“You don’t belong here.”
“They made a mistake.”
“You’re a fraud.”
“You have no idea what you’re doing.”
Welcome to my mind. These were the thoughts shouting in my head as I sat in the speaker’s enclave at Pubcon Pro Florida on March 6, 2019.
Sound familiar? If not, how about this?
“Everyone will find out, you’ll lose everything and be homeless in less than 90 days.”
Or “If people only really knew, you would be the laughing stock of the industry.”
To reword an amazing song by Simon & Garfunkel, “Hello Imposter Syndrome, my old friend.”
Before we get into anything further, let’s start with; I am not a licensed clinician and am just sharing my experience.
I’m not qualified in any sense of the word in regards to diagnosis and all information below should not be taken as medical or mental health advice.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Here’s a definition from Scientific American:
Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It strikes smart, successful individuals. It often rears its head after an especially notable accomplishment, like admission to a prestigious university, public acclaim, winning an award, or earning a promotion.
I’m My Own Worst Critic
Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and not liked who was staring back?
“Because of you, we just landed a $1.2 million contract!” – Client
My first thought “It was luck.”
Even as I sit here and write this, the thoughts of being an imposter about being an imposter come to mind.
Isn’t this fun?
For some reason that I’m sure I’ll eventually uncover, thanks to therapy and EMDR (more on this later), I have a real hard time accepting compliments and receiving achievements. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember.
If I receive a compliment, I instantly want to change the subject. I’ll say a quick thanks and then think of a different subject to bring up.
If I hit an achievement that I’ve been working hard for, it isn’t good enough. I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve this.
On Being Unworthy
I played competitive roller and ice hockey for six years before I broke my shoulder, ending my ability to play the sport I love.
Hockey was life, we traveled every weekend to play in tournaments, I was the team captain and my father was the team’s coach.
Because I was the coach’s son, I was pushed the hardest but never fully felt like I deserved the coveted C on my jersey.
I don’t blame my father for this, he’s a great father and an amazing human, you should meet him.
I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to travel a lot, play hockey, and learn how to be a part of a team. Hockey and my parents engrained in me when I was young that if I want something, I need to work for it.
My perception at that time is what helped solidify the core belief I’m unworthy. I didn’t discover this until just a few years ago thanks to therapy.
I met my wife in early 2013 and she started going to therapy that same year. She noticed, relatively quickly, that I was extremely hard on myself and suggested I go to therapy.
I hate talking about me and also being an introvert. Therapy seemed like the worst thing in the world.
Over the course of the following years, I noticed a lot of changes in her because she continued to work on her mental health. But that talking stuff? Wasn’t for me.
She wouldn’t pester me about going to therapy, even better, she was being a shining example.
The catalyst of me entering into therapy was a couple of unfortunate events.
First, I developed shingles during our honeymoon. I was 31 and healthy. What causes shingles in a young guy? Stress.
Second, I started having a really hard time communicating what I was feeling and when certain triggers would happen, my internal reactions were astounding.
Road rage much? If someone cut me off on the road, I would get extremely angry and take it personally. Thank goodness I never actually acted out in those situations.
My body kept sending me SOS signals and I wasn’t paying attention. Finally, I accepted the fact that I didn’t know what to do and asked for help.
Then I met Ryan, my therapist.
He does CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and does EMDR.
According to The EMDR Institute, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories (Shapiro, 1989a, 1989b).
Shapiro’s (2001) Adaptive Information Processing model posits that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experience to bring these to an adaptive resolution.
During our first session, he asked me about previous traumas. I grew up in a good neighborhood and had a great childhood, but I also had my fair share of trauma.
The best explanation I got about EMDR is thinking about your memories in file cabinets.
All of the unprocessed traumas are sitting in one folder and when something triggers them, the entire folder opens up and all of the emotions hit you but you don’t know it’s stemming from that folder.
EMDR helps you work through those unprocessed files and archive their emotional impact. The memories don’t disappear but their impact on your current self does.
EMDR is fascinating to me and everyone’s experience with it is different. For me, it’s like being in a virtual reality setting watching as an interested observer going through those traumas but the emotions aren’t entirely there.
What I’ve also noticed is that I’ll jump from one trauma to another completely unrelated trauma that somehow ties altogether.
My Imposter Syndrome is a byproduct of my previous traumas.
The major trauma that was the birth of all of this happened to me when I was 7 years old.
All of the other traumas since just stacked and reinforced the core belief. The core belief of being unworthy, to me, has a double-meaning of I don’t matter.
I’m not done, I still have a long way to go, but I’m definitely heading in the right direction.
When someone cuts me off now while I’m driving now, it’s not that big of a deal, and I don’t take it personally.
Am I Cured?
Nah. The imposter thoughts still come up, not nearly as much in frequency, and they don’t have the impact on me like they used to.
Now, I’m able to internally laugh at myself and tell the thoughts to shut up, I know my truth.
I do some writing every evening when I review my day. Instead of focusing on maybe the couple of things I didn’t get done, I focus on what I did get done.
I always end the writing with either “You did good today, Blake!” or “I am enough.”
For me, therapy has been a game-changer.
If you would have asked me two years ago that I would be singing the praises of therapy, I would have laughed it off and thought that you were the one that needed therapy recommending something to me that would change my life.
I have a strong belief that as I continue on this “self-discovery” journey that more and more will be revealed.
As these things surface, I’ll have the tools and the right people to help me work through it.
We’ve all had trauma, there’s no way to avoid it.
It’s important for me to keep going because I’m really starting to like the guy who is staring back at me in the mirror. 🙂