What would be necessary to create the (albeit convincing) illusion that we call imposter syndrome? This post is the first in a series that outlines the psychological phenomena behind imposter syndrome as I have experienced it.
As I’ve grappled with imposter syndrome over the course of my adult life, a key element of the experience stands out. Namely, the personal beliefs that create social scenarios in which I feel like a fraud.
Beliefs are like lenses through which we view the world. In many ways, our beliefs determine the reality we see before us, including the perceived reality that accompanies imposter syndrome.
What is imposter syndrome?
That might be summed up by 4-time Oscar award-winning actress Jodi Foster:
Imposter syndrome occurs when you feel like a fraud; an illegitimate person who is faking it or pretending to know what you’re doing. When you succeed, you attribute the success to outside forces (luck, circumstances or other people). Yet, when things don’t go well, you blame yourself first.
As an imposter, you can never take credit for good things that happen. And since you feel compelled to take the blame when things break bad, you’ve set yourself up for a lifetime of self-consciousness and fear of being exposed.
You’re most comfortable hiding behind a false front. But life is life and if you want to survive, pay the bills, and maybe even have some fun, you must mix it up with others, which can feel like walking on the edge of an emotional cliff. At any moment, someone could call you out, claim you don’t belong and push you off!
Life is that kind of cliffhanger for someone with imposter syndrome. You’re always on the edge of emotional disaster, which is taken as yet another sign of fraudulence. If they only knew what a total wreck I am, they’d shun me!
What does it take to see yourself and the world in this way?
Given that you are not actually an imposter in the way you imagine (it only feels that way) then you must be emotionally distorting reality to arrive at imposter syndrome. And nothing is better at distortion than personally held beliefs.
Here’s the formula I’ve discovered in myself: Conclude (consciously or unconsciously) that something is true and then perceive the world accordingly. In many cases, we self-inflicted imposters don’t realize we’re looking through distorted lenses. Under the circumstances, we have no choice but to believe what our imposter perception tells us (and feel the effects) because we don’t know we are believing anything.
Imposter syndrome feels like a fact.
As someone who’s been there, I understand how miserable and lonely and pervasive and hopeless it all seems. To feel like you do not belong among your fellow humans; that you must put on a show and try not to reveal who you are – and feel hopeless that you’ll ever find a safe place among people – this is a path of quiet desperation.
In this blog, I hope to offer regular insights into how we get trapped into the perceived role of an imposter and how to escape. For me, lesson number one has to do with personal beliefs. When we understand that our unconsciously held beliefs create a mental trap, we can begin to root out those beliefs.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more lessons learned from imposter syndrome on this blog.