“I read the definition of Imposter Syndrome and felt an internal, ‘Oh, shit…’ roll from my stomach and rise to my throat.”
These are the words, more or less, I said to my therapist yesterday. It was one of the three subjects I wanted to bounce off her as we talked. This last one — impostor syndrome — felt like I needed a bit more of her help to navigate what I felt was some kind of new self-diagnosis. In particular, I really just needed her to let me know if I was being a mental hypochondriac or not. Quite honestly, I don’t even remember where I read it. Was it Reddit? Instagram? Google News page? What I do remember is that sinking feeling. It felt like being guided in front of a nondescript door, turning the handle and finding myself sitting there.
According to the APA, this little syndrome is described as a “phenomenon among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” Sure. I am a high achiever in that I want to be found good and fair. I want to know my intentions are pure in whatever I am doing. I guess this is where it rears its little head. Because when I receive compliments or am told I have influence, I kindly thank the sender and file it under, “Yeah, sure. OK. I am a fraud.”
It wasn’t until I read how many others are coming to an understanding they, too, “suffer” from this syndrome that I turned the knob. After I told my therapist all this and asked her opinion, she was silent. I kind of was expecting a “yes” or “no,” but instead she told me to think of the influential people in my young life (i.e. parents*) who would have had the control over encouragement in my life.
Did I receive positive affirmation as a child? Did I feel encouraged in my ideas/thoughts/endeavors? When something good happen, was my effort recognized?
I think we can see where this is going. Unfortunately, I spent childhood to young adulthood believing my opinion did not hold water. Working at a gym at 18? Get a new job, Breanna. It’s not a good look on you. It’s not successful. Working three jobs instead of two? Now I’m proud of you. What kind of car does he drive? Image matters. Even my husband has inadvertently played a part! Thankfully, we talked, I could giggle at it and he apologized.
As we talked through a lot of this, I had what felt like a hole open in my chest; that opening the door to myself feeling. I felt sad for my inner child. Who could I have been? What could I have done if I believed in myself more? Is this why I didn’t even try to push for a four year university? I have always felt inadequate. Like I’m lying my way through life, just waiting to be found out.
With that little hole in my chest, I chose to be compassionate with myself. God, I have come so far in this healing journey. My therapist reminded me that in counseling, it feels like we keep going over the same things, when in reality, we begin to look at things differently — in a new light or at a new angle. This is just that.
I think 26-year-old Breanna would wallow in the What Could Have Been, but 30-year-old Breanna wants to build a garden instead. I want to fill that hole with fresh new soil and plant seeds. Because What Could Be is now what matters. I know it will be work — hard work — to redirect the compliments I receive. It will be important work for me to be sure of my voice and who I am; from my words on and off the screen. But if I have put in this much work in therapy (seven years!), I am arriving right where I should be.
* This is learned behavior, right? Somewhere along the way, it mattered to parents’ parents and so on. Instead of playing a game of blame, I want to focus on healing that wound and moving forward.