By: Maria Alves (@chubbiwubbi)
As I navigate through life, I am accompanied by a keen sense of self-awareness. This self-awareness exists as voices in my head. Just, voices. Narrating my thoughts. Every thought. Passive ones, aggressive ones, intrusive ones. You've heard of intrusive thoughts, right?
Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts, impulses or mental images that often cause significant anxiety, stress, and impairment. These thoughts may surround the fear of committing an act one might consider to be harmful, violent, immoral, sexually inappropriate, or sacrilegious. Like, when you're cutting veggies for dinner and you think... "I could just cut my fingers right off." Or when you're driving on the freeway and suddenly think "I could slam on my brakes or veer into the median and nothing is stopping me except for myself."
And you're left there, almost disgusted that you would think something so... "crazy". Well, that's you separating yourself from something that happens to most people because you don't want anyone to know you think these intrusive thing. I mean, what would they think?! They'd probably think you're a sociopath, or a weirdo, or dangerous.... or, maybe, just maybe, those are just things YOU think they'd think... make sense?
Thoughts take up so much space. They can permeate our physical behaviors, and affect the way we interact with the world around us.
Intrusive thoughts may make you want to seclude yourself, or it'll make you go silent for a while as you ponder on whether or not you're a "good" person.
One form of intrusive thinking are symptoms of imposter syndrome.
I first heard about imposter syndrome from a friend I worked with at a yoga studio. We were talking about how we were, but not in that usual, vapid way. We were talking about how we were feeling. I shared with her that I am in an almost constant argument with myself on whether or not I belong somewhere, and if what I have to offer is worth offering.
Imposter syndrome is pretty self-explanatory in the sense that someone who struggles with these thought patterns may often feel inadequate despite evident successes in their lives. 'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence, feeling that they are a fraud and others around them are only moments from discovering they aren't who they say they are.
Imposter syndrome has affected my life in so many ways and until recently, I haven't been able to synchronize and identify those intrusive, self-deprecating thoughts from symptoms of this disorder or my genuine, core thoughts about myself. This leads to hours and hours of sitting alone at home, convinced that any effort I exert into my life will be for naught. It translates into being quiet... too quiet... in social settings because you believe anything you say will be stupid and unremarkable. These symptoms affect vital things that help us function in society such as our relationships with others and our work ethic. We can get so caught up in that conversation within our minds that we enter a cycle of thinking the intrusive thought, then feeling shame for thinking it, then feeling shame for being ashamed of ourselves... and so on and so on.
I wonder how many experiences I've limited myself from having because of my belief that I didn't deserve to have them. I wonder how fulfilled I'd be if I didn't believe I was a bottomless pit.
It's so easy to believe the things we tell ourselves when we hear ourselves think them in the 2nd person. As if we are telling ourselves, "You will never succeed." "There's no point in trying." "You look like an idiot." "Don't waste your time." "You're so fake, everyone can tell."
I turned to my friends on Instagram, asking anyone who had an experience with imposter syndrome that they wanted to share. Here's some proof that we are not alone:
Ade, @vibewithade, says, "In my career at a marketing agency, I always felt like I'd get found out that I don't have the skills for the job when I do and my colleagues know I do. In my brand, despite the success it's had, I have felt like I wasn't worthy of it and that people wouldn't think I was an expert."
Cindy, @foxnovr, says, "It's as if all the successes I've had were simply a stroke of luck, not a result of any actual hard work."
That hit a chord for me. It seems that no matter how hard I work to achieve the goals I set for myself, I become this insatiable creature that forgets all the greatness I've brought upon myself, and I chalk it up to "right place, right time" when really, I DID THAT SHIT. We need to be more vigilant with reminding ourselves of our innate greatness. Innate means natural, and greatness if born within all of us, simply when we take our first perfectly articulated breath.
Peach, @trap_peach, says that her imposter syndrome, "manifests most severely in [her] relationships and schoolwork." She has an "ever-looming feeling that [her] partner will realize [she] is a fraud"
Anais, @astateofanais, says she started dealing with imposter syndrome when she was 21 and just started working in the behavior therapy field for kids with autism. "I'd go through a combination of anxiety and panic attacks, thinking I wasn't right for the job."
Lauren, @ellamessart, experienced imposter syndrome in grad school where the entire first semester, she felt as though she wasn't smart enough to be there.
And here are what some of these humans look like, to show you that there isn't an appearance assigned to having imposter syndrome.
(top row: @chubbiwubbi & @vibewithade, bottom row: @trap_peach & astateofanais)
Feeling as though what we do is unimpressive implies that there is someone to impress, and in spite of our attempts to be nonchalant and indifferent to what others think, we care very much about how others perceive us. We want, so deeply, to be understood. To be loved. Not just accepted, but embraced. Sometimes, this means we put on an act to convince others that we are worth loving, but what we don't realize is that by doing so, we eliminate the very essence of what makes us remarkable, and that's our authenticity.
Our rawness. What makes us cry, what makes us laugh... FOR REAL. Without effort, without influence. When we hide pieces of ourselves in fear that they are repugnant, we then become exactly what we wish to eliminate.
What's the remedy? Beats me. I still struggle between differentiating between 'this is my disorder' and 'this is who I am'. It's like an insufferable Venn Diagram where each circle and the places they intersect are all representations of me.
All we can do is put 1% more effort, every day, into believing the ones we love when they tell us they love us. Maybe, when we feel brave and bold, we can even ask the ones we love to give us just a little more tenderness, a little more validation because hearing it feels good in contrast to the nasty, intrusive comments we make about ourselves.
We can write things down, we can say it out loud. Sometimes hearing or reading these insensitive self-made comments can help us see how unreal they are.
And maybe we have a moment when we feel relieved and alleviated of the doubt. Where the only imposter is that nagging voice that tells you 'No, you can't.'
Because I assure you,
Yes. You can.