Imposter Syndrome

I read something from someone somewhere here the other day about ‘Imposter Syndrome’. “It’s a terrible thing,” this person said, “but we know that we all have it.” And I thought about that statement for a while and found that I had to disagree with it. Because we don’t know that we have it. We just hope that we do.

Because the primary symptom of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is not knowing if you have it or not, but suspecting pretty strongly that you don’t.

And then I imagined a conversation with a psychologist on the subject.

This is the conversation ….

She sat across from me looking over the top of her glasses with a fountain pen poised theatrically above her notebook. The first thing I had noticed about her office were the books. I wondered if she had read them all. There seemed to be a disproportionate number of them concerning sex. Sexual abuse. Sexual disfunction. Sexual disorientation. Sexual reassignment. Why were psychologists always so obsessed with sex? Didn’t they care about all the other traps that God had set just to fuck you up?

And then she was trying to deny that she was even a psychologist at all.

“Don’t think of me as a psychologist,” she said, “just think of me as someone to talk to.”

“My grandmother is ‘just someone I can talk to’”, I replied, “but not at $150 an hour.”

“But you can tell me things that you can’t tell her.”

“You obviously don’t know my grandmother.”

But I knew were she was going. She wanted to talk about sex. “I don’t want to talk about sex,” I blurted out.

“That’s fine,” she said. And then we just sat there and looked at each other. She wrote something down in her notebook. What could there possibly be to write down already? I hadn’t even said anything. Except one offhand comment about sex. I felt like I was attending a job interview and somebody else already had the job. She was just waiting for me to slip up and reveal myself as totally unsuitable.

Eventually she broke the silence. “You’re a writer,” she told me.

“Yes. Well … maybe. I don’t know. That’s the whole thing.”

“And you think you suffer from imposter syndrome?”

“Yes. Yes. I’m almost sure of it. I sent you a chapter of my novel. Did you read it?”

“I did,” she replied and jotted down something else about me in her notebook. It was becoming annoying.

“And what did you think?”

She smiled at me in a manner which I interpreted as being condescending and let out a sigh. “I’m not a literary critic, Mr Richmond,” she advised me, “I’m a psychologist.”

“Yes. But you’re a person. A reader. And you’re ‘someone I can talk to’. So tell me,” I begged her, “what did you think?”

“Today, I’m afraid that I can only answer as a psychologist.” She wrote something else down. It was infuriating. I’m not sure that she was even listening. Perhaps she was compiling a grocery list.

“All right then,” I conceded in the end, “Have it your own way. As a psychologist, what did you think of my novel?”

“As a psychologist?” she asked, as if it had been my idea all along. “as a psychologist ….. I don’t think you are suffering from imposter syndrome.”

14 thoughts on “Imposter Syndrome

  1. Very well written, reflective and so relatable. I think I suffer a tiny bit from this syndrome (I admit I had to look it up first). I just tend to worry too much about achieving near-perfectionism, so that’s the root of the problem. Moreover, I also tend to feel too responsible for the people around me, basically for my husband and my mother, who are emotionally more unstable than myself. I feel like I always have to be the stronger, the sustainer of everything. But then, who is emotionally stable in life? No one.

    I like the imagined conversation with the psychologist. She did not really get interested in your novel as a reader. She could have various reasons. A plausible one could be that she did not have the time to read it in depth because she has to work excessively long hours to earn a living (have three meals a day and decent housing, prevent homelessness? what a lovely present from our Capitalist societies that have killed TIME). Another explanation would be she does not really like your novel, but does not want to tell you?

    I am glad my psychologist is an excellent professional. I do not have a grandmother to talk about things that worry me more than sex. That older generation died long ago plus I am an only child. My friends are busy working and I cannot always get to them, though I sometimes do and we help each other. On the other hand, my psychologist does not charge me such large sums of money. She values creativity, she likes my humble poetic attempts, she likes depth and I know I have one entire hour with her at a convenient time every two weeks. In sum, psychologists are like any other professionals; some are good and others are not.

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  2. I wonder if it really matters. If you write because you enjoy the process then isn’t that satisfying in itself? Are you writing to express yourself or are you trying to be JK Rowling or James Patterson, for example, then if so I guess that is imposter syndrome. Your voice is unique and whether or not the psychologist liked your chapter or not if you write what you see as your impression of a situation then you are creating your own voice and we would all like to think we do have an individual voice. I have to admit I do ‘borrow’ from other writers simply because they often have far better ideas than I do. I think that’s what the evolution of language is all about.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Well I think we all are influenced by the people we read….I know I am…..so long as you are having fun with it all and no one is being injured by your words.

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      1. Oh, yes … of course I will!
        But I must point out in relation to the subject …. if one thinks one has ‘imposter syndrome’ there are only two possibilities. One is either correct and is is underestimating one’s position or one is wrong and is actually an imposter.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm….
        Just because I’m paranoid it doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get me. Just because I think I’m an imposter doesn’t mean I’m not one.
        If you have no such feelings then the question never arises.
        Which still doesn’t mean you’re an imposter, of course.
        I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone is, mind you ….

        Liked by 1 person

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