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Imposter! Imposter!

Do you have an imposter idenity?

Key points

  • Some of us live as if we were frauds.
  • Even very successful people can feel as if they are never good enough.
  • But it is possible to live from something much more authentic within you.

Are you afraid you are “in trouble” every time the boss emails you, or calls you to her office? Is it hard to believe that you can really “get it done?” Do you push, push, push yourself to win the approval of the boss or whatever other authority figure you need to please? Are you only at peace when you feel that you have accomplished all those things on your to-do list every day. Do you push yourself to throw one more plate in the air when you are already juggling ten, just to prove that you are good enough?

Maybe you are wondering if you will ever be good enough. Maybe you tell yourself that it will never happen but you have to keep trying to get it done. Maybe you push yourself till you are burnt out, exhausted, and maybe even depressed. Maybe you don’t even recognize that you are burning out, even though you get up every morning saying that you are “so tired,” and yet your mind is always racing to figure out what you might have left out, forgotten, or what you might have done wrong.

Andrea Mathews
Andrea Mathews

The rest of your world may see you as extremely successful. Your boss may have praised you several times. You may have received merit raises and gained prestige and awards for your work. But you still worry all the time that you are going to make a mistake. You still beat yourself up mentally for every tiny, little mistake you make, thinking that this time, they are finally going to figure out that you are not and never have been good enough. In fact, you are a fraud. They are now going to know that you have been fooling them all along, and it’s finally going to come out.

This is the imposter identity, or as some call it, the imposter syndrome. Like every other thing with which we can identify, we can identify with the idea that we cannot ever be good enough. Perhaps we had parents who told us, either overtly or covertly, that we would never measure up to an invisible standard made up by invisible gods. Perhaps we identified with some early failure. Perhaps we lived in an environment where everyone, including authority figures, seemed to be “less than” everyone else in our world. Perhaps we had parents who compared us to others in our worlds, as in, “Why can’t you be like…?" These are some of the ways in which we can develop an imposter identity.

But the good news is that an identity is not actually who you are. It is just a mask and costume you put on in order to fit into, indeed, to survive in a family where that identity was the only one that could be accepted. Therefore, it was the only way you could belong in that family. And belonging is survival when we are young.

Under that mask and costume is a real person. Getting in touch with and beginning to live as that real person is one of the ways we can heal the imposter identity. Perhaps going to a therapist can help you begin to see the threads of the authentic self that you can pull on to find more and more of who you are. Perhaps you will begin to notice long-lost desires that have been waiting for you to find them. Perhaps you will begin to see where you developed this identity so that that awareness can illumine your sense of self. Perhaps you will begin to dialogue with previously silent and hidden parts of yourself. Perhaps you can begin to uncover beliefs and thoughts that you never let yourself know about before. Perhaps you will find emotions that you never noticed before. And then you can begin to put the authentic self into action. When you do this you will have begun to live out of your authentic identity instead of living out of the imposter identity.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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