Beautiful frauds: Dealing with the impostor within

My journey to becoming a counsellor

Judgement does not come suddenly; the proceedings gradually merge into the judgement.

Franz Kafka, The Trial

During a conversation with some of the others from my course, the concept of impostor syndrome came up recently. This got me thinking back on my own life, and the times in which I have felt inadequate, as if I don’t deserve to be in the position I’m in. The times in which I’ve felt a fraud.

Of course, like so many of our neurosis, this feeling is nothing unique to me. So many of these feelings we see as so unique to ourselves, the ones we feel the most shame over, are often perfectly normal, and felt by many.

It is important to note that, whilst it may work alongside one, “impostor syndrome” itself is not a form of psychosis. It is not an illness such as bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia. No. It is a natural byproduct of the ways in which our mind works.

In fact, a 2019 survey of 1000 UK adults had quite shocking results. 85% of those surveyed admitted to feeling inadequate or incompetent at work, despite having been in their job for at least three years! It even found that one in four of this people admitted to experiencing these feelings either often or all the time.

The impostor and expectations

Interestingly, impostor syndrome is most common in women and those who come from minority ethnic groups. This is something I find hugely interesting, and I believe to be vital in how such feelings come about. Personally, I believe that a major cause of impostor syndrome is when our personal truth diverges from the cultural narrative in which we find ourselves. It is a failure of expectations.

Because of this, you may wish to consider this post a spiritual successor to my earlier blog on expectations. As a recap, that blog explored how our expectations of where we should be in life often work to stop us from making positive and meaningful steps forward. You see, we may believe – quite wrongfully I add – that we need to be at a certain stage in our life’s narrative. For example, by thirty you may believe you should be married with kids, getting ready to settle down. This however, is simply the story society tells us, and we may judge ourselves harshly for not following along. Despite being our own authors, we review our lives’ stories in accordance with the greater narrative society gives us.

I posed the idea that, in order to live a fulfilling and honest life, we must not be afraid to fight against this pre-designed narrative. We’re all different, and following another’s story over our own does nothing but breed anxiety.

So yeah, expectations can stop us from living how we should, but how does this help elicit the falsehood that we’re impostors in our own lives?

Well you see, we use the world around us to make sense of ourselves within any given situation. If you spend your whole life wishing to be a doctor, once you reach that stage, you may measure your success in terms of how much your current reality matches the narrative you’ve learnt of what “doctorhood” actually means. So yes, you may have the qualifications, passed all the tests and proven yourself beyond the shadow of a doubt. But you may still feel lacking.

Perhaps you’re a female in an overly masculine narrative? Perhaps you’ve immigrated from another country and find yourself culturally distinct? Perhaps you aced the tests with little revision, and doubt your credentials as you’ve lacked any of the struggle the narrative dictates?

It can be something big, or something small, but it only takes a single thing to create that tension and for a dissonance between your life and expectations to settle in.

You may not even realise it, but this friction between your reality and expectations can cause you to grow insecure, and anxious. Worrying that you don’t truly belong.

Fake teacher

My clearest experience of such feelings was during my time as a teacher. Despite having a degree in English and having studied teaching, I always felt like an impostor in the classroom. A charlatan who would be found out at any moment.

These thoughts, alongside other anxieties at the time, got in the way and stopped me from ever being able to settle successfully into the role.

There was no symmetry between my truth and expectations of what a teacher could be.

A billion different stories

So what can we do to re-calibrate these feelings?

Whilst it is a complex subject with numerous facets, I feel a large part can be through re-framing our understanding of the social narrative. We, as people, tend to follow society’s narrative as if it’s an absolute. We don’t question it. After all, it’s our road map.

It stops us from losing our way.

Beyond this, we are social creatures. We want to fit in and are programmed to believe everybody is living this exact same narrative. As a result, we can begin to imagine judgement from those around us if our course deviates. We begin to believe we’re the outlier.

The trick is to realise that nobody’s story is the same. We’re all unique. A billion contrasting networks of thoughts and feelings struggling for some semblance of synergy. The problem is that we think everybody else fits together and we’re the only ones on the outside. In reality, there are little correlations. Just a lot of lost puppies struggling for structure, and when it doesn’t fully match up, thinking they’re the ones that fucked up.

Of course, whilst understanding this on a logical level may help somewhat, our psyches sadly don’t work through a system of logic.

This is about changing our feelings. Our Story. Our unconscious foundations.

The answer?

I wish I could offer some quick fix. But emotional change takes time. This can often take place through a variety of actions. You may use positive affirmations to shift your mindset. To tell yourself a new story.

Another process for rewriting this story could be hypnotherapy. This is an approach I will be trying alongside my fellow trainee. This can be used as a method to interact with ourselves on the unconscious level of imagination.

“Logic works with the conscious mind, but imagination is the language of the subconscious. Hypnosis helps the subconscious by enhancing the ability to imagine.”

C. Roy Hunter, The Art of Hypnosis Mastering Basic Techniques

It lets us engage with our stories through their own language.

If you are struggling, hypnotherapy may certainly be an option. However, when issues become more complex and multi-faceted, things may need a higher degree of unpicking.

In these situations you may wish to invest in some counselling. This can really help us in broadening our understanding of our own stories. Think of the anxiety as a knot, and the counselling physio. It may help us to locate it and begin the journey of making amends. It may even offer us some exercises to take forwards to help in our recovery.

For a lot of cases, counselling or hypnotherapy might not even be necessary. Perhaps it is just the need to step back and take a more considered approach to life. Whatever the case, it is something that can be helped, and we don’t have to sit back and accept these feelings.

And if we are feeling unworthy, like an impostor in our own lives. Don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal, because there is precisely no such thing as normal. Just a collection of beautiful frauds.

So what do you think? Have you ever suffered from impostor syndrome, and if so, what has helped you?

Thanks for taking the time to read this, wishing everyone a happy, healthy Christmas.

All the best,

Shaun.

x

Published by BeBetterShaun

A keen ultra runner and trainee counsellor and psychotherapist. I am looking to promote a positive well-being and looking after one's mental health whatever your situation. "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." Carl Jung

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