I recently went on a trip with some girlfriends, the third trip I have done with the majority of them. These are the ladies I can be my real, vulnerable, authentic self with. I also went into the trip harboring what I felt was a shameful secret: that I am not actually like these ladies. Worse than this feeling is the one that they would figure it out and wouldn’t like me or want me to be a part of the group anymore.
I have traveled with this group before, so I have had an opportunity to become aware of this. The first trip I was so deep in burn out that I attributed these feelings as a part of the burn out mindset. The second trip, I was working on better self-care and was still struggling with these feelings. I didn’t do anything but make a mental note of it. I was acutely aware that it was shutting me off from being wholeheartedly with them, which at the time just caused me more shame.
As I prepared for this last trip, I noticed the voice start up. I like to call it the, “which of these is not like the other one” voice. The voice that tells me I’m too much, I can’t connect, I’m not as…fill in the blank with whatever my mind raises in the moment. Almost always something superficial and many times aesthetic. So I made a commitment to observe it but not honor it. I let the voice talk away but did not buy into it. I also did not try to counteract it. I just didn’t invest any additional energy into it.
On the trip, I continued to observe this thought process, and even went to the extent of observing the behaviors that followed. I started recognizing that these thoughts did two things: 1. Made me feel emotionally isolated from the group, and; 2. Actually led me to physically disengage from the group. When I sat with that for a bit, I also started to realize it was many times framed by me focusing on a trait or behavior of someone in the group, leaving me externalizing my process. Simply put, I was focusing on them, and not on myself. I spent a lot of time mulling this over, and as I returned home, decided to address it openly with one group.
I did not make this decision lightly, but recognized that not addressing this would eventually create the very outcome I desperately wanted to avoid (being outed from the group, likely self-imposed). I got on a video chat with the ladies and just put it out there. Guess what happened? As it turned out, they were experiencing their own version of the same thing. By being honest, we were able to talk it through, and support and edify one another. Even further, we were able to be honest with each other about our desires and expectations for traveling together, so that we can plan accordingly and honor everyone’s needs.
This is a basic outline of what is called imposter syndrome. It is the idea that somehow we are secretly not qualified, not good enough, or not like others. It creates secret narratives, many times inaccurate narratives, which then drive our emotional state. The emotional state is generally fear that others will find out, shame that we are a fake or a fraud, or some other aspect that causes emotional isolation. This then drives an unconscious need to protect ourselves, many times resulting in behaviors that create the very isolation we fear, many times through a focus on the other person rather than taking stock of where we are in the situation. This externalization then reinforces the narrative. These can be quite obvious, but for most people it is subtle.
The first step to awareness is acknowledgement. This is a two sides of the same coin scenario. Heads, recognize that you do it. Tails, recognize that everyone does it. For that reason, it really isn’t a syndrome, but simply a part of being human. Once we normalize it in this way, we can resolve to address it.
Addressing it is not an overnight matter. In fact, it is a lifetime process. We will continue to develop this concept in the coming weeks as we start to walk through step 1 to building your best life – developing a deep and meaningful understanding of where we want to be.