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.