This post about Imposter Syndrome is a guest post by Kathryn DeSinaasappelen, Youtuber and writer. Check out her profile below!
I am not the type of person who talks openly or freely about my mental health issues. I understand that for some people it is cathartic and can lift the burdens they feel. Perhaps though, you are more the person who feels mental health is a person relationship best kept private, which is how I would describe myself.
Sometimes I will read something or hear something that triggers me. You should know I am not a doctor. There are smarter people than me who have spent their medical careers researching and studying Imposter Syndrome. I cannot speak to the different sub-categories or on behalf of others. All I can do with this article is share my experience and hope that it can give you a better understanding of how it affected me.
What Is the Imposter Syndrome?
According to Wikipedia, the Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalised 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. They 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.
The Imposter Syndrome affects different people in different ways. For me, it’s the intense doubt and underestimation of my skills and abilities, and a perpetual feeling that I will be exposed as manipulative or a fraud. Feelings of stress and depression regularly join in on the party, just to keep things interesting. It enjoys playing havoc with my relationships and education.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to experience Imposter Syndrome. My experience is just one way, please keep in mind there are others.
If you’d like to learn more, I always encourage people to pursue further education. Céline wrote an excellent book which I believe everyone should read, where she talks and explains imposter syndrome better than I could. If you’d like further reading you can check out this article or this one.
How Does It Manifest?
When I met my husband, his character struck me. I could not believe that someone as incredible as him existed in the world. Just knowing him delighted me. Then we dated, and later married. 16 years later, I still feel like I have tricked him. My greatest fear was that he would figure out how horrible I was, and that he would leave me. Despite him showing himself to be honourable and expressing his love for me, it was difficult for me to believe it was true. Contrary to any evidence, I was convinced he would divorce me.
Luckily, we both value communication. While this strained our relationship at the beginning, it ended up making us stronger. He understands that my fears are not a reflection of his character. I understand how my fears hurt him. We pivoted and adjusted our behaviours to help each other to be more understanding.
Over the years I have become more confident, but the doubt is always there and sometimes it barges in, guns blazing.
Communication skills are great to have unless you have Imposter Syndrome. I feel like I manipulate people into liking me. I am thankful that people will think or say nice things about me, but I just don’t see myself in the same way.
I have recently returned to school. In January, I participated in my first exam period. I wish I enjoyed it, but I hated the experience. I love going to school and learning new things, but I despise tests. In Belgium exams are dragged out over a two and a half week period, and by the end of it I was emotionally dead.
The worst part came when the school released our grades. I passed 6 classes out of 10. Not just barely passed but with good grades. I was not surprised that I failed some classes. What shocked me was that it was only four.
After speaking with my teachers, I was amazed to hear their positive feedback. Apparently, I scored well on the hardest sections but made silly mistakes on the easy ones. My teachers said, “You know the material, but you need to slow down reading the questions.” All of them were confident that I would pass with flying colours during the retakes. Most people would be happy to hear that, but I wasn’t. I was at a lost at how I managed to do so well, and at the faith my teachers had in my abilities to succeed during the retakes.
I know I studied hard for these exams. Actually, I have documented proof because I live streamed my study sessions. But despite all of the efforts I put in, I find myself creating excuses as to why I did well. English is my maternal language. I have experience in marketing and public speaking because of YouTube. And I write everyday because I want to become published, so I can express myself more easily. The list goes on. Therefore, in my head, none of the reasons of why I did well had to do with the fact that I studied.
What Are Its Consequences?
“I’ve had to actually work for everything, so I don’t have Imposter Syndrome”
Those words were said by someone who has shown themselves to be questionable. Despite being older and knowing better, they still struck me. I think from someone on the outside looking in, it’s very easy to diagnose a lack of self confidence, to say someone had something handed to them, or to think it was dumb luck.
Most people do not get themselves worked up over relationships or test to the point of becoming sick. They do not stress about unfinished assignment to the point that they cannot sleep or have nightmare. They do not spiral into depression, which can become so overwhelming that they have thoughts of ending it all.
Because the climax of my relationship with Imposter Syndrome was suicide. I think most people have moments where they are sad or feel hopeless. I’ve wondered before ‘what’s the point’ but when ideas turned into a plan to end my life, that was the line. I reached out for help, but the guidance counsellor I spoke with thought I just wanted attention and did nothing. Feeling I had done my due diligence, I went along with my plan. Obviously, I failed.
That was my turning point.
How to Deal With It?
Imposter Syndrome is a work-in-progress. It does not go away. Some days it’s quiet, and others it’s loud. I must work to keep it in check. Sometimes I can do that effortlessly, and other days the burden is too much.
Finding balance is a tedious endeavour because I feel like it’s an endless loop. If I get good grades or make new friends, I’m unhappy. If I get bad grades or don’t make friends, I’m unhappy. I am unhappy with myself for being unhappy which –you guessed it– makes me unhappy.
It has taken years to train my brain and to find healthy coping mechanism to deal with it.
1. Find a Creative Outlet for the Negativity
One of the biggest issues that contributes to the dark side of my Imposter Syndrome is my ability to bury my emotions. That isn’t healthy. Negative emotions are horrible but dealing with them is part of growing and healing. Writing, for me, is the magical outlet. I started out years ago writing in a diary and vomiting all my hatred and disappointment on the page. As simple as it sounds, it worked wonders. Now, I don’t need to do it anymore, but writing is still my outlet. Instead of spewing negativity, I craft stories.
2. Distinguish Between Constructive Negativity and Being Negative
There is a different between whining / complaining and acknowledging your negative emotions and taking actions. If you manage to do the latter, you’re on the right path. However, it’s tempting to fall into the trap of saying you’re dealing with negativity, when you’re just sharing it and pulling others down.
3. Focus on the Positive.
It’s really easy when you fail, to only see how you failed. Another way to look at failure is as an unexpected learning experience. Compare where you started and where you ended. You may not be at the finish line, but you’ve certainly made progress, and are farther along than when you started.
4. Get Professional Help
I could not have done any of it without the help of a professional. If there is someone who reads my words and can identify with this, I encourage you to go see a professional, especially if the option is readily available to you.
Having people in your circle that you can rely on is great, but they will not have the skillset to help you deal with Imposter Syndrome in a constructive way. Even the tips I give, which were suggested by my therapist, may not work. These are things that I experimented and found to work best for me. That’s the most important thing a professional will help with.
“Success is noisy, which is why other people have to brag.”
Imposter Syndrome affects high achievers. It’s a prerequisite that you must be exceptionally good at something to experience it. If you can remove the mask and learn to manage the negative side effects, then it’s something that will never allow you to become complacent.
If you continue to grow and learn, then it becomes a secret weapon in your repertoire. Because real frauds don’t suffer from Imposter Syndrome.
If you have questions for Kathryn about the Imposter Syndrome, comment below!
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Kathryn DeSinaasappelen is an American who spent 10 years in France before Settling in Belgium. She’s a youtuber creating videos about Belgian Beer, Expat life in Belgium, Book Reviews, building a Youtube platform and her journey to becoming a publish author. It’s a mixed bag, but there’s beer, and she knows how to tell a story