Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Impostor Syndrome

It started coming to the forefront of my mind several weeks ago when fellow blogger Captain Sweatpants asked a question about the Awesomeness of Women in this post.
He asked: Why is it that women don’t ever admit that they’re awesome? Do you actually know you’re awesome but just don’t want to verbalise it? Or (this is worse) you don’t even realise you pure awesomeness?

My inner voice told me, "Yeah, you're awesome. You do all this great stuff, multi-task with the best of them, have a great career, a wonderful family...."

And literally that's when this tiny whisper of another inner voice started to speak. I couldn't hear her very well at first, but she reminded me that I hadn't been living in this happy state for very long, and it could come crashing down on me at any moment, and it would be all my fault.

Truthfully, that second inner voice, who I know know as my Impostor voice, has always been there, whispering all along. You can't even finish high school, let alone graduate college. What kind of parent are you to let your child escape the house and almost run out into the road?

In response to Captains question, I tried mightily to prove that I am awesome, and I know how awesome I am with this post. My own challenge the day before was to have fellow lady bloggers talk about their accomplishments, career, personal or otherwise. It didn't matter. Say something about how wonderful you really are. The three responses that I got amounted to saying that it was a difficult task, and never went any further.

In my work, I am constantly afraid that someone will somehow figure out that I feel like an impostor in my chosen field. That they will challenge the validity of my choices, and that they will want a 'real funeral director' to come and take over.

Then when the Impostor Voice goes from a whisper to a being heard clearly, it runs through me like some sort of rabid infection, telling me that I am not a good enough mother, wife, sister, auntie or friend. She reminds me of my failed marriage, and incompetence of being a provider, communicator, lover, nurturer, and teacher. Her oily voice changes and takes on toxic qualities that make me doubt my relationships with everyone I know, pressing me to stay home, alone and quiet, lest the world find out about the real me and that I am not a good person. Oddly enough, at that point her voice sounds just like my mother's.

I have been dealing with it for awhile, beating that voice into submission, when something else pops up. Lousy sales of my home made candles. A problem with communication at work. An article that Gail wrote that "People have all kinds of reasons and excuses for not saving money. And then there are the people who act like they’re saving, only to end up tapping those savings to cover their butts. "
Later in the article, she wrote, "Hey, if you aren’t saving, regardless of what your excuse may be, you’re an idiot." And cue the toxic voice again. Just like that. Reminding me of my failures, and that I can blow through a $1000 emergency fund in 12 seconds that took me 12 months to build.

Some tidbits about this syndrome:

The impostor 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.

"Others deal through extraordinary effort, working harder than everyone else while secretly convinced that if they were really smart, they wouldn't have to work so hard."

"People who feel like imposters often have high, unrealistic expectations of themselves, perfectionist issues, and the conviction that they shouldn't be struggling at all.

Tomorrow: Ways to deal with this syndrome, other than letting it have free reign over your life.


  1. "People who feel like imposters often have high, unrealistic expectations of themselves, perfectionist issues, and the conviction that they shouldn't be struggling at all."
    That's me to a T.
    When I was in teacher's college I wrote an essay that showed that boys were the "elite" in every classroom and girls had to work twice as hard to get their teacher's attention.
    Not only that but my own mother clearly preferred her two sons to her three daughters.
    I really think it is a gender issue with women having to strive 10 times harder to earn 1/10th of recognized accomplishments.
    I know there are very confident women out there - perhaps the younger generation will not face the same challenges or feel as inferior as we have.
    As a teacher I've often felt like I'm an imposter, that I'm not doing a good job, that everyone wonders what the hell I'm doing in the position I'm in.
    You've hit a nerve here Eboo, and it's a topic we need to face up to and explore more.
    I was one of the female bloggers who was unable to write about her own awesomeness. Just the thought makes me uncomfortable.

  2. April, you are NOT alone. I could have written that entire post. I FEEL that way too, about my career, about being a mother and wife, about being a daughter and friend. I'm afraid people will figure it out, that I'm not actually as good as I might appear on the surface. I don't like to talk too much because I don't want to sound stupid or child-like. I fear that my opinions will be challenged and I won't be able to defend my position, which will make me look even dumber. And I sometimes hear my mother's critical voice ringing through my head too, telling me to "get my head out of the clouds", "stop trying so hard to get a guy", "clean my house", "cut my hair", "stop wasting money on nonsense". It makes me feel like a total failure at life. I fight that inner feeling every day of my life. I think it's what keep me from feeling joy and contentment.
    ~ Makky's Mom

  3. I feel that way all of the time. Others that I work with feel that way to an extent too. I had a very wry, ready for retirement co-worker always say to the new people "Just fake it till you make it honey!"
    I hear the same critical voices whenever I feel out of my comfort zone. (Not a very big zone I promise you)
    Was it growing up hearing that I lazy and useless? Booksmart, but can't boil a pot of water, no man would ever want a girl like me, and far worse. When I was a child/teenager I believed what my parents said I was. And now in moments of weakness I still hear them. So very stupid because I have become 10 times the person that either of them could ever be.
    It is a internal battle Eboo that I think many women fight daily. Sometimes you feel that sense of imposter taking over and somedays you are stong enough to beat it down.
    I don't know when a woman will believe her own awesomeness. I still don't have an inside that matches what I've accomplished on the outside.

  4. this is a really interesting concept...i'm looking forward to reading your follow up tomorrow.