Have you heard of Impostor Syndrome?
I feel like that phrase is being thrown around all over the place right now. I’m constantly hearing people talk about feeling like an impostor and their fear of being discovered as a fake. I’m not a physiologist, and neither are the people that I hear mentioning this. But it’s a psychological term referring to how people doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a fraud.
I won’t pretend to speak to the psychology of this experience. But, I will speak pastorally to some of the anxiety that I see coming from people who live under this kind of pressure.
I believe this is due in part to the kind of society that we live in. We are a culture that celebrates people who appear to have everything together, we tell people to manifest their dreams by living as though they already exist in their ideal reality and we are fascinated by the Instagram worthy photo of people’s beautiful lives. With cultural priorities like this, we create extreme pressure on people to put on a facade that is perfectly impressive.
So many people feel like they have to compete with perfect ideals that cannot be achieved. We compare ourselves to others who are faking it and feel pressure to fake it better than them.
Anyone living under that pressure is bound to feel like a fraud.
A Tale of two extremes
The first of the two extremes at play is a reversal of relationship roles. Think about it. On social media, we have people sharing their deepest struggles with strangers across the globe in search of validation and acceptance. All the while, many of these individuals are unable to share their feelings, struggles or thoughts with the people who should be journeying with them.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to share your feelings online. I do it. But, online community is not a replacement for eyeball-to-eyeball relationships. Vulnerability online can’t be a substitution for vulnerability in other relationships.
It can be healthy to share your life with people in person and not online. And it can be healthy to share with people online and in person. It can’t be healthy to share online and not in person.
You need reciprocity in relationships. And you need people who you upset and they still show up for you. Believe it or not, you need people who sit with you while you cry and laugh with you when you laugh.
The Few, The Proud
Everyone should have a few people that truly know their soul- and whose soul they know. While you can and should be vulnerable with more people, there will be few who are your closes friends and confidants. Just because your ‘friend’ or ‘follower’ count rises, does not mean you have more friends.
Geography doesn’t necessarily matter. Before my husband and I got married, we dated and were engaged long distance until the final 3 months before our wedding. During the first part of our relationship, we only saw each other every 6-8 weeks. My best girlfriend lives 10 hours away from me and my family is across the country. But these people all know things about me that the internet world will never know. Frankly, they know things that the internet can’t ever know because we’ve spent time together, gone through trials and losses together. We’ve laughed all night long together.
Experience builds bonds that can’t be replaced.
Share what you want in your public persona. But, whatever you do, make sure you also have people with whom you share in private.
The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.Henri Nouwen
Is it possible that sometimes people feel like impostors, because they are?
I’m not saying this is true of those who genuinely struggling with the psychological symptoms of the syndrome; those who are high achieving and struggle with the fear that they’ll be discovered as a fraud. But, I’m talking about the many who I hear talking about Impostor Syndrome. I believe that many of them feel like they’ll be found out as a fake because they’ve been faking it.
There are so many people around that build up a fake public persona that is not authentic to who they actually are. Maybe you’ve been guilty of this. I know there are times in my life when I have been to some degree. But, what can be sustained for a season, cannot go on forever.
When the interior and exterior of your life don’t match, you’ll burn yourself out trying to keep up the facade.
The closer a match you have between who you are in public and private, the more integrity you have. Integrity meaning integrated, whole and undivided. Scripture tells us that a house divided cannot stand. In the same way, a life divided can’t stand. And eventually, you’ll feel as though you’re going to be found out and piece by piece, you will crumble.
If you are who you are, in public and private, there is nothing to fear.
If you live with integrity and authenticity, then you don’t have to live with the anxiety of assuming you’ll be found out. There will be nothing to ‘find.’
Keep your relationships in right order.
King of your heart.
The One who knows you better than yourself, the One who formed you in your mother’s womb, the One who has plans for you that you haven’t yet conceived, is the first One with whom you can and should pour yourself out to. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God invites you to abide in Him as He abides in you. This is should be the closes relationship of your life.
A few close friends.
If you’re married, this should include your spouse. But regardless, it should include a few close people who are with you through thick and thin. They’re also people that you’ve committed to be with through thick and thin. We all need this layer of community and there is no substitute for it.
All the other people; acquaintances, other friends, social media. Everybody else falls in line here. None of these people can or should know everything about you. They might be great friends or great online friends, but they come third (or fourth, fifth, tenth…).
Build a real life
Don’t build a fake persona. Integrate your public and private life so that who you are is who you are. When you refuse to fake it and you accept and embrace who God has made you to be, you will find a whole lot more life in influencing people and you’ll find it a whole lot easier because it will be real.
Put an end to comparison.
It will always be a trap that draws you in and steals your soul. The best way to kill something special is to compare it. Comparison kills. It will kill your dream, your personality, and the fire in your belly.
If you want to stop feeling like an impostor, stop comparing yourself because it will always drive you away from integrity and toward a disconnect between your private and public self.
Learn to accept and embrace who you are and who God has called you to be. Yes, strive toward growth. Push yourself to be better. Allow the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to conform you to the image of Christ. But, resist the lie that says you need to keep up with everyone else and “fake it til you make it.”
What about you?
I’d love to hear from you. Do you struggle with feeling like an impostor? What do you do about it? How do you keep your relationships in order? And how do you live with integrity?