Impostor Syndrome

Prioritizing the next 28 days

I’ve just completed my fourth 28 Days to a New Me accountability challenge.

  • I got active in May by commiting to 15 minutes of daily activity. By the end, I was exercising 60 – 90 minutes a day. I was excited and confident, feeling encouraged and supported. I lost a little weight, my clothes fit better, and I was managing my symptoms better.
  • In June, I tracked my eating. I exercised the first couple of weeks, but dropped the activity when other things got in the way. Since I’m already self aware and cognizant that my food choices and eating patterns are way out of whack and very much a reflection of how I’m doing psychologically and emotionally, I’m not really sure I accomplished much.
  • July was the Ultimate Blog Challenge and I reestablished a daily writing habit. All self-care practices went out the window.
  • I decided to develop a book in August. I wrote daily, but the book has not happened, yet. Other things needed to be written and ability to write these past two weeks has been severely challenged.

Although I stayed in action all 28 days of each month’s challenge, I’m feeling very dissatisfied with myself and what I’ve accomplished. I recognize that some of that feeling is the damnable Impostor Syndrome rising up. However, I can’t help but feel as if the inner critic has valid points I need to evaluate.

I know I need to commit to the exercise and nutrition again, because those are the things that enable to me to manage my symptoms better and allow me to stay in a more constructive and positive frame of mind. I also know that I’ve been “dabbling” with my writing and it’s beyond time to get serious about actually developing it into something I can earn an income with. Otherwise, I will need to push myself mentally, emotionally, and physically to start looking for employment again, which could mean going back to pushing papers and being in an office where I’m serving an broken engine or system instead of actually having a constructive impact other than exchanging my time for a paycheck.

Luna is starting full-time Head Start on the 12th. I’ve already been in talks with the program director about volunteering and learning grant writing. I’ve spoken with the HR person and discussed a modified parent training program where I take the classroom ed portions of the Certified Teacher Assistant training program they offer. I’ve got the study books on hold with the library to study for the National Career Readiness Certification program offered by the local employment office. I’m fearful that I may have to set aside these plans for improving my skills and just take any job that can help our family financially, even if it just keeps us treading water and not moving forward.

The purpose of the 28 Days accountability group, is to create something new, to transform. There’s a part of me that feels as if revisiting previous goals is “cheating.” I feel I should recommit to exercising and writing, while adding on something new. After all, being successful in following through in one thing for 28 days and then dropping it when the next thing comes around isn’t really creating lasting change, is it?

Since, my ultimate goal here, isn’t actually losing weight (though that would be nice) or publishing a book (which would be affirming), it is about becoming a wholer person. (Yes, wholer. A concept taught by my friend, Steven Shomler, is that we may not be able to achieve actual wholeness, however we can continue to move into wholerness.) My heart’s desire is to be able to live a more integrated life inside of myself and be less segmented and compartmentalized. To let go of the the controlling manipulations which keep all my separate pieces contained and restrained. My goal is to create a balance between living my life for others and living the life I want for myself.

I recently watched Cloud Atlas and one of the things repeated throughout the movie resonated completely with me:

Sonmi-451: Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

The present I am currently living is the future birthed from past crimes and kindnesses of myself and others. As is the present my adult children are living and experiencing. This future was created from chaos, confusion, and conflict. I’m striving to birth a new future for myself, which will, hopefully, build into better futures for those whose lives I touch. Making choices and decisions from the paradigm of self-satisfaction and building a life of material survival and comfort will not birth the future I envision.

A new friend shared this video clip with me today:

Since I’m an eclectic learner, I needed to see the actual words as well as hear them in the video:

We are all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions, moral choices. Some are on a grand scale, most of these choices are on lesser points. But we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of our choices. . . . Human happiness does not seem to have been included in the design of creation. . . . And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and even to find joy from simple things, like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more. ~ Crimes and Misdemeanors, Professor Levy

The September 2013 28 Days to a New Me (sign up here) goal stems from my remembering that transformation works from the inside out, not from the outside in and that the basis for reprogramming thoughts, emotional responses, and behaviors stems from inner spiritual transformation. Back to the first three steps: I can’t, God can, I think I’ll let Him.

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Impostor Syndrome Redux

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I posted an update in my Dream Stoker Nation group about the recommitment to writing here on my blog, despite only being able to do it from my phone. In the update I included information about the new things I’ve been doing with it, as well as some of the positive feedback I’ve received regarding my writing. I also mentioned a couple of things I’ve done to connect with others to offer my writing services in order to expand, grow, and hopefully eventually be able to earn an income with my writing.

One of my actual long-time friends is part of the group and told me I was doing great. I responded that I wish I could internalize that.

“Repetition helps.”

“Hmmm, I must be repeating the wrong things.”

The fact of the matter is this: no matter how many compliments I get about my writing, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of this belief that I’m a massive failure and screw-up.

My self-identity is so intricately linked to my relationships – with my kids, especially my son, as well as others, and with my ability to stay consistently functional and take care of the day-to-day basics of parenting Luna, maintaining a relatively clean home, and just being able to feel like I’m capable of having normal connections with other human beings.

I had a big blow a couple of weeks ago and experienced another major rupture in the relationship with my son. Somehow, I suspect this rupture is one that could take decades to repair – and there is nothing I can do about it, because, at this point, it is about his journey, his process, and his healing from our past together.

The words he said to me weren’t malicious, but sincere reflections of how wounded he has been by our relationship and representative of his perspective and perceptions.

They hurt. Deeply.

I feel like I’ve failed, even though I now have the best understanding I ever have as to why, despite my many efforts to be a better parent, a more stable person, and not toxically co-dependent I’ve never been able to be that person. I also have come to understand more of the layers and complexities that have worked against me, both internally and externally, that have contributed to my lack of progress in getting and staying out of the poverty cycle and subsistence living.

I know I write well, generally speaking. I’ve always loved words and books. Reading was my escape at an early age. Rote repetition of spelling words like I was in a spelling bee was almost like a compulsive, nervous tic I had as a child. In middle school we had a section on poetry and created our own poetry books. Mine had sanded plywood covers held together by twine, yarn, or some kind of textile. I had painstakingly drawn a picture of a white, winged unicorn, and a bright, colorful rainbow. The pages contained my best, initial efforts at all the poetic forms taught that quarter: Acrostic, Haiku, free verse, couplet, limerick and other forms which escape my memory.

Later, in regular high school, I struggled to write papers and essays. However, when I returned to complete my High School Diploma (the GED I had earned wasn’t good enough for me, I wanted my diploma) I became the editor and a writer for our school newsletter. In college I excelled in my writing courses and fell in love, again, with writing, especially poetry.

Writing has been the only thing I’ve ever done consistently well.

Bit by bit, as every relationship and friendship I had bent, broke, and dissipated, words have been the only constructive thing – and even they left me, or I them, for a long while, writing sporadically over a span of twenty years. Words and writing have been central and integral to my healing and recovery over the past year and a half. I think they’ve saved my life and they are the only way I know to express the deepest and truest parts of me – who I’ve been, who I’m becoming, and who I want to be.

I’ve never known, recognized, or understood myself or my emotions without writing. Expressing my feelings only truly happens when I write. Otherwise, I’m a mask of indifference, exhaustion, sadness, or rational thought and action.

So, receiving compliments about my writing does feel good and I can accept them. However, when those affirming words spread into statements about how I’m functioning or what a great, amazing, wonderful, strong, person I am – I feel like an impostor and a fake.

If my son can’t see those things in me and I can’t see them in myself, then how can total strangers or distant friends who only read my words, genuinely see the real me? I must, somehow, be manipulating and putting on a front, in order for others to see and say those things.

None of that is true, and I know that, in my head. But, it’s who I was and how I operated most of our lives together. It’s what his experience of me has been. It’s what I’ve internalized and what my heart and mind are used to believing about me, my character, the very essence of who I am.

Progress is being made. I’m learning who I am in and through love and faith, with the help of a lot of different people – including my son. The shame and guilt I’ve lived with are mostly gone. Now there’s sorrow and grief, which I’ve never learned to deal with constructively, and I’m working through those things, in the only way I know how – with words.

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No Impostors Here

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A week ago, when I attended the Opportunity Conference to get help in the fight against poverty, I got connected with Nassandra, a young woman who has fought her way through it and has achieved educational goals I stopped dreaming about a while ago. We exchanged phone numbers, connected on Facebook, and scheduled a meeting for next week to discuss the things that have gotten in the way of me pursuing the education and credentials that we all believe will help bring an end to the cycle of poverty in my life.

I had forgotten that I’d told her about my blog. So, when she contacted me yesterday and told me that she’s read some of what I’ve been writing, that I’m a great writer, better than grad students she knows, I was floored. It was gratifying but at the same time, I wound up undermining it and said this:

Wow, Nassandra. Thank you so much. Writing is what I want to do, but my research tells me I need a degree to actually be employed as a writer.

Basically, even though I’ve been writing this blog for a year and a half, have gained more than a small handful of regular readers, and been asked to contribute my writing to a couple of other endeavors, I still – underneath it all – have difficulty accepting that others see me as a writer. I feel the need to qualify and clarify because I don’t want to be seen as if I’m presenting myself as something I’m not.

That was when she shared this:

“Often people (especially women) who have been or are in poverty have a very hard time internalizing any accomplishments. . . sometimes referred to as imposter syndrome.

I had never heard of it, but I did recognize it in myself, so I did some research.

According to Tara Kuther, PhD. Impostor Syndrome “is feeling that one hasn’t earned his or her achievements – that the achievements are the result of luck. It is very common among high achieving persons…” (About.com Graduate School – “What is the Impostor Syndrome”)

The Counseling Center at CalTech explains it this way:

Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.

This inner sense that nothing a person achieves and accomplishes truly was earned or belongs to that person – that his/her gifts, talents, skills and strengths aren’t real and don’t matter can have devastating consequences in academic, professional, and personal lives.

People who are driven to succeed and appear incapable of celebrating an achievement before diving in and pursuing the next goal may be suffer from this. Others may be uncomfortable with and dismissive of compliments. Some may develop a front of bravado and superiority, acting as if they have all the answers all the time, needing to be the authority or “go to” person.

It is even possible that this inner sense of being an impostor can cause a person to stop achieving to his or her potential out of the stress and tension from worry and fear that their imagined fakery and inabilities will be discovered and so as not to be placed under too much scrutiny he or she may avoid applying or competing for jobs, grants, and scholarships.

The correlations between a childhood where emotional and psychological abuse and/or neglect, in either the home or other social environments, and where poverty, conflict and struggle to survive exist may all play a role, as indicated in this article where case studies of two successful men who struggle with Impostor Syndrome are detailed.

A recent example where that sense of, “If they only knew the REAL me, they wouldn’t say those things about me,” happened while I was participating in the June 28 Days To A New Me accountability group. As my final entry of the month, I posted this:

Day 28 – Team Pride

It was a very challenging month. Thankful to have been participating in this group because these have been the kinds of things that have led to me giving up on hopes, goals, and dreams in the past. Now, partially thanks to the lessons, encouragement, support, and mutual accountability I am making different and more constructive choices.

I figured out why that was, during the conference on poverty and opportunity I attended last week. The speaker, Donna Beegle, reminded me of something I’d once heard and forgotten:
For every negative voice/message/person in your life, three are needed to combat and overcome the negativity.

I have had few positive people and messages in my life with any kind of consistency and regularity. That is changing with the 28 Dayers. Thank you all.

The response I got was very overwhelming to me and I found myself shaking and crying uncontrollably for a few moments.

“Here’s the thing that you also need to commend yourself for. These voices are here for you but you still have to reach out for them and also share your voice with others.

We can attest to some packing it in after only a few days. You have to WANT it within yourself as well. And you clearly do. So, pat yourself on the back for sticking it through even when the big resistance hits.” Robert Kennedy III

I have come a long way on my journey, but realize that I do often not reach for things, partially because I have internalized messages that I don’t belong or that I don’t have what it takes to succeed and that the achievements and successes I have had were exceptions and accidents of chance, etc. rather than due to my own efforts and ability. This has contributed to me surrendering my hopes and dreams and giving up on myself. Which, in turn may have led to others giving up on me as well.

With this new realization and understanding, I now know another piece of the puzzle that is me and I am connected to people who are helping me fit the pieces together so that I can continue moving forward into creating the life I want.

Are you, or do you know, someone who has difficulty believing in his or her own personal achievements and accepting the accolades and rewards of accomplishment and success? Does fear of discovery and self-doubt haunt your thoughts and dreams or rise up to dissuade you from pursuing a goal or dream?

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