On being an imposter

Monday, April 11, 2016 Permalink

I thought I’d continue with a couple of themes I’ve raised recently on the blog.

I almost ventured onto this topic when I wrote about adulting… and the fact that – at 48yrs of age – I tend to look around for the adult in the room when things get too complicated.

And then there was last week’s post about failure.

Late last year I read an online article in the Huffington Post that could have been written about me. And that’s why we all love the interwebz isn’t it? We discover we’re not alone and not the freaks we assume ourselves to be.

The article was about the fact that many of us feel inadequate. We feel as if we don’t belong. It’s not just a self esteem issue or one of confidence. We feel like frauds; and living with the stress of others discovering this secret can be debilitating. It can mean we don’t try. At all. Ever. Often as a result of crippling anxiety.

It’s called the Imposter Syndrome – coined in 1978 after a study involving 150 successful women found many did not experience internal feelings of success, instead putting their achievements down to good fortune. The study found they didn’t believe they DESERVED their success and believed it was only a matter of time before their inadequacies were discovered.

imposter syndrome

It seems risk aversion and a fear of being our authentic selves is something commonly experienced by those struggling with imposter syndrome.

Now… I’m not saying I’m a highly successful woman. Indeed – I’m not and never have been. But I’ve had some pretty good opportunities. Many of which I put down to luck. Or being in the right place or right time. Or ‘playing the game’ to get what I wanted.

I’ve often experienced self-doubt and have previously written (a lot) about the fact I struggle with my sense of ‘worth’ and and the feeling of not-belonging.

One of my fave bloggers, Carla Birnberg, wrote about impostor syndrome just after I’d seen this article. Carla talked (in particular) about the fact we feel like frauds when things come easily to us (motherhood and writing were her examples). We shrug them off instead of acknowledging their value to the world.

I recently had something which was / could be akin to an anxiety or panic attack. I ‘suffer’ from other weird and wonderful ailments, including an overindulgence in sarcasm – but not anxiety. However… I was reminded that I often felt ‘overcome’ when I was at University.

I never really felt like I belonged there. I could occasionally ‘hide’ in a large lecture theatre and cope with the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach and the sense of claustrophobia which overcame me… But attending tutorials – with a small group smart people who deserved to be there – was just not something I could do. (And yes, it’s a wonder I eventually got my degrees!)

Author and life coach, Karen Anderson recently shared a dream she had of her own college and graduation experience and her battle with imposter syndrome. I could very much relate to those feelings of not being ‘enough’. Of not belonging. And of being a fraud.

belong

Karen talks about the impact that trying to hide our feelings of inadequacy can have on us. And she reminds us that feelings or emotions are not proof. Just because we feel ‘unworthy’ doesn’t mean we are.

Carla suggests we stop comparing ourselves to others. And yes… that comparison trap is really a bitch. She also monitored her self-talk and stopped with (what she calls) the ‘onlys’. Most of us deflect compliments from others, but not allowing ourselves to feel a sense of success or accomplishment can mean we have very little to celebrate in our lives.

The Huff Post piece suggests we start by admitting how we’re feeling. I’ve always regretted not having a life partner at times like this as I tend to think of partners as those who see your faults and accept you anyway. I feel like I share A LOT with my girlfriends, but often draw the line at things which will make me look weak. Or bad. I know they see and know my faults, but unless I can laugh about them… I don’t want to go there.

Being closer in proximity to my mother helps. I know I can share the most shameful things with her and she won’t (hopefully!) think any worse of me.

I’m still kinda working out what I do and where I go next. My biggest concern is that I don’t follow my dreams because I’m too paralysed by fear. Fear of failure, AND fear of not really being who or what I say I am.

But more on that another time…

Have you ever suffered from imposter syndrome?

PS. I should note I’ve gone with the Australian spelling of imposter. Rather than impostor. In case you were wondering!

I’m making an attempt to get my blogging mojo back by posting EVERY day in April. #holdme

I’m going to be using prompts from a few different challenges underway. Today I’m linking up with Kirsty from My Home Truths for I Must Confess and the A to Z blogging challenge, where (apparently) we’re up to the letter ‘I’! 

Free images (with my text) via Gratisotography.

38 Comments
  • Mystery Case
    April 11, 2016

    Nothing wrong with faking it till you make it, as long as you’re not being a copycat.

    • Debbish
      April 11, 2016

      True and hopefully most of us can avoid that.

  • Michelle Weaver (@pinkypoinker)
    April 11, 2016

    I feel like one every time I write a blog post. It’s funny what you said about Uni because that was one place I didn’t feel like an imposter. I think the worst place for me was mother’s groups. I just didn’t ever feel comfortable. I had a few parts in theatrical productions with professional actors and felt like the biggest imposter ever. I’m just a bundle of anxious insecurity really.

    • Debbish
      April 11, 2016

      Carla mentioned feeling like an imposter when it came to motherhood – which is what reminded me of the adulting stuff. (Not being ready and just winging it!)

  • Kathryn
    April 11, 2016

    Indeed it is up to the letter I. My gosh you write so well. I was a teacher for 40 years and always felt like an imposter and my last Principal would get so annoyed when he gave me a compliment and I would brush it off. It is wonderful you can share with your mother, mine has passed on now, but I was never that great with sharing with her, mainly because I was the oldest of ten and felt when young she didn’t have time to listen! Her grandchildren adored her and some of them shared everything with her!
    Hmm didn’t know there was another version of the spelling of imposter!

    • Debbish
      April 11, 2016

      When I was looking for Carla’s post her search functions kept telling me it didn’t exist, but I was sure I remembered it… which is when I discovered the ‘or’ thing. I thought I was wrong initially but then googled to check and both are used by ‘er’ more common in Australia.

      And thank you for your lovely comment about my writing. That’s so beautiful. xxx

  • Bec
    April 11, 2016

    I know exactly what you mean. Exactly.
    No I don’t believe you can “fake it until you make it” because one never becomes that person who, in their own opinion at least, “makes it”

    I’ve met a couple of others with this little problem, however, I’ve met more with the opposite problem – have no idea what they are taking on, no idea how to deal with it and yet never realise their own shortcomings! Wonder what syndrome they have?
    Has to be a happy medium!

    • Debbish
      April 11, 2016

      Interestingly Bec when I searched for images (ended up ‘making’ my own) there were some examples of imposter syndrome and its opposite. I’m not sure if they named it… just calling it ‘overconfidence’ I think!

  • Jess
    April 11, 2016

    That is is exactly how I felt the whole time throughout my degree (Science and Law) I convinced myself I only got in because I worked way harder than most. And whilst I worked as a Lawyer I kept waiting for the moment when someone would realise I wasn’t smart enough.

    • Debbish
      April 11, 2016

      I very much felt like that at Uni Jess. Particularly when I was studying Commerce. In retrospect I wonder if I felt I didn’t ‘fit’ in for reasons other than not being smart enough. I hate thinking about my University years. In fact when my brother and SIL moved close to ‘that’ side of town I felt really stressed at the idea of having to go back there. It had so many bad memories for me.

  • readerbuzz
    April 11, 2016

    It’s hard for everyone to admit weakness and to bravely go for our dreams. The first step is to think about what is holding you back, which you have done here. Now step forward…just a little step. Good luck!

  • karenclanderson
    April 11, 2016

    Thanks for the shout out Deb! It really does help to know we’re not alone…and to know that they’re just thoughts…not the truth!

  • Carla
    April 12, 2016

    I’m afraid I’m going to tan shit now but this is the brain dump I’ve been carrying in my cranium all day 🙂
    I’ve committed to myself to get back to writing fiction. And yet I’ve become fearful as he mention above that I won’t be able to do it. That what is in my head is so amazing but when it’s finally written out on the screen it will suck.
    To tangent even further I don’t understand when people have fear of success – – I would love success. I fear the failure. I also apologize for going off on a tangent and falling down a bunny hole <3

    • Debbish
      April 12, 2016

      Thanks for inspiring me Carla and as for the fiction…. go for it!

  • Denyse Whelan
    April 12, 2016

    I know something of what you mean and I wonder if any guys have imposter syndrome? I know I have always needed my confidence built by external means (ie degrees, outward trappings of ‘success’) but it’s only in recent times I know I need to do this from the inside. I am telling myself messages with much more kindess and care now and it’s helping. Until we conquer it ourselves and for ourselves no amount of ‘others’ helping us will totally convince us. I agree that having someone who helps us check-in with ourselves as we do this is really good. I am fortunate in that. I am glad you can talk to your Mum. I could never have done that! See, everyone has unique and great qualities and your relationship with your mum is one! Denyse

    • Debbish
      April 13, 2016

      I suspect some men must experience it Denyse. They are just probably less likely to admit it (not wanting to admit to weakness etc…)

      And yes, I am lucky in my relationship with my mum.

  • Ingrid Ingrid
    April 12, 2016

    I can totally relate to this post. Yes I have imposter syndrome about quite a few areas in my life and sometimes wonder at people not calling me out as an imposter but when I think about it more logically I realise that I work hard at the things I do and I do them just as well as others who I definitely don’t think of as imposters. It is hard to get out of that imposter thinking mentality however.

    • Debbish
      April 13, 2016

      Yes it is hard to get out of that thinking isn’t it Ingrid? I can be quite logical and a therapist suggested years ago that I try to analyse myself less subjectively… ie. look at my behaviour / achievements (etc) as if they were a stranger’s / consider whether there’s any scientific proof that they aren’t legitimate or that I am a fraud (etc). But again… easier said than done.

  • nicolethebuilderswife
    April 12, 2016

    I had never heard of the term until last week, while when I wrote a post about how I feel about what I do at work. It was mentioned to me that I needed to google imposter syndrome. Made for some very interesting reading! Working on the way I think about myself now 🙂

    • Debbish
      April 13, 2016

      Oh absolutely Nicole… it’s interesting and (but) also hard to change our thinking!

  • yinyangmother
    April 12, 2016

    I’ve definitely felt imposter syndrome – particularly as a mother having adopted our kids – ie not a ‘real mother’. And more recently I’ve felt it in relation to being a yoga teacher – only in the last month or so has it really clicked that I am a ‘real’ teacher. I think we feel like imposters most when we are trying to do something that means a lot to us and are so most scared of failure (I’ll have to go back and read that post). So maybe your feelings of being an impostor are shining a light on the direction you should head in,

    • Debbish
      April 13, 2016

      Oh yes Kathy – that’s probably the case!!!!

  • Dr Sash @ From the Left Field
    April 12, 2016

    Great piece! Ha, imposter syndrome is my life. And I’m meant to teach people about being all over it and building self worth. 🙂 In a way, it’s not a bad thing to have a little self-doubt. It makes us reflect, and reassess and look at what we can do to build on what we have. But too much and it can cripple us into going nowhere fast. Trying to find the balance is the challenge.

    • Debbish
      April 13, 2016

      Oh very true. But hopefully possible?

  • Karen B (@KissinBlueKaren)
    April 12, 2016

    Great topic! I am an imposter, but I have been here so long that it is my home. I think we are all imposters as some point and it is only by forcing ourselves into places we do not belong that we ever get anywhere. Those people that think they belong anywhere are the weird ones. I never thought about it as being an imposter, but I do get sick of being the “new person” in places and trying new things is getting old for me (or am i getting old?). I think change is a part of life. Being an imposter means you are stepping out of your comfort zone. We can’t grow unless we step out, and if we wait too long we will be forced out anyways by that change that is constant.
    That made sense in my head, I hope it makes sense to you.

    • Debbish
      April 13, 2016

      It does Karen and I like that approach! Dr Sash below talks about balance and I think you’re saying the same thing. Stepping out of that comfort zone a little is a good thing!

  • Char
    April 13, 2016

    This is exactly what put my son in such a bad place a couple of years ago. He felt like he’d just lucked out on getting his degree (he got a Dean’s Scholars Award one year – not much luck in that) and he was a total imposter in his profession. It’s such a harmful way of thinking. Lots of therapy later he mostly believes that he deserved his degree. But some days the fear is still there.

    • Debbish
      April 13, 2016

      Oh that’s a hard one Char.

      Interestingly I actually struggled with this when I first got my redundancy – leaving work and taking time off. I felt like I hadn’t deserved it, that I wasn’t worthy and that I was a fraud who SHOULD still be working. I felt guilty that I was able to not-work for a bit. I really had to remind myself I’d ben in the workforce for 25yrs straight and was ALLOWED to take some time off. I’d earned it. And my lack of mortgage and debt and (minimal savings to live on) were all things I that I created for myself.

      I thought of that time when I was writing this and realised how weird it was to be feeling like a fraud or an imposter for doing NOTHING! 😉

  • Haidee@Maybe Baby Brothers
    April 13, 2016

    Comparison is a bitch! I’m so bad at comparing myself to others, it can be really detrimental to my wellbeing if I let it! Can definitely understand what you are saying. #TeamIBOT

  • Theresa
    April 13, 2016

    I tried submitting a comment earlier, but got an error – if there is a double up I apologise.

    I really resonated with the adulting post also, but this post could have been written about me it was so spot on! I struggle with the imposter syndrome (who knew there was a syndrome!) daily with pretty much every aspect of my life. I have struggled to get my blog up an running specifically for this reason . Who would like to read what ‘I’ have to say?? Surely they will come to the realisation pretty quickly that I am clearly a fraud (read imposter)!!!
    I really admire people lie you who can get past this negative self image/ self talk and just do it anyway – I am trying…

    • Debbish
      April 13, 2016

      Not sure I’m past the imposter syndrome thing yet Theresa. I’ve got a separate post about my foray into freelance writing and supposedly setting up an online writing business and the fact that I really didn’t ever try to sell myself because I wasn’t sure that was fair to potential clients. #eek

      I’m the same now, I want to pitch articles to magazines or online sites (mostly the latter probably) and receive payment but am not quite confident enough yet!!!

      PS. I should mention when I started blogging in 2009 I didn’t promote my posts at all as I really didn’t think anyone would want to read my thoughts! (I suspect people aren’t always interested now but do so out of obligation or – perhaps – the occasional post hits home and resonates!) 🙂

  • Tory
    April 13, 2016

    Definitely feel like this with being a mum. I constantly say things like ‘oh he’s a pretty good sleeper, but I know its just luck!’ or ‘Oh we are lucky that he’s so sweet natured’. Sometimes I should just accept that at least a little bit of my son’s good qualities are down to my husband and I as parents because we are good Henry parents. Great post!

    • Debbish
      April 13, 2016

      Thanks Tory. I think I mention in the post that Carla made the point that she particularly felt like a fraud when it came to motherhood as well!!

  • laurelrainsnow
    April 18, 2016

    Great post! I think about comparisons and how we imagine others are doing much better, and how we have to pretend or fake it in order to fit in.

    Someone once told me that when we compare ourselves to others, we are comparing “our insides to their outsides.” Beneath their facades are the same, or similar insecurities. That helps me.

    • Debbish
      April 20, 2016

      Very true Laurel and I have a habit of only comparing myself to those who have more, not less!

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