Do you feel like a fraud who just “fakes it” and is in danger of being found out? Most adults have struggled through their lives to develop themselves in some way that allows them to function in the world as “normal human beings”. As a result, we have had to overcome our insecurities and “act as if everything is okay.”
This results in the “fake-it until you make it” way of approaching life, and we might occasionally feel like a phony or a charlatan. However, there are some people who are constantly worried that others will find out some inner secret about them.
Wikipedia (oddly enough) has the perfect definition of what it’s like to have the Impostor Syndrome:
Impostor syndrome is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.Wikipedia entry for Imposter Syndrome
How do you Know if you Have Imposter Syndrome?
- Some people go through life struggling with many different issues inside of themselves which create a great deal of fear, anxiety and tension.
- These struggles come about because of traumas and conflicts that the person has experienced early in life.
- Over time, they have developed a “front” or “face” that they present to the world.
- However, deep underneath it all, these people are constantly worried that, “someone may find out that I have been faking it all this time.”
- They know that they are “imposters” who really don’t know who they are (aka, “Capgras Delusion”)
- There is a fear that they are not “whole” and that if others really knew them they would not like what they would see.
- As a result, the person works hard to maintain this “Imposter front” that “looks good” to the world.
- This may require having to do more, work harder, push themselves more, along with maintain a strong front that keeps others out and them safe.
- In this way, intimacy can be avoided. They are fearful of intimacy and don’t know what to do with it except in superficial ways.
The Great(est) Impostor
- In 1960, Tony Curtis played the leading role in the movie, The Great Impostor, where he played a very bright young man who never felt good about himself as a person.
- As a result, he would constantly assume new identities and then living these identities out: Priest, professor, prison assistant warden, teacher, physician, and so on. He would assume the identities of real people by stealing their identities and then actually “become them”.
- This is actually a true story of Fred DeMara, who always felt that his father was inadequate, insecure, and never very successful. Even though he told himself that he would never be like his father, he found himself unable to feel comfortable in any real life situation unless he was “an imposter”.
- This also kept him closed off from close relationships or any long-lasting situations where he had to be himself.
Why am I an Imposter?
- Many times, this sense of feeling like an Imposter, to a lesser degree than the Movie character, comes from conflicts and problems we had as children.
- Children tend to “invest their parents with great powers” beyond reality.
- As a result, when the family situation is not as good as one might hope, children think in magical terms.
- This results in the child thinking that if the family is not right, if their parents did not relate to them well, or of there was abuse, that the child must be responsible for it and therefore brought it on themselves.
- Further, the messages given to children like “you are stupid”, “not good enough”, “you will never amount to anything”, etc., also contribute to a sense of insecurity and constant anxiety.
What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like?
- The main fear that most people have is that someone will find out that they have been faking it all the time.
- There is a constant fear that one is going to be exposed.
- The fear increases because of a concern that if they are exposed, their real inner fears and inadequacies will take over.
- Further, the fear is that if someone finds out “the real me,” that the “real me” will be rejected and found to be unlovable and “less than desirable.”
- This sets up a sense of constant panic, more attempts to cover up the “real me,” and strong attempts to maintain the “front” that helps the person feel safe.
- We end up going “round and round” driving ourselves crazy in trying to maintain our calm, competent image.
How Do I Overcome Imposter Syndrome?
- The first thing that we have to admit is that we are afraid, scared, unsure, and don’t know what to do. This reminds us that this is exactly how we as a young child of the past felt while growing up.
- The information about life that we learned as a young child was not true and was from the dysfunctional family, or situation, that we had to live with and encounter, which traumatized us.
- These fears are normal, expected, and do happen even with “so-called normal people.” Everyone has some of these worries to one extent to another.
- Admitting these fears, talking about them, and sharing them with others helps you to not feel so alone.
- While talking may expose you to fears and anxieties, it is time to remind yourself that you are now an adult, that you understand things better, have more information, and know how to handle things better.
- Remind your inner-child self that they do not need to panic when they feel exposed. Your inner-child self just needs to “let you know” about their inner fears and you will “come and comfort them” when they are feeling overwhelmed.
- It is important to know that admitting our fears (the truth) is what ultimately sets us free.
- Learn to accept yourself as a human being. You do not have to be perfect. You do not have to be strong. You can let yourself and others down, have fears, and still be an acceptable and lovable human being.
- Reach out to others and don’t try so hard to hold up “a front”, to try to earn their love, or to hold in your feelings and desires.
- Make an effort to open up, make choices, be assertive, state your needs, say “NO,” and find what it is that you want in life.
At first, others may become anxious and reactive to the changes you are making. This only means that you are doing the right things. With time, they will relax better with the “new, more open you”. You have just “trained them” to expect you to respond in a certain way.
Remember, you are just a normal human being. You have experienced things that are hard. You have survived and gone beyond them. Now you can let go of your “Imposter fears” and keep moving forward in a more comfortable manner.