I live with this crushing weight many call “Imposter Syndrome,” which is basically the insecurity that no matter how successful I am, I’ll always be afraid it’s a mistake. That I’m just not good enough for this success. Or, according to Wikipedia (stellar reference right there) it is “the psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments or talents and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”
In short, it’s the fear that I’ll never be good enough and soon, everyone else will see it too.
The painful silver lining to this predicament is that I’m not alone. Most people will have this fear, insecurity, or syndrome at least once in their life. Maybe you, random stranger hopefully reading this, are feeling that now. Or have in the past. Well, you’re not alone.
Maybe this man over here fears that he only got a job promotion because of luck.
And this wonderful lady is insecure about her place surrounded by men, afraid that she’s not actually talented but only attractive.
And this hard worker worries they’ve only gotten as far as they have because of affirmative action.
What I see as the “worst part” about this insecurity is the inability to talk about it. I mean, what kind of an arrogant asshole walks up to their friend and goes “Hey, you know how I actually show some success in my field and people tell me I’m talented? Yeah, what if that’s all fake and I’m a fraud? Affirm me now, please.”
It feels like fishing for compliments. Or like I’m faking humility just to mask my pride. And those fears, in turn, make the imposter syndrome worse.
So, not only do I not deserve this, but I’m also prideful. What a swirling drain of negativity.
I force myself to pause, step outside of the drain, and consider the situation logically. Otherwise, I’ll drown in these fears.
There are five types of “Imposter Syndrome,” according to multiple places on the internet.
- The Perfectionist – similar to the one on the enneagram, this person has EXTREMELY high expectations of themselves. And it’s unlikely they’ll ever meet these expectations. Even even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’ll still feel like a failure.
- The Superwoman/man – Because superwoman is convinced that she’s a phone, she will push herself harder than anyone around her. She may feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as a parent, as a partner—and may feel stressed when she doesn’t accomplishing something. She thinks she has to juggle everything at once and if one thing slips, she’ll be exposed for the imposter she thinks she is. Sadly, this is a poor cover-up for her insecurities, and the work overload may harm not only her own mental health, but also her relationships with others.
- The Natural Genius – Remember being a genius in elementary school and middle school then getting to college and realizing you’re devastatingly average? That feeling is what the natural genius feels daily. When the natural genius struggles with a task, or has to work harder than normal, they think this means they’re not good enough. After having dozens of skills come easily, any need for effort is proof they’re an impostor.
- The Soloist – Mr. Incredible over here is known for saying, “I work alone.” Unfortunately, a soloist feels he has to accomplish tasks on his own, and if his needs to ask for help, he’ll think that means he’s a fraud. He feels he has to prove his worth by constantly refusing assistance. And when he fails, because not everything can be accomplished alone, he just has proof that he was always a failure.
- The Expert – similar to the five on the enneagram, the expert has an unquenchable need to know everything possible before starting a task. He may never feel like he has enough knowledge, experience, certifications, trainings, or skills. Because of this, he may miss opportunities because he’s afraid he doesn’t meet the criteria or he doesn’t want to look stupid.
While not everyone will fit in one of these categories, and my not even suffer from actual imposter syndrome, I’m sure the majority of people understand what it’s like to feel like you’re not enough. Maybe you struggle with anxiety or you’re afraid you’ll fail someone in your life. Maybe you just see where you fall short and that’s all you see, the wonderful parts of who you are ignored.
So, what do we do with this? What do I do?
There are dozens of resources available that will be much more helpful than my short blog. There are experts in the field, therapists who are trained to help you, and psychologists who’s focus is this syndrome. There is anxiety medicine and prayer and lifestyle changes.
But the place to start is simply acknowledging it. Notice that you feel anxiety, fear, or insecurities. Take those thoughts and put them in perspective, rather than engaging in them. You don’t have to believe that you’re the best person in the world and you deserve all the success ever, because that’s not true. But you also don’t have to believe the lies of insecurity and fear.
If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that everything is a process. There isn’t an immediate fix to this, just like there isn’t an immediate fix to depression, phobias, or broken relationships. What you can do now is choose to take the first step.
And don’t hide these thoughts or feelings. Work on accepting criticism and the opportunities for growth. Share with your feelings with trusted friends, family, or mentors. Chances are, they’ll understand what you’re feeling and may even have great advice or experience to reassure you and help. Community will keep you from that drain. One day you may feel yourself drowning and in that moment, you’ll need someone to throw you a lifebuoy.
Experiencing moments of doubt is normal. The important part is to not let that doubt control your life, actions, or identity. Instead, take this as your opportunity to start accepting and embracing your worth and capabilities.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12:9-10