome

Dr Soph: I think most people going through what we’ve been going through in this country under lockdown is a new challenge. I was writing an article for someone and then speaking to you, and I’ve noticed that this week, there’s been a lot of imposter syndrome. So really, unplanned performance anxiety, yay. This really strong sense that why me It should be someone else.

I’m a fraud, am I the right person? Am I good enough or gonna mess this up? That’s definitely the nicer version of the way that the thoughts going but much more brutal than that. So lots of imposter syndrome. I suppose it really helps being a therapist who works with these kind of strong feelings of failure, anxiety, performance anxiety, anyway. So how do I show up for myself on that?

Performance anxiety

Firstly, I’m honest about it. I surround myself with people who make it possible to talk about these things. I know that imposter syndrome and performance anxiety are totally natural things that happen to everyone. You know, our brain is almost totally negatively skewed. As a species, our brain is constantly scanning the environment for everything that could go wrong. Which means that the moment I sit down to do work, my brain is not only using social comparison theory to make me feel terrible comparing me to everyone else. But it’s also then using this kind of negative skew to look for anything that could go wrong. This comes up in therapy.

I remind myself of the science and I ground myself with some breathing exercises. When I’m stressed I’ll wear a fluffy tactile sweater, being able to touch things that are soft or hold things bring me back into the present moment. I have lots of little tricks like that that really helped us bring me back into the room.

Just about everyone

Chloe Brotheridge: Thank you for sharing that. I think imposter syndrome depending on which survey or study look at effects between 50 and 100% of all humans at some stage or another. It’s just almost a universal thing that at times we’re going to feel like we’re not good enough or that you know, who am I to do this? It was just luck I got here. So that’s common.

Dr Soph: I want to do a story on Instagram about Harry Potter. I love Harry Potter.

In the movies, he’s just got to Hogwarts and they like put the hat on, which will decide which house he is going to be in. And that is the most beautiful description of imposter syndrome. He thinks they’re gonna realise I’m not meant to be here. I grew up with Harry Potter. He’s a hero of mine. I’m never gonna be a magic wizard. So

Chloe Brotheridge: You’re in good company. What other things do you do for your own mental health and well being that that helps you.

Morning pages

Dr Soph: I do this thing called morning pages, created by Julia Cameron. It’s a form of journaling. Have you heard of it? I get up in the morning and free-write for 3 pages. And just get it all out. It’s an unstructured form of journalism. It allows me to make sense of what going on in my mind. It allows everything in my mind to tumble out onto paper. So that’s integral to me. When I run, I feel amazing. So, actually, yeah, so those three things and surrounding myself with people who aren’t afraid to say that they’re flawed and talk about their vulnerabilities.

Chloe Brotheridge: I’ve spoken to a lot of people recently who, who run that say they hate it, but they do it.

Dr Soph: I just feel so good when I’m running. If I don’t run, I struggle.

Favourite tools

Chloe Brotheridge: Could you share some tools or some of your favourite tools that people can perhaps start to do at home? Anything for feeling calmer, or happier or more confident?

Acceptance and commitment therapy

Dr Soph: One of the reasons that we often feel not great is that we have this hugely negative skewed brain and it’s constantly chipping away at us. Making statements about us that are often very untrue. One of my favourite things to do comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Observe your thoughts multiple times across the day. Notice what’s happening in your mind. I did this documentary the other day. The two guys I was doing it with said they both said the feel like an idiot was the thought that popped up in their mind. So notice the thought was, I feel like an idiot. And you say, I notice I’m having the thought that I feel like an idiot. And you practice this multiple times.

I’m having the thought that…

By adding that sentence to the beginning, you’re creating some psychological distance between your thought and you. Suddenly, you can observe it, it’s almost like moving away from it. That’s the first thing.

Now the next bit and this is my absolute favourite bit. It often takes a long time in therapy to reach a point for someone to say, yeah, I’ll get on board with this idea. It sounds great. Start singing that sentence to a tune that you enjoy.

Singing therapy

It takes time in therapy to get to this point. Our thoughts can be deeply distressing and deeply personal. When we add the song to it, all we’re doing is creating more distance between you and that thought.

I notice I’m having the thought that I’m an idiot, for example. You could do that to the tune of Jingle Bells. The idea isn’t to make you laugh. The idea is just to give you this tool that can make you look at your thought in a different way. It’s something that you can move away from and that will be replaced by something else ultimately when you practice this loads of times

Chloe Brotheridge: Definitely gonna be singing some some of my worries later on.

Thank you so much. That has been so helpful. I’ve loved everything you’ve shared. And I love your work and what you’re putting out there. I can’t wait to see what other projects you have in the pipeline. Can you share about how people can find out more about you and what you’re up to.

Dr Soph: Instagram

Outro

Chloe Brotheridge  

Amazing. Thank you so much for talking to me today. I loved it.

You have been listening to the Calmer You podcast with me Chloe Brotheridge Don’t forget you can download loads of freebies for anxiety and confidence at my website where you can also find out about my app and my one on one sessions. Please do subscribe to this podcast in the Apple podcast app. And if you have enjoyed it or found it helpful, please leave me a review. It makes a massive difference to helping the podcast get discovered by other people and come on over and find me on Instagram. I’m hanging out there every day you can find me at Chloe Brotheridge let me know what you thought of this episode. And please share it with anyone who might need to hear this today. So I’m sending you lots of love and I hope you have a brilliant week ahead

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