Feeling like a fake – imposter syndrome

“Imposter syndrome” is the name given to the state of feeling like a complete fake in your own life. Attached to the condition is the fearful belief that you (the person with the syndrome), are only one mistake, one wrong move, one breath away from being found out and exposed as a complete fraud.

Once found out, public humiliation is inevitable, and along with it the stripping away of all of the perceived successes that have been attributed to you (the successes you don’t actually believe you genuinely attained).

Loss of financial and social security is inevitable, and the complete annihilation of any shred of self-worth is guaranteed when you are finally revealed as the fraud you always believed yourself to be.

The extraordinary thing about imposter syndrome is that it is commonly experienced by high achievers – the sort of people that most would assume would feel completely confident in life based on their qualifications, experience and the types of positions they hold in organisations and society at large.[1]

Many of these self-assumed, self-described imposters hold multiple qualifications, or occupy what can only be described as high offices or very important roles.

Psychological research has shown that imposter syndrome is slightly more common in women than in men (this is of course contentious with some studies showing no gender difference depending on how they approach the subject – but such is the way with modern science and its manner of analysing the simple to make it mind-bogglingly complex and contradictory).

Whatever the gender frequency, the important point is that it is a condition that impacts on the psychological health of women and hence the quality of their lives. Interestingly, it seems to get worse, not better, with age.[2]

Although imposter syndrome in intricately intertwined with perfectionism, it is not quite the same thing. In perfectionism, nothing that is done is ever good enough. In imposter syndrome, everything that is done feels not only ‘not good enough’, it is also laced with the profoundly undermining sense that it comes from a totally false source – it is not just about flaws in what you do, it is about being flawed in who you are.

Of note, imposter syndrome is not an official diagnosis – it is an informal description of a state of severe and crippling inability to recognise, acknowledge and lay claim to one’s own abilities. It is not a recognised psychiatric condition with a place in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual (DSM) – the massive volume of potential psychiatric conditions with which a human being can be diagnosed.

This is a very interesting lack of official recognition, in spite of it having a prevalence of 9-82% in the population depending upon the type of study, the questions asked and the way the responses were analysed . Instead, diagnoses will be made of the many accompanying and inevitable surrounding conditions such as depression, anxiety and in its extreme, suicidal ideation.

Naturally a woman will feel depressed and anxious when her successes feel fake to her, when nothing she does is good enough to quell her discontent with herself, and her whole life is poised on the knife edge of being ‘outed’ as a total fraud.

Just consider for a moment what life is like for a person with imposter syndrome – highly qualified, capable women, existing in their high performing lives with the constant gnawing doubt that they will be found out for being fake. This in spite of the body of proof provided by their qualifications, capability, past successes and so on. Not only do they carry the stress that comes with making important decisions that impact on many people, they are also burdened by running the narrative of the unreality of it all and their deep-seated incapacity, like a low grade hum in the background, internally eroding them in everything they do . . .

What is really going on here? What can be done about such a problem when no amount of ‘proof’ is proof enough that you are OK? Every success or good outcome is dismissed as ‘luck’, ‘happenstance’, ‘a fluke’. Only the failures are ‘real’. The inescapable trap of this condition defies rational thinking, yet it is a real problem with profound impacts on the quality of life.

Imposter syndrome is recognised as a pre-condition for burn-out – a psychological condition that results in profound emotional and financial costs to the person experiencing it (often they must cease work), and society as a whole with the loss of richly experienced people from the workplace. In burnout, work performance can decline markedly, providing ‘the proof’ that the ‘imposter syndrome’ sufferer has been looking for all along.

“See! I am that bad.”

But before we rest in the belief that this condition only affects high powered and highly qualified women in positions of power and authority, it is crucial and valuable to explore the possibility that imposter syndrome affects us all to some degree or another. This exploration, undertaken wisely and with great respect for the subtleties of our lives, reveals much that makes sense of what is happening at the so-called high-end of the social and professional spectrum.

Many of us experience some sense of fraudulence in our lives – a sneaking sense that what we are doing is somehow not genuine, that we will be ‘found out’ for being ‘not the real deal’.

Not quite ‘it’ as a mother, a wife, a friend, a lover, worker, boss, manager. . . whatever you have been told you need to be, ought to be, should be.

How many of us have internally questioned ourselves at social events, hiding our discomfort in our own skin – a creeping sense of falseness – behind a glass of wine, or a great personality that we have learned to project over and above the sensitive being that somehow we got convinced was not enough? Not ‘it’? Come on! Impress everyone!

If social and mainstream media actually have their fingers on the pulse of modern womanhood, feeling like a fraud is as common as the anxiety and depression whose rates are rising in our modern, busy, demanding lives. How can it be otherwise with the burgeoning lists of demands, the images of how we should and must be, how our lives should and must look?

Perfect home, perfect hair, perfect hairlessness, perfect nails, perfect lover, perfect orgasms, perfect body shape which now encompasses perfectly thin and perfectly obese, perfect children, perfect cooking, perfect shoes, perfect tan, perfect career progression, perfect selfies . . .

When nothing is ever good enough, we unsurprisingly find ourselves on the ceaseless treadmill of ‘nothing ever being good enough’ – the ache of perpetual striving for an unattainable ideal becomes the normal that we do not challenge. We just find ways to cope with it as we push ourselves beyond, beyond and beyond . . . fingers outstretched for the next, the next and the next . . . No wonder feeling like a fake is a part of our new normal.

Just search the term ‘women feeling like fakes’ in your favourite search engine and you will turn up thousands of articles on the subject – snappily titled and filled with the promise that this is a problem can be fixed in a few simple steps. Build your self-esteem, use affirmations, tell yourself how great you are. A thousand and one strategies to meet the thousand and one demands, make yourself fit for the constant striving.

"Fake it until you make it."
Fixing fake with more fake. There is a formula for success if ever there was one.

But make what exactly?
Here is a question the articles never ask.

If you feel like a fake, is it possible that is because you actually are a fake?

"You are your own best-managed version of how the world told you you needed to be. But that is not the real and true version of who you are."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume I, ed 1, p 193

There is in fact a demand for fakeness in this world. It is thrust upon us when we are very young – as babies and toddlers we are expected to hit specific developmental markers by certain times. To fail to hit these points results in disturbance within the family, and fear and worry in parents. Already there is something to comply to and we have not even got out of nappies. Then there is the pressure (spoken or not) for children to be good, to be beautiful, to behave (or not), to be outstanding, to be special to whatever degree, depending on the inclinations of the family.

In our medicalised and social media-ised worlds these pressures are only exponentially growing. Attainment of perfection now exists on an industrialised scale. Think this doesn’t affect your child because they are too little to know? Think again. Perhaps consider your own childhood, contemplate how often you were met for who you are – really met, really allowed to be – and how the absence of that felt, if you dare.

Open yourself up and you will know exactly how it felt to be treated as the successful/failed completion of an action and not the being of you.

Who as a child can honestly say they were met for who and what they innately are? Many of us (hopefully most of us) can say we were loved, yet so often that love has been laced with wishes, hopes and expectations of parents, family and teachers for us to do well, perform to our best, be a success, make it in life. If that style of upbringing was not to the taste of your parents and they let you run your own race, that is great, but can you honestly say that you were given the space to form yourself from your essence (the Soul), truly free of imposition and desire for a specific outcome?

For too many others, childhood was filled with crushing abuse and grotesque imposition. Whatever the conditions of our childhood, no matter how well or poorly intentioned, a package of demands to meet images and ideals was thrust upon us, all manufactured outside of us and handed to us as a sort of curse that we saw no other choice than to adopt as our own.

Like a suit of clothes that we must make ourselves fit into to be OK. But they aren’t ‘our own’. And they never actually fit, no matter how we twist and bend ourselves to make it look like they do.

What of the essence of our being, the who and what of our Divine nature, there in its wholesome wholeness at the very start of our lives? Unfortunately it seems to have no part in the demanding equation of life that is run by a model, a system, a meshwork of competing, crushing demands, that none of us feel like we chose, but somehow all ended up agreeing to.

No wonder we feel like fakes, because in this model of life – no let us call it what it is – existence – we have to be. The model is set up to ensure that we crush and fit ourselves to meet its demands. In doing so we become desperate humans, frauds, fakes, imposters, trying to meet a set of ideals that came from . . . where exactly? Don’t blame mum and dad, your grandparents or any other generation. That is a pure distraction and cop out from examining deeply for the real source, because the fact is that they were all handed the same dud deal when they were children too.

This is not the point at which to feel totally overwhelmed and give up, because there is another question to take deeply to heart, to stop and consider with the whole-est sense of yourself you can muster. . .

What if the aching sense of fakeness, the imposter syndrome sensation, is the most real thing about us?

"There is no joy living in a body that does not reflect who you truly are."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume II, ed 1, p 318

What if feeling it (the fraudulence – not your fraudulence) is the beginning of a genuine, hugely important and game-changing enquiry, not just into yourself, but into the model that forged you into something you might never have become without it being all over you in every movement you have ever made? Every decision you ever came to? Every breath you have ever breathed?

What if, instead of burying the feeling of being a fake under more desperate fakery, more striving, more trying, more degrees, more clothes, more, more, more pressure to fit the ill-fitting ideals . . . we consider this:

"The word 'search' itself signifies an outward look without first an inward true review. We know we are not well within, but do not look deeper within to find what is spurting the true ill. Instead we adhere to the surface pain and seek relentlessly to avoid it or to have someone or something remove it. The latter does not truly serve even if a temporary fix is experienced. The fact is that the ill-truth beneath it all just gets pushed further down and hence it covers the mighty glory that is deep under the misery of a lesser life we have ill-accepted as our way of being."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric & Exoteric Philosophy, ed 1, p 136

What if we just stopped, properly stopped and gave ourselves the space to feel what is calling us from deep within our being – the very depth of us that seems to have no voice in the strident clamour of external demands that deafen our ears and blind our eyes to what is really going on.

Don’t let imposter syndrome fool you.

"Our essence is one and the same Divine beauty, which naturally expresses its own versions of the one same essence we are from. We are in essence identical, made unique only by the awe and magic of its expression."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume II, ed 1, p 443

In other words, turn imposter syndrome back on itself. Let it show you every moment where you left yourself behind, every movement you made without your essence, the inmost of your being, the ‘seat of your divinity'[3], as the foremost point of connection, consideration – to be held as your most precious and indeed only true asset.

Connection to the Soul is a pure silver thread, eternally binding us to that which is the only true source of life in this truth-barren landscape we call human life. It can never be severed, only drowned out by the cacophony of ceaseless demands, unmeetable needs and the crushing angst of trying to meet them.

This enquiry can be held in the midst of life. There is no need to escape the pressures to make the question yours and your life its answer.

It is crucial to know that you are not alone. Many have enquired and more are enquiring as the aching emptiness and the deep poverty of modern human life exposes itself through corruption, abuse, the depths of self-abuse people are engaging with to meet its inhuman and inhumane demands – and the flagrant lie upon lie that it demands we turn our life into, because we know the depth of our truth is not only not welcome, it will be outright rejected should we dare to bring it.

And there are phenomenal resources at hand. This website is a rich resource of all, truly All, that is needed to make such an enquiry yours and to give strength to every step along the path of the return, the journey to the only place worth travelling to – the deepest depths of your being. Every proffered step has been lived by those who proffer it.

Thus it is the ultimate antidote to imposter syndrome; to live, breathe and move from the essence of your being – that which has ever called you back to its abiding stillness.

This Way, the way of truth in a world of lies, is known as The Way of The Livingness. The ‘read more’ links at the end of the article are an incredible starting point on the deepest and most valuable dive you will ever take into the infinite ocean of the Soul.

This dive reveals the imposter for what it so undeniably and starkly is – a creation we made to deal with a world that has been set up to deny the might, grace, presence and beauty we are when we live from and by the impulses of our Soul.

What else is there to do but dive in?

"Get to know yourself from you and not from whom you have been told to be; because how you have been told to be will not know the real and whole you know yourself to be."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume I, ed 1, p 191


References

  • [1]

    Psychology Today. n.d. Imposter Syndrome. [online] Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/imposter-syndrome>

  • [2]

    Bravata, D. M., et al. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: A Systematic Review. Journal of general internal medicine, 35(4), 1252–1275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1

  • [3]

    Victoria Warburton. (2021) lyric from the song “Home”. Album “Divinity is Birthed”.

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  • By Dr Rachel Mascord, Dentist

    Dentist and business owner. I have a very practical hand on life and a keen eye for observation of the workings of human life.

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