How do our feelings of insecurity and self-doubt impact our creativity? Artists and psychologists express multiple perspectives here, including how to deal with those feelings.
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In a conversation among a group of actors about their work, Kate Winslet commented about acting in “Wonder Wheel” (2017):
“Well, I mean Woody Allen is an extraordinary writer. And he’s obviously known for having created extraordinary roles, very powerful complicated roles for women for many years.
“And to join that lineage of incredible actresses made me feel terrified.”
Winslet also said: “It takes years to acquire confidence — whatever your chosen vocation is. To have the confidence to be who you are.” …
Annette Bening notes:
“When you’re a creative person, whatever your field — writing or painting or singing, acting — there’s always a certain amount of insecurity or uncertainty or there’s a search going on and, in a way, that never really stops.
“What you were describing when you were working with Woody, that’s always there.”
But, she adds, “You want to be in a place of uncertainty, a place that maybe something surprising could happen.”
Audio excerpt video – follow link below to see multiple videos of actor interviews.
[Note – the card at end of my video here – “Follow link to article” – refers to this article you are seeing here.]
Natalie Portman said in her 2015 Harvard Commencement Speech [video]: “I’m still insecure about my own worthiness.”
Facebook / Goalcast video with added footage from some of her movies:
Natalie Portman talked in her Harvard Commencement Speech about impostor feelings and other kinds of insecurity that you may relate to as a creative person:
“Today I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999. …
“I felt like there had some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company. And that every time I opened my mouth, I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress…
“I have to admit that even twelve years after graduation I’m still insecure about my own worthiness.
“I had been acting since I was 11 but I thought acting was too frivolous and certainly not meaningful. I came from an family of academics and was very concerned with taking it seriously.
“I couldn’t shake my self-doubt…. I got in only because I was famous: that was how others saw me, that was how I saw myself.” …
“I realized that seriousness for seriousness’ sake was its own kind of trophy and a dubious one.
“There was a reason I was an actor. I love what I do.
“And I saw from my peers and my mentors that that was not only an acceptable reason, it was the best reason.
“After four years of trying to get excited about something else, I admitted to myself that I couldn’t wait to go back and make more films.
“I wanted to tell stories, to imagine the lives of others and help others do the same. I had found or perhaps reclaimed my reason.”
From article: Natalie Portman addresses Harvard grads; reflects on ‘Black Swan,’ insecurities, by Nardine Saad, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2015.
In her Commencement Speech, she also notes:
“Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you to you to embrace other people’s expectations, standards or values.
“But you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be… a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons.”
Natalie Portman is fluent in Hebrew, French and Japanese…and told a newspaper that she’s considered leaving show biz to become a vet or a clinical psychologist.
Before graduating from Harvard with a psychology degree in June 2003, Portman was credited — under her given name, Natalie Hershlag — as a research assistant to Alan Dershowitz’s “Case for Israel” and had a study on memory called “Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence” published in a scientific journal.
From my article Gifted Child, Uncommon Adult: Natalie Portman.
Actor and singer Zendaya comments:
“I hold myself to such ridiculously high standards that if I don’t meet or surpass them, I doubt myself.
“That fear of not being as good as you want to be can limit you from doing things.
“I feel a lot of people doubt me in the acting space because I’ve never done a big movie, and that’s why I’m excited about doing ‘Spider-Man’ — I have no preconceived notions about how I’m supposed to deal with it.”
Zendaya Opens Up About Her Insecurities, Access Hollywood, September 8, 2016.
Another article notes, “At 21 years old, Zendaya is an actor, multi-platinum recording star, fashion icon, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.
“And now, thanks to her turn in The Greatest Showman, she is also a professional musical theatre performer.”
Did You Know That Disney Channel and Greatest Showman Star Zendaya Has Musical Theatre Roots?, Playbill Dec 23, 2017.
[Photo of Zendaya is from her Facebook page.]
Over the years of reading biographies and doing interviews with many highly talented and creative people, it has often struck me how many of them talk about being self-critical, feeling insecure, and suffering from an inner critical voice.
Even people with exceptional talents and accomplishments may have these feelings.
These feelings of insecurity and self-criticism can be issues for anyone – but perhaps especially for many of us who are creative and highly sensitive, as many actors are.
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.”
Can these feelings ever be useful?
In her article How to turn insecurity into confidence, psychotherapist Diana C. Pitaru makes some interesting comments:
“A certain amount of insecurity is healthy and helpful.
“When we feel insecure we question the things we do which, in turn, forces us to look closer at any given situation to analyze and clarify our options in order to move forward.
“The problem with insecurities is not that they exist, they do and will, but how they manifest, how you unconsciously integrate them with who you are, and how you allow them to define you.”
Actor Alison Lohman has also commented on the potential value of not feeling secure or free of fear:
“With any film and even theater, you never get over being scared and overwhelmed, because it’s a new character and that brings on a whole new set of circumstances.
“That’s the exciting part of it – it’s those nerves that bring you to a higher level and makes you more hyper-aware. It makes your performance better.” [Hollywood Reporter, Mar 5 2003.]
Being self-critical is an experience for many people, sometimes based on their drive to achieve.
Self-compassion researcher, teacher and author Kristin Neff, PhD notes that the ‘typical way’ of motivating ourselves is harsh self-criticism, but that research shows this leads to a fear of failure, performance anxiety and other problems that can hold us back.
Dr. Neff says, “We know through the research that when we’re very hard on ourselves when we make a mistake, or fail in some way, we start becoming afraid of failure, and we start developing performance anxiety.
“We don’t do as well so we fail more often, we start losing confidence in ourselves and therefore we’re more likely just to give up.”
Read more and see clip from a free video series with Chris Germer and Kristin Neff related to their course in article The Power of Self-Compassion.
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The Self-Acceptance Summit produced by Sounds True provides video conversations with 31 leading experts in the field of self-acceptance and self-compassion, including Elizabeth Gilbert, Martha Beck, Marianne Williamson, Gabrielle Bernstein, JP Sears, Kristin Neff and others.
See article with excerpt videos: The Self-Acceptance Summit.
Impostor Syndrome – Feeling Like a Fraud
Impostor feelings are another form of insecurity we may experience.
Here are some examples of impostor feelings and thinking:
“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.’” Maya Angelou
“I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?” (Meryl Streep)
“I convince myself I’m fooling people.” (Jonathan Safran Foer)
“Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud.” (Emma Watson)
“I felt inadequate the entire time I was in graduate school.” (Rosalyn Lang, Ph.D.)
Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an expert on impostor syndrome and commented in an Entrepreneur magazine article:
“Millions of people, from entrepreneurs to celebrities, have a hard time internalizing their accomplishments.”
The article author notes “the impostor syndrome is especially common among people who become successful quickly or early, and among outsiders, such as women in male-dominated industries.”
Dr. Young adds, “They explain away their success as luck or timing. They feel this sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
From article: Getting Beyond Impostor Feelings.
Psychotherapist Paula Prober notes how impostor feelings can develop for gifted people:
“Was this you? You were told repeatedly that you were so smart; that you had a high IQ. You were the top student.
“Your parents and teachers praised you often for your abilities and achievements.
“School was easy so you could get high grades without studying. You won awards.
“Teachers said that you were gifted. Your parents said that you’d do great things when you reached adulthood; That you could do anything you wanted. Expectations were high.”
She explains further:
“Kids who are gifted are often told, repeatedly, how smart they are, by well-meaning adults. High grades and other achievements may be praised excessively.
“This can lead children to believe that they’re loved because they’re ‘so smart.’
“Their identity becomes dependent, then, on their capacity to continue to show their advanced abilities and on the praise and attention they receive.”
But, she notes, “This can lead to unhealthy perfectionism: fear of failure, avoidance of activities that don’t guarantee success, impostor syndrome and procrastination.
“It can lead to anxiety and depression. Being smart becomes a static thing. You either are or your aren’t.
“And because you’re used to learning many things quickly, you think that’s the way all learning should be. If you don’t get it fast, well, it just proves that you’re not gifted. Not gifted? Not lovable.”
Read more in her article, including suggestions on what to do about all this: If I’m So Smart, Why Do I Feel Like A Failure?
Paula Prober is a licensed counselor and consultant, specializing in gifted adults and youth.
She is author of the book Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth.
[Photo: valedictorian Bianca Phillips from article: Gifted adults: Is high ability a pass to success and eminence?]
Some related articles:
Talented, But Insecure [from the site of my main book: “Developing Multiple Talents”]
Also see my site with multiple articles and programs Anxiety Relief Solutions