First of all, I want to take some time to elaborate on how difficult it was for me to find the right cover art for this blog. What exactly does an imposter look like? What does someone with imposter syndrome look like? As most of you know, I use Canva to create a lot of my blog art. At first I searched for “imposter” but nothing relevant came up in the results. After that, I searched for things like “thief,” “poser,” “wannabe,” “disguise,” “fake,” “uncomfortable,” and “outsider.” None of these terms were giving me exactly what I was looking for and eventually I stumbled upon the current cover art when I searched for “outcast.”
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Wikipedia (I know, not the most reputable source but it’ll suffice for the sake of this post) defines Imposter Syndrome as follows:
“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be. While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally.”
I just finished reading 52 Pep Talks for Writers by Grant Faulkner. Inside, his 21st “pep talk” is titled “Treating Imposter Syndrome.” Towards the beginning of the piece, he writes, “Authors are especially susceptible to imposter syndrome because writing is such a vexing labyrinth of self-doubt. What does it take to feel like the real thing? Writing every day? Finishing a book? Finding an agent? Publishing a book? Getting reviewed in the New York Times? Appearing on the Tonight Show? Have writer friends? Famous writer friends? Per Maya Angelou, even all of that sometimes doesn’t suffice.”
Basically, it boils down to thinking that you’re a fraud, you’re going to be found out, and you’re minimizing your accomplishments.
Why do we have Imposter Syndrome?
It’s so easy for us to talk down to ourselves but we have other people talking down to us all the time. We’re brought down by society, our own friends, and our family.
I never really considered myself as having a low self-esteem. I always felt confident in my ability to write but at the same time I have a lot of moments of self-doubt and I think all writers struggle with that. At least a lot of us talk about it.
In Dr. Abigail Brenner’s post Why Do I Feel Like a Fraud? on Psychology Today, she poses questions to readers on why they might feel this way. Three topics she highlights are personal relationships, profession life and early upbringing.
Many who know me understand that I believe in the “private life,” something that people seem to not value these days. Besides my blog and Instagram, I stay away from social media. I don’t need to know who is dating who, who is getting divorced, who everyone is voting for along with their stance on every political issue, who is taking a shit at the dentist… you catch my drift. We live in a world where people no longer respect the bounds of privacy. We are a society that encourages voyeurism and encourages the sharing of too much information.
As such, my close, personal relationships are with three very select people. No one knows me better than those three in what I’d like to call “The Inner Circle.” There is an “Outer Circle” too that consists of perhaps twenty people but they are still held at arms length. Those three individuals in the “Inner Circle” are the only people in the world that I feel I can let go and truly be myself around. But even then, there are times I hesitate to say what I truly feel or mean due to fear of judgement.
It’s silly because they’ve never judged me before. In fact, that is how they go to that “Inner Circle” to begin with. But that fear is still there. Why? Probably my upbringing- done by a highly judgemental family.
I don’t feel like I can be myself around my own family. I always feel like I need to have my guard up when I visit them. Which is part of why I hate going to visit them. It’s emotionally and psychologically exhausting. It’s such a waste of time; it drains me and I don’t feel like it adds any meaning, value, or purpose to my life. After all, some of the most hurtful things about who I am, what I’ve done and what I haven’t done (to their standards) is what rings in my head most times. I grew up feeling like nothing I said had any value.
In Rachel Hollis’s bestseller, Girl, Wash Your Face, she mentions that as the youngest of four children, she was mostly ignored unless she did something good. I was also the youngest of four children and most often ignored and left to my own devises… unless I did something wrong.
When I first went to college, I was shocked when people stopped to listen to what I had to say. It took me awhile to get used to because I was so used to being talked over or ignored. Whenever I tell people that I’m not on good terms with my family, they want to know why. There’s no amount of explaining that I can do to articulate 32 years of feeling like you’re not appreciated… feeling that you’re an outsider in a family you were born into. If I truly wanted to patch up the relationship, I would but the problem is I don’t want to – I don’t care to.
To some people, family is everything. Their immediate response is that “you should patch things up.” To me, that is such a close-minded response. Not everyone’s family dynamic is the same. I know that there are shittier people out there. It could have been much worse but that doesn’t mean that bad things didn’t happen or horrible things weren’t said… Things that may affect me for the rest of my life.
No. I am not where I want to be with my career. Sometimes I look at my age and I think to myself, “Why wasn’t I more serious about such-and-such in college?” or “Why didn’t I see how important this one thing was and pursue it when I was younger?” We all have regrets even though we try not to. Even though I hate my current job, I recognize that without it there are many things I wouldn’t have learned… So many great people I wouldn’t have met. Whether I like it or not, it has shaped me into the person I am today.
In short, I work with imposter syndrome almost every day. Rarely, if ever, do I feel like I’m supposed to be right where I am. In Grant Faulkner’s closing remarks to his own Pep Talk he states, “Whatever you tell yourself is the truth.” He’s right there. The trust is what we make of it. That is easier said than done.
How do we cope with Imposter Syndrome?
Hold on to positive things.
I used to keep a word document filled with positive reviews of my writing. I called it “My Wall of Vanity.” The title itself suggests that I was ashamed at receiving praise for my writing… that I was being “vain” in rereading good reviews. Keeping a positive document like that is nothing to frown upon though. Those were real, organic reviews, written by people who didn’t know me from Timbuktu. I hope I still have it saved somewhere.
Stop the comparison trap
Another way to treat Imposter Syndrome is to stop comparing yourself to others. When I was on Facebook, that was all I did. I was part of many “writing” groups and often compared myself and my work to what others had done. If anything, that made me feel like more of a fraud. I kept thinking, “Why am I in a group with someone who has published 8 books?” or “Why am I with people who write 3,000 words a day on top of working a full-time job and being a parent?” Stop comparing yourself! Everyone does things differently and that’s OK.
For a few weeks now I’ve been thinking of writing a blog about Going Viral vs Adding Value. We’ve got too many people in this world seeking their 15 seconds of fame instead of trying to help others. As long as you as genuinely interested in adding value to others’ lives as opposed to seeking self gain, you’re not a fraud.
We all make mistakes. No one is perfect.
Making an error or being wrong about something doesn’t make you a “fraud.” Everyone is wrong several times in their life. Hell, I’m wrong about something at least 5 times a day… at least. And I’m far from perfect. Stop trying to do what others expect you to do and instead, do what you feel is right. Do what you feel is what you’re meant to do. No one can live your life but you.
What about you? Have you ever felt like a fake? An imposter? Please comment below with your experiences.
Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores, sushi restaurants, and small town cafes.