What Is Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome comes up a lot for writers. For those who may not know,
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or interpret it as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be. While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally.Wikipedia
Moving forward, I’ll be using the term established writer to indicate someone who has consistent publishing credentials and non established writer to indicate someone who doesn’t.
In my own writing group, I have seen established writers discuss their Imposter Syndrome (sometimes by name, sometimes by symptom). I actually hear more self doubt from established writers than I do from the new writers in our group, which makes sense based on the definition above.
Though I don’t want to dismiss anyone’s feeling or internal distress, I do wish established writers would take more care in how they discuss their Imposter Syndrome, especially in a public or widely open space (such as a writing group) where unestablished writers may feel the need to validate established writers. That is not inherently wrong. One of the great things about a writing community is how writers can support each other beyond the words put down on the page. But there is a line, and if an established writer establishes a pattern of talking about their Imposter Syndrome with an expectation of validation, that is taking advantage of certain boundaries, where other participants may feel the need to put forth the emotional labor of validation without necessarily consenting to that because they may feel they have no other choice in order to remain true to the purpose of the group, which is supporting other writers.
Questions about imposter syndrome come up a lot in contexts like writing conventions as well. I’ve heard various answers (two common ones that I’ll address later), but one that I’ve yet to hear is that people who struggle with Imposter Syndrome should speak to a therapist regarding it.
That’s it. That’s the answer. Talk to a therapist.
For those who don’t have the funds to do so, there are online resources that can help. The wiki link actually goes into some detail. Internet searching how to manage imposter syndrome brings up a plethora of links with guides as well.
I attended a writing conference, where the keynote speaker was a widely well known author and the inevitable question about Imposter Syndrome popped up.
Two answers were given:
- Channel the confidence of a mediocre white man
- The con man theory — which is basically just Imposter Syndrome under a new name since it relies on the idea that the person suffering from Imposter Syndrome is grifting those around them.
These are actually the most common answers I’ve heard. I’m sure there are others but these are the two I’m focusing on.
Confidence of a Mediocre White Man
As a white nonbinary lesbian, this does not speak to me. When I learned about feminism, it was presented as equality with white men, essentially gaining the equal opportunity to oppress communities alongside white men without impunity. You can read more about white feminism here.
A really good visual of this also was in a recent episode of New Amsterdam when Dr Goodwin tried to solve systemic racism at the hospital. He gathered the top paid doctors, white men and women, to see if they would cut their salary to address pay imbalances to their Black peers. Lauren Bloom’s response was to get back to her when they talked about pay discrepancies based on gender, even though only white people of various genders were already in that room. Her salary was greater than Floyd’s, a Black surgeon, top of his field, but she did not care about that.
Real life proof of this can also be seen in the hype when that white woman, ceo of Bumblr, became the first female billionaire. Yay. Feminism.
I know this sound bite of channeling the confidence of a mediocre white man isn’t supposed to be drawn to the conclusion that I have drawn it towards–and yet, as a white person myself, I feel this is the only logical place for it to end. The confidence of mediocre white men is what created the Joss Whedons of this world, and I know that I, as a white nonbinary lesbian, can just as easily become a Joss Whedon myself simply because I am a member of an oppressor class. Though I cannot change my whiteness, I can choose not to align myself with white masculinity, and I don’t think the confidence of a mediocre white man can be separated from said man’s whiteness.
Pretend You’re a Con Man
Like I said earlier, this is basically just imposter syndrome repackaged. Even if it wasn’t, I have to question if self deception or pretend is the right answer.
I do think there is a place for fake it until you make it, but I don’t think it should be the end all, be all. Imposter syndrome is created from legitimate issues regarding the self. This brings me once again to therapy, or self driven research to practice healthier and more positive thought processes.
What truly frustrates me about the con man approach is that it encourages hiding and putting away the Imposter.
The Imposter Inside You
When I thought I had IBS, I did a ton of research on it, trying to find ways to manage it. One site, I wish I remembered which one, posited that I had to address my situation mentally: you are going to be uncomfortable, don’t resist the discomfort and the pain.
I know this is hardly a new philosophy, but sitting on the toilet, gut in agony, it was new to me.
I’ve since attempted to extend this thought process towards the rest of my life.
The Imposter inside you needs kindness and compassion, not tricks designed to hand wave it away. What you need to tell the Imposter within you, who is also you the Writer, will depend on who you are, and what you need. But don’t hide it away under a grift or channel it into someone you don’t want to be.
I need to tell my imposter it’s okay I don’t write every day because I am busy managing an OCD flareup. That it’s okay I’m struggling editing my 90k word draft because I’ve never done it before. Of course I’m still struggling. Of course I don’t know what I’m doing. This is my first time, after all, but I will learn from it as long as I keep trying.
I tell my imposter I know they’re just the whisper of self doubt built up by years of everyone expecting perfection and great things from me during my childhood, instead of acknowledging that I was a child, and that sometimes I will fail, and that failure is natural, it’s okay, it’s the best way to learn. I still remember me as a child, dressed in my best dress because they wanted to look and feel nice, but became rigid with embarrassment while Mom yelled at them because they had made a mistake. Their brain looped with shame that they had failed while wearing their best dress, and why did they choose to wear it when they were so undeserving to look nice when they weren’t nice on the inside? Is it any surprise that that child secluded themselves in the caves of their heart, only to grow into the Imposter?
That kid deserved a hug, and so I hug my imposter, and tell them that it will be okay. We will get there together.
And I go to therapy.