imposter syndrome

It is because we are all impostors that we endure each other.

The man who does not consent to lie will see the earth shrink under his feet:

we are biologically obliged to the false.”

– Emile M. Cioran

The Impostor Syndrome is defined as a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized 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. Individuals with impostorism 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.‘(Wikipedia)

The Impostor Syndrome is an entirely psyche-logical fabrication and touches on a more fundamental fabrication known as ‘self image’ or ‘self concept.’ Taking an image as the real thing would be considered delusional. The image we have of ourselves is largely a pool of reflections gathered into a composition we call ‘I’ or ‘Me.’ This sense of ‘self’ is itself an impostor in much the same way the clothing we wear imposes upon us a certain definition, which can be discarded at will, and changed for another set of garments and is, thus, not who or what we are. Existential essence and personality are to each other as nakedness is to clothing.

The psyche-logical garments we wear that build our sense of self is an accumulation during formative years. Children, primarily, acquire and accumulate any number of psyche-logical constructs, beliefs and biases, information and skills, which become who we are, or who we think we are, as a person. And yet, this ‘person’ is an impostor. The word ‘person’ comes from the Latin ‘persona’ which translates into modern English as ‘mask.’ To wear a mask is to be an impostor. But, then, to be an impostor may not be very different from being an actor. An actor dawns a mask, a costume, thinks, acts and responds in accordance with the character at the time. An actor wants to be a successful impostor. As has been said, ‘all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.’ So, you are a player, on the stage of this your life. To be a player, an actor, a character, you wear a mask, you put on a costume, become a persona; you become an impostor, a lie. You are not naked.

To be naked is to be without costume, without mask. All the logical constructions of the psyche, as silly as they might be, are garments worn by the authentic, genuine, naked existential essence. To be ashamed of nakedness is to deny the ultimate source of our persona. To be a successful actor, the ultimate source of the persona is respected, valued, cherished. Without being yoked to our existential essence, we are all fakes and impostors, fooling people with our costumes and masks. If yoked to existential essence, the persona is a joyful coherent, integrated expression of individuality.

Our role as impostor or actor or persona develops gradually during the formative years of childhood. One way these self images and conceptions are formed, a way used often as children, is imitation. Imitation is modeling. It is trying on a set of behaviors taken from parents, teachers, adults and peers. Children will often try on their parents shoes, or hats; children have heroes whom they emulate. Imitation is being an impostor. Children have not yet learned to discount their play so they don’t think of themselves as an impostor. They think of themselves as the character whose costume they are wearing. And yet, it is not uncommon for children role playing to be criticized, ridiculed, embarrassed or punished by parents, teachers, adults and peers. The trying on of roles becomes contaminated with disapproval and degradation by others, primarily parents and other adults, though peers can be cruel in their mockery. Approval appears to come only as luck, a fluke or an anomaly. Genuine appreciation and approval is rejected as not having any substantial validity. This we learn; we are not born with it.

As an adult, we learn to discount our role playing, our acting on the stage of the world. We are overly concerned about doing it right, according to the standards of others. We have learned to reject compliments as not deserving, to attribute any success to luck or having fooled others into believing we are who we are not. In that regard, we are a failure at being a successful impostor, a successful actor. Any actor playing their role wants others to see them as genuine, authentic, if even the costume worn is not theirs. What is you and what is yours is the difference between existential essence and defined personality.

The Impostor Syndrome is often considered to be about lack of self confidence. You need to be a proficient ‘confidence man’ or ‘con man’ to be an impostor such that others see you as the role you are portraying. A confident actor wants to be convincing. A con man knows they are not who they are portraying, that they are being an impostor; and, they do it well, fooling all those into believing they are who they are not. But, then, this is no different than an actor, on the stage. The only real question is not so much whether or not you are an impostor, for indeed we all are, but if you are playing the role well, if the costume fits, if you are fully invested in the performance wearing a well organized personal mask; if so, life feels like a flow; if not, life feels like a flaw. We all come into this world as unique individuals ready, willing and eager to act, and feel joy in the acting.

The Impostor Syndrome problem is in the self perception of seriousness. The joy of acting is playful, and silly. The impostor Syndrome is sillyness because the self generated discounting of positive recognition, appreciation and approval only occurs due to the self generated doubt by the personality about wearing a convincing mask, as if it should not. It may be that you are wearing the costume of a mediocre ‘con-man’ or ‘con-woman.’ Perhaps because it was imposed upon you, not your choice of what role to play on the stage of this world we call ‘our life.’ If you believe you’re an impostor, and receive a compliment you believe you don’t deserve, be the best ‘con man’ you can muster and say, with genuine and authentic conveyance, ‘thank you.’

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