Last week, I talked a bit about imposter syndrome and some of the negative effects that it has. This week, I thought I’d share a little of how and why I know so much about it.
As I’ve mentioned multiple times throughout my blogging here, my father was a textbook narcissist. His constant verbal abuse and emotional manipulation throughout my earlier years had a lot of devastating effects on me. One of those effects was imposter syndrome. Of course, I didn’t know that it was happening at the time- I’d never even heard of it! But little by little, he chipped away at my self-worth.
He convinced me that I didn’t deserve good things.
During my childhood, he repeatedly told me that I wasn’t lovable, that I wasn’t smart and that I was a guaranteed failure (among other things). This led to me not believing in myself, having practically no self-confidence, and feeling like a fraud anytime I accomplished anything or received any praise. I was convinced that I didn’t deserve good things; to a point where I accepted way less than I should have and was hesitant to go for what I actually wanted.
My neurodivergence made it worse.
For a few reasons, my brain works very differently from your typical brain. I have ADHD, chronic anxiety and I’m a big time overthinker. I’ve written in the past about some of these conditions and how they affect me, but to summarize, I’m a bit abnormal. Things that work for others don’t always work for me. This includes learning strategies, focus and consistency, mental processing and even social interaction.
When I was younger, I didn’t understand these conditions and wasn’t aware that not everyone thought the way that I did. I genuinely thought everyone had several different streams of thought going at once, sometimes in fast forward and constantly shifting gears. The idea of a quiet moment inside of your heard was laughable because it was unattainable. Even more ridiculous to me was the idea of letting something go shortly after it happened, rather than fixating non-stop on some random thing you said or did that most likely went unnoticed anyway.
My mind is constantly on overdrive.
Whenever something good happens, I start worrying. Whether it is business related, relationship related, or something else, I worry about it getting messed up. I hear my dad’s voice in my head saying that I don’t deserve it and I start panicking that he might be right. That other people agree with him and it’s actually all a big joke that they’re playing on me. Or that people will discover that I’m not as good as they thought and get mad at me for tricking them and it will all blow up in my face.
I end up looking for my flaws first.
If I can figure out every one of my flaws, then I have a shot at fixing them before anyone else sees them. I have to be perfect because otherwise, everyone will think I’m a joke. People will leave, opportunities will disappear and I will be left at the bottom, alone. Even though logically, I know this isn’t true, I can’t always stop my brain from spiraling with these thoughts which adds a tremendous amount of pressure to my life.
For me, Imposter Syndrome started with school.
I stressed beyond belief about getting perfect grades and doing everything right. If I scored a 98% out of 100, I had a panic attack because I should have gotten those extra two points and not getting them meant I was a failure. That I wasn’t actually smart and that meant I wouldn’t be able to have a good life.
I tried out for all of the teams, joined all of the groups, and stacked my extra-curriculars. This is what I believed I had to do in order to be accepted. I had to do it all and I had to fill up that college application because I had to get into the best school or I would never be taken seriously. I had to prove that I was capable because I was convinced that no one believed I could do it.
Then, Imposter Syndrome spread into friendships.
I’ve always had a hard time making and maintaining friendships. I overthink every interaction and get super nervous about everything I say or do. Constantly worrying about offending or annoying someone, or maybe even boring them… I start telling myself that people are only friends with me because of who I’m related to or who I married or because of some other unavoidable circumstance.
I looked for the backhanded part of every compliment and I found it hard to say no. I’ve always been afraid to ask for anything because I didn’t want to be needy or high maintenance. And I was always waiting for every friend to realize that I’m not fun or interesting but actually annoying and then just leave me.
I had Imposter Syndrome in my career.
Looking back, I believe I’ve been pretty good at every job I’ve ever had. Whether it interested me or not, I could usually take on pretty much any task. If it was challenging, I’d figure it out- sheer determination always pulled me through. I always tried to go above and beyond, trying to make myself invaluable so that my job was never in danger. But I never asked for raises or promotions and generally played it safe. I did things that weren’t part of my job and let bosses walk all over me. Again, I was waiting for them to realize that I wasn’t that great and to fire me. Literally every time my phone would ring, I’d get a bit panicky and think, this is it. I’m getting fired. FOR NO REASON other than thinking I wasn’t good enough.
When I started my own business, I was afraid to make sales pitches because I was so sure I’d get rejected. I was scared to post content because I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously. Instead of believing in myself and my products, which I know are good, I focused on fearing trolls or on people thinking that I was crazy. SO many times I wanted to give up, thinking that it wouldn’t make a difference because no one cared. That I was wasting my time, despite several people reaching out to me telling me that they loved what I was doing or that it had an effect on them.
And finally, I had Imposter Syndrome in my romantic life.
I held a lot of fear in ever relationship that I was ever in. Always worrying that I wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t sensual enough, wasn’t funny enough… that I was going to get dumped or cheated on or hurt because my partner was going to wake up and realize that I was unlovable. And when things like that did happen- because the guy I was seeing was an asshole and not actually because of me- I’d hear my father’s voice in my head saying I told you so and I’d start blaming myself.
In every part of my life, I felt like a fraud.
I spent so much of my life in fear of being seen for the weak fool that I believed I was. It was hard and sad and scary and honestly so exhausting. Trying to be what I thought everyone wanted or needed and being afraid of being honest or asking for what I needed. Striving to be perfect- the perfect daughter, sister, friend, employee, girlfriend, wife, etc… I let people hurt me and use me and practically thanked them for it.
It took my world collapsing to even realize what I was doing.
It wasn’t until a few years ago after being diagnosed with PTSD and getting into therapy that I first heard the term Imposter Syndrome. As my therapist explained it to me, it was like things finally started to make sense. I realized a lot about myself and what I was actually capable of. As I started working on overcoming it, doors started opening and opportunities started presenting themselves. I started to feel happier, more confident, and most importantly, I started to feel like me.
It’s a lot of work to overcome Imposter Syndrome.
I’m still a work in progress and honestly, I’m not actually sure that it ever goes away completely. But, there are ways to combat it and they make a world of difference. For me, it has been so worth it! And so if you relate to anything I’ve shared and think you may have Imposter Syndrome, I highly encourage you to put in the work.
This post is kind of long though, so I’ll end it here and be back next week with some tools and tricks to arm yourself with.