THE IMPOSTER SELF SYNDROME
The easiest way to explain The Imposter Self Syndrome is an example from school.
THE BASIC IMPOSTER SYNDROME
Imagine that you are not a very good student.
Let’s say in Math (Getting a little close to home for me there!). You constantly do poorly in math. One day, something good happens, you figure out the question and you solve the problem.
You get an A.
The teacher, thrilled, compliments you and says,
“You’re getting it! This bodes well for the future!”
You sense she is changing her expectations of you.
She expects you to do well the next time and again and again.
You panic.”No, no, you protest, this was an accident, a fluke. I didn’t really know what I was doing.
I was lucky. Don’t expect me to become an A student in math…it isn’t going to happen!”
(The image above, right is the the two-headed Janus suggesting the real you and the imposter or the imposter self syndrome.)
IT WASN’T ME!
You are saying that the success was a mistake, that you were an Imposter in that case.
That your real self is not able to do do math and that it would be unfair and stressful for the teacher to expect more than your usual D or C
(Or, OK, F).
This can be a sign of more difficult applications.
Let me tell you a related short story about this.
We were in grade 11. In algebra class.
Paul and I were not doing well at math.
We were editors of the newspaper, did plays, worked in the social events area, the yearbook, did great in English, etc. but not math.
In fact, Paul and another friend failed to get 50% cumulatively, I believe, in four tests over a whole year.
That is, less than 50 out of 200. Not good.
(In one test, Paul got 12 or something and our other friend got 26. Paul accused him of studying.)
What we did do well was write and perform comedy sketches such as those later seen on Saturday Night Live.
We were discussing a sketch in math class one day when the teacher, who could see we were not paying attention–again– called upon Paul to write out last night’s homework on the board.
“Paul,” said the teach. “Come up here and explain theorem no. 7 for us.”
Paul leaned over to me across the aisle.
“Excuse me,” he said. Whereupon he rose, strode to the black board and proceeded to write out the complete theorem perfectly.
The class sat in stunned astonishment.
The teacher had his mouth open and he would have said something but he was struck dumb.
Paul put down the chalk, walked back to his seat and said, “Where were we?”
“How the hell did you know that?” I said.
“I was bored last night so I memorized it, he said. I h ave no friggin’ idea what it means. It’s algebraic.”
It wasn’t that we weren’t smart enough to do math (I could tell you another story about that!), it was that we just didn’t give a damn.
There were reasons: sure: we were more the humanities, English, arts type students. OK.
But we also never had a good math teacher in our lives.
We had four math teachers in grade nine; they left for one reason or another after a month or six weeks each.
(We thought some were kidnapped and killed.)
We never had a math teacher who showed us the magic, the power of math, how it connected with finance or music.
Nothing. Just add up the stupid numbers.
AND do it THIS way, not any other way.
THIS way was: Take a column of numbers : 4, 7, 3, 9, 8, 6, 2 and add up the total.
What you were supposed to do was add, 4, plus 7 (11) plus 3 (14), plus 9 (23), plus 8 (31) plus 6, (37) plus 2 (39)
What I did was add 4 and 6 (10); 7 and 3 (10-running total of 20); 8 and 2 (10, running total of 30) plus 9 for a total of 39.
Whack on the back of the hand!
YOUR’E DOING IT WRONG!
What? It’s the right answer, isn’t it?
Yes, but you did it wrong.
You have to add the numbers up in order (the crooked ones and the other ones) and you have to do it by doing it the RIGHT way.
You can’t skip around like that.
You can easily make a mistake and we can’t check your work.
(I thought it was easier to make a mistake with 9 and 8 than 8 and 2 but no, it was wrong.)
OK , here are three reasons we didn’t “get” math.
- We were constitutionally not drawn to it
- It was never taught properly which would have caught our interest
- When we did it, even when were did it correctly, we clearly did it wrong.
More reasons? Sure.
The teachers had never been taught teaching skills, were not good at math themselves, and therefore didn’t love it and couldn’t teach it.
We could have been good at math but we weren’t.
But we had the brains to do it and were capable of seeing the beauty behind it.
Now this leads to to all kinds of things including the North American ineptitude (in general ) with mathematics.
It also leads to the Imposter Syndrome.
Even when we show that we can get it, we are so cowed and fearful based on our experience that we not only don’t do it we say we can’t do it.
We are incapable of doing it.
We say that the persons who did well on that on that test or question was not us.
That was not me.
That was an imposter.
MOVE IT FROM MATH TO LIFE
We take it from being normal you to being a fake you in the imposter self syndrome.
- What if you are fake, posing as real?
- What if you are sad, posing as happy?
- What if you are gay, posing as straight?
- What if you are married, posing as single?
- What if you are jobless, posing as employed?
- What if you are introverted, posing as extroverted?
Are you in the imposter self syndrome in any aspect of your life?
Would you like to change that?
First you have to know yourself so you have a floor, a base, a core of identity.
Most people do not know themselves so acting as themselves is impossible.
Thomas Merton, the philosopher, says this:
“Before we can realize who we really are, we must become conscious of the fact that the person we think we are, here and now, is at best an imposter and a stranger.”
He’s writing about people who have not done any rigorous examination of who they are, not people who have done so.
He’s saying that without that self-examination we rely on superficialities of our identity.
Not necessarily as superficial as height, weight, and hair and eye color, but habits, inclinations, guesses and preferences about personality and character.
WE LIKE MORE COMPLEX THINGS AS WE GET OLDER
When we are younger for example, we may we like plain colors whereas when we are older we prefer more complex patterns and color schemes.
When young we prefer simple plots and stories but when we are more experienced in life we don’t see things in back and white any more and prefer more context, back-story, and multi-themed books and movies.
We are not drawn to the same things at 16 as at 20, or 30, or 50.
He doesn’t mean we are being deceitful when we are young or when we haven’t investigated ourselves but that we haven’t plumbed any depth to our character and values.
But other people (family, friends, lovers see us in ways we don’t and they may detect some distance between what we press ourselves to be and what we really are.
So we come across to others as shallow when in reality we are deep but unexcavated.
He means we have to play detective to ourselves to unearth the levels of our personality and character.
This takes work and time.
If you haven’t done the work or spent the time, because life is hard and busy–which is completely understandable, perhaps this is the moment for you to see yourself as you really are.
This “imposter” word doesn’t mean you are being fraudulent.
It doesn’t mean you are deceitful or manipulative.
It doesn’t have anything to do with other people directly necessarily.
THE IMPOSTER SELF SYNDROME
The Imposter Self Syndrome means that you might be not be being YOU in the fullest sense.
You might even be fooling yourself.
We have only so many years of life–some fewer than others.
At some point we should figure out who we are–really-and what we want.
It doesn’t matter how old you are or what education you have or whether you are a “success” in the world’s terms.
None of that matters.
What matters is what you think and feel about yourself.
If you are fine with that, then you are fine.
FROM IMPOSTER TO REAL PERSON
If you are not fine with it, why not engage with me in an investigation of a citizen under suspicion: YOU.
The suspicion that you might not be all you can be, that you are projecting a presence, a self, that is not as authentic as it can be.
Does this mean you will leave your spouse, change your career or go off into a monastery?
No, but it could result in you making some changes that you have been getting intimations of for years.
It could be that those random thoughts, feelings, memories or conjectures are telling you something about yourself that you should follow up on.
If so, email me and we can discuss the imposter self syndrome and see if it applies to you.
Briefly, at no cost whatsoever.
I’ll be with you.
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It’s free and place where you can learn more about YOU.