Are you full of confidence or have you ever suffered from Imposter Syndrome? Tell us all about it.
Definition: The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with 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.
The Imposter Syndrome sounds uncomfortably familiar to me. For much of my life, I felt this way. I never felt good enough, accomplished enough, pretty enough, intelligent enough. I always measured myself with a yardstick that was too long, so I always fell short. No matter what I did, it was never enough, and for many years I suffered feelings of guilt whenever anything went wrong, feeling that somehow it was my fault.
On the outside, looking in, I don’t think a lot of my friends would have known this. I did what I was supposed to do, had friends, socialized and had a good time in high school and college. Still in the back of my mind was the feeling that I would never get find someone who cared for me, wouldn’t get married — I felt unloveable.
I was relieved when I did fall in love and get married, but I think there was this subconscious feeling that my husband had “saved” me, and for a long time I was concerned that he’d fall out of love with me because somehow he’d see I really wasn’t worthy of his love. Children followed, and they loved me unconditionally, and I them. I tried to be super-mom by giving them attention, quality time and creative things to do, and taking them many places to expand their horizons. (Please don’t think I was a helicopter mom because I wasn’t.) They have turned into wonderful people! (Not perfect, mind you.)
At some point I knew I was in trouble, after they’d all gone to school. I was anxious and depressed and realized that I had no idea what made me happy. I didn’t know what it meant to feel joyful, and was leading life only vicariously by doing what others wanted or expected me to do. Why was I alive, what was I supposed to be gaining from the “life on earth” experience? I wondered. I was playing a role, but it has getting harder to stay in character.
First I got psychological counseling, and further along, started going to a psychiatrist to seek some balance in my life (which did involve medication). I wanted to feel less guilt and resentment, to have more courage to be me, and to feel that I was worthy and it was okay to be me, imperfect though I was. (Yes, we all are.)
There are some keys to these feelings which I didn’t really put together until I had to. I survived my childhood just fine, but it was marred in many ways. My father died (by suicide-bipolar disorder) when I was 14 e.g. he left me. My mother was a woman who liked to be taken care of; it was how she’d been raised by an efficient accomplished mother, and a strong-willed father. My father, bless his soul, was definitely head of the house and the provider (no thought of mom going to work), and I believe my mother felt this was just as things should be. The argued a lot, loudly, hotly, and unfairly. When my mother was having a bad day or I was irritating her, she’d say, “Oh, I wish you’d never been born.” I must had made her pretty tidy life more difficult. Even after my father died, she never sought to support us, and lived close to her parents, who helped raise my sister and I emotionally and financially. It is their lifestyle that I copy most in my own household. They were wonderful grandparents.
So, there are reasons why I felt like I didn’t measure up. I’m glad I got the help I needed and was ready to change in order to be the person I was meant to be. I feel like I’m myself now, and while I still play life close to the vest, that’s fine. I don’t have to be the most popular girl in the neighborhood, the funniest person at a party, or the best wife and mother (let alone housekeeper) in the whole world. I’m just me, and now I know who that is. There’s always room for improvement and learning new things, but it comes from a desire to change (not because I should), or our of interest or curiosity.