“Faking It”: A Study in Impostor Syndrome

How many times have you found yourself in a situation and thought, “I don’t belong here. I’m not at all qualified for this. I’m not smart/experienced/good enough for this.” Maybe it’s a job, school, even a relationship. You feel like a fraud. You feel like you are the one faker that slipped through the cracks without notice, and everyone around you is better and belongs there.

This is called Impostor Syndrome. Caltech Counseling Center (random reference) defines Imposter Syndrome as “as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.” In other words, you always feel like you are not good enough, despite the evidence that shows you are. You dismiss all your qualifications, accomplishments, and strengths and worry that any moment now you’ll be “found out” by others for being a total fake.

I have felt like this my whole life, and when I first read about Impostor Syndrome I had this mini-epiphany. I was like, “THAT’S IT! That’s ME!”  I thought I was the only one. Apparently, it’s pretty common, especially in those who are successful and/or high achieving.

If you’re in recovery for an eating disorder, it’s likely that you are a perfectionist, so perhaps you’ll even recognize Impostor Syndrome in yourself. A lifelong perfectionist myself, I have a hard time ever believing I am good enough. Sitting in my college classes, I’d think, “I’m definitely not smart enough to be here. The admissions counselors must have accidentally let me in here alongside all these people who are ACTUALLY smart and capable.” My good grades? Not evidence that I am smart or a good student–probably due to a combination of easy classes and luck. In my internships and jobs, I’d be overwhelmed with thoughts that told me it was a fluke that I was hired–these people must think I’m more qualified or responsible than I actually am. Even in my own relationships, I feel that those who care about me MUST be seeing someone else entirely. I feel like they don’t see all of me because if they REALLY knew me, they’d realize I’m not that great.

I’d wait, panic-stricken, for the moment when others realized my shortcomings and a teacher would tell me I wasn’t smart enough, or I’d get fired, or someone would dump me for being boring or stupid.

None of my worst fears ever happened. I never walked into a classroom or office to be greeted by my peers with a big “GUESS WHAT WE KNOW YOU’RE ACTUALLY A HUGE LOSER” surprise party. I wasn’t an impostor. And to take that a step further: even if I had failed a class, messed up an assignment at work, or gotten dumped, it wouldn’t have anything to do with my worth as a person. You are NOT your achievements.

However, it’s high time we all start recognizing that we don’t suck in every way imaginable. Be proud of your achievements–whether it’s your GPA, your promotion, or someone saying they like your artwork. You ARE qualified to be at your school or job; it’s not an oversight or a mistake on the administration’s part!

It might even help to make a list of things that prove you are talented, smart, and capable. Maybe you got a scholarship, maybe you had a glowing recommendation from your music teacher, maybe an acquaintance complimented your photography, or maybe your idea was picked up by upper management.

You’re smarter, braver, and stronger than you think. You’re not an impostor.

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One.

I guess every blog needs a first post.

I’ve had blogs in the past–there was my Xanga at age 15, on which I mostly talked about inside jokes with friends and complained about Driver’s Ed. There were a few vague, pseudo-poetic MySpace blogs. And then there was the secret WordPress blog I had from about ages 17 to 20. Unfortunately, all have been deleted for different reasons, but a piece of me wishes I had kept them so I could better reflect on the many, many changes my life has seen.

Now there is this blog–the blog of a 23 year old woman living in recovery from eating disorders, depression, and self harm. It’s a scary move to make for someone who has spent years fearing things like honesty and vulnerability. But I’m going to attempt to be as honest with myself and others as I can, because I think it’s time to.  Augusten Burroughs once wrote, “The truth is humbling, terrifying, and often exhilarating. It blows the doors off the hinges and fills the world with fresh air.”

I think it’s real what they say, that the truth can set you free. But I think it also sets other people free. When one person tells their truth and shares their story, it empowers others to do the same. It shows us that we’re never alone.

There are hundreds of people whose stories have showed me that the deep, dark feelings I carry inside me do not make me terrible or broken or hopeless. They often make me feel very isolated (oh my god, feelings about feelings–this blog is getting meta already), but in reality they connect me to others. They make me human. But if you never hear another person voice a similar feeling, you’d never know that you weren’t alone.

I think it’s important for our communities (especially the mental health/recovery community) to have as many voices as possible in order to reach across the lines of secrecy and shame we draw for ourselves. Because even one voice, even one “Me too” can change things. I know it has for me.

Not to get all self-righteous, but I guess that’s why I decided to start writing again. Partly for me, and partly with the hope that maybe my story can help someone realize that there is always hope and of course, that recovery is possible.

So, here goes nothing.