Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is frequently an issue for creative people. The fear of finding out from the reactions of others, that you’re a fake, or not equal to what you said you were doing. It’s not just a creative person issue however.

This week I’ve noticed a number of invisibly bi folk (not just me) struggling in the wake of the ghastly Orlando shootings to know how to respond. Not feeling gay enough to speak as an LGBT person. Fearing that the appearance of straightness will make any empathy sound like straight people appropriating an LGBT issue – which has caused more than enough hurt and anger already. Bi people hear that it’s just a phase, that we are sluts, indecisive, want it all, are greedy, fickle – and worse. No doubt there are all kinds of things trans and genderqueer people hear to invalidate their experiences, too. We’ve a long, vile history of telling gay and lesbian people that they are ill and need curing.

I get it around health issues too, and I know that’s not just me. Being largely invisible, mental illness often isn’t afforded the same care and respect as physical illness. Long term physical illness and disability is not reliably taken seriously enough either. My physical issues vary. On a good day I can walk twenty miles. On a bad day, walking from the bed to the computer is about as much as I can take. I know some people will see the good days and disbelieve the bad ones. Most chronic conditions vary in severity from day to day. A person who sometimes needs a wheelchair may be treated as a fake because there are also better days when they don’t. This is grotesque.

I expect to be treated as an imposter, because I don’t conform to other people’s ideas of what I *should* look like. I’ve had a lot of disbelief to deal with around physical and mental health issues. I’ve spent my whole life being told I’m just making a fuss about matters of pain, and despair. I’ve been laughed at for expressing distress. Again, I know it’s not just me, and I know of more extreme cases where disbelief has lead to serious dangers. Larger people whose health problems are ascribed to size, with no other considerations explored, are being treated as impostors, putting their lives at risk, for example.

On the writing side, it’s about being part time. ‘Real’ authors – the famous ones – can write full time. Those of us who can’t make it work (most of us) and do other things as well as writing can experience a lot of feelings of being an impostor. It doesn’t help that this is often reinforced by people looking in from the outside, happy to say ‘well it’s just a hobby, isn’t it?’ How odd it is that whether something is perceived as a calling is determined by the cash flow it creates. Again, this happens to a lot of creative people, and it can seriously undermine confidence. It can be soul  and life destroying to be told you aren’t real. Van Gogh couldn’t make it pay, either, to name one of many.

I’ve had it happen around emotions – being told that what I feel is preposterous, overblown, unreasonable. A denial that my feelings and experiences have validity. Again I’ve seen it happen to others, too, seen how it silences and diminishes people, causing them to be less involved, less honest and less themselves.

Who has the right to judge? Fluffy bunny, fake guru… we do it all the time in Pagan circles too, denying the validity of other people’s paths and practices.

And what happens when we all shut up and conform to whatever the collective notion looks like of who we are supposed to be? If we all make ourselves smaller, and claim nothing… does that make the world any safer for the supposedly ‘proper’ and ‘real’ people? If everyone who had been slapped down as an impostor stayed down, who, and what would we have left?

If it wasn’t so commonplace to see other people being rubbished, perhaps impostor syndrome would be less of a thing. Perhaps if rubbishing other people wasn’t such a socially acceptable activity, we’d have a lot more people able to express their own truth. If we were quicker to question the knocking down, rather than assume there’s a problem with the one taking the knocks, rather a lot could change.

Imposter syndrome needs re-framing as a problem with the eye of the beholder.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Imposter Syndrome

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I have a rule, promise little. then do more than you promise. In other words promise less than you think that you can comfortably do, then do a bit more. Much of our failure comes from getting talked into promising beyond the amount we can comfortably do. As a result we always end up doing less that we promise and feel bad about it. We all are human and we all have our limits. We at least should be honest with ourselves what we can likely accomplish. Occasionally we may be able to do more, but do not set more as the daily limit ever.

  • Scott Tizzard

    I had a great discussion with friends the other day on the subject of physical and mental health. We discussed why there exists a difference in social perception between the 2. During the discussion, no one could quite explain why they socially treat physical illness different than mental illness. By the end of the discussion we came to a conclusion as to why we tend to socially treat mental illness differently from physical illness. The reason: Mental illness socially manifests in behaviorally unpredictable ways from what are the anticipated social array of norms and morays. What is unpredictable and random induces fear. To my friends, a broken arm or cancer does not invoke the same manner of fear. I do not think people wish to purposely exclude persons with mental illness from their lives; but they are afraid of what they cannot understand and predict on a very personal level. This is, I think, a primary challenge. I realize this issue has many complicated facets, but further discussion is beyond the scope of a brief post.

    • Nimue Brown

      that’s really interesting, thank you for sharing. I think the majority of mental health problems do lead to broadly predictable outcomes – so long as you know what to expect, So the answer here may be more information to make that kind of crisis more predictable.

  • Blodeuwedd

    I agree with almost everything you say here. Except for the last sentence. My experience of Imposter Syndrome (which is pretty much constant) is that it has nothing to do with criticism or others’ opinions of me. I can be surrounded by people saying how well I have done and I will hear only the one person who is criticising. If there is no-one criticising, I’ll make up that voice myself. and I will believe it utterly. All I ever think is that everyone who is saying nice things is only doing so because they do not see all the things I don’t do. There is a big issue here, but for me, its not related to what people say to me.

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