From my research on the impostor phenomenon, I have gained insight into how identity is shaped or misshaped during the early years, and how personalities come forth from identity. As I began to better understand the inner workings of internalizing what we see and hear, I looked back on my life’s journey and realized that who I was created to be . . . was not who I had become.
The process of internalization
My own process of internalization informs me. As an adult, when I view something, I interpret what I’m seeing into words that are in agreement with what I know at the time. My understanding of what I’m viewing then passes through the filter I have created within my intellect, and I store these words or I discard them. My mind’s filter is composed of facts and ideas and feelings and is ever changing. Everything I take in passes through my filter. When I hear something, I translate it into words that are in agreement with what I know (or think I know). My filter is activated, and if I store the words, I also store the feelings that are attached to them.
But as a child, the internalization process is embryonic. The sorting out of what to keep and what to discard is non-functioning. Innocence is a beautiful thing, but guidance in erecting a schema and constructing a filter is essential if we are to become who we were created to be.
I fear this happens too rarely. For some it is mostly lacking. It was for me. And the result was a growing incongruence between how I saw myself and how the outside world saw me, which inflicted upon my inner self a silent and hidden suffering, resulting in a misshapen life and a misdirected path. It left me feeling like a fraud . . . an impostor.
Allow me to capture the essence of someone who suffers from the impostor phenomenon by taking an “external selfie.” People would describe her like this:
She works extra hard, starting early and consistently over-preparing.
She’s intelligent, gifted, and high achieving—successful.
She gives a great first impression, too.
But if you compliment her, she blushes and turns away.
She has chosen to remain as a big fish in a small pond.
She sets goals much below her actual capabilities.
Now let me give you an “internal selfie.” Here’s what’s going on inside her:
She does not acknowledge her personal or professional successes, even in the face of tangible proof.
She only briefly enjoys experiences that showcase her competence, intelligence, or talents and then rejects any idea of repeating them.
She is full of secret fears hidden behind a great smile.
She fears new things: projects, jobs, relationships, and experiences.
She fears failure as well as success.
She often goes above and beyond and does much more than is expected, like she is trying to prove something.
She carries around the superwoman complex – a heavy burden – thinking she should be able to do anything asked of her.
The bottom line is that over the course of my life, I have believed lies about myself. So I began to list them, ending up with several pages. As I have worked through the process of replacing those lies with the truth, I wondered how many others have been living with a distorted sense of who they are because of the lies they have believed about themselves.
Just as there are universal truths, are there “universal lies” as well? Are the lies I have believed about myself similar to the lies you have believed about yourself?
Maybe many of you are just like me—living with a distorted understanding of who you are and wondering why you feel like a fraud—outwardly successful but inwardly suffering.
Maybe sharing the journey I have taken to get back my true identity will help you. That’s my hope.