The reality about recovery is that it sets you up for a healthier, happier life. But like all of those normal people out there, you’re still going to have a range of emotions. You’re also going to have other things going on. Just because you don’t drink anymore, it doesn’t mean self-doubt goes away. If you think giving up your poker chips turns you into a good husband or father, you’ll lose that bet. And with me, finally being able to abandon pornography and alcohol has been transformative, but there are still those things holding me back. Lately, it feels like my Imposter Syndrome has made a hard return.
I wrote about imposter syndrome a couple years back. I’d urge you to go read that again and come back to this. OK, you’re back. I’m going to reiterate the definition that I used there:
“Imposter syndrome is a psychological condition where people are unable to believe in their successes. Thus, despite the evidence that points to the fact that they are skilled, capable and competent they write this off as temporary – or timing and good luck. Thus, they constantly struggle with feeling like a fraud.”
Why It’s Coming Back
I have never been convinced that I’m legitimately successful at anything. I wait for the moment I’m going to be found out to be a fraud, not skilled and essentially exposed as a phony. Yes, I can objectively and logically understand that some of the things I’ve done in life, like start a magazine or serve as a city councilor, were completely legit. I created a company and I convinced thousands of people to vote for me. I have undeniable proof I did these things, and did them well. But I spent most of the time in those endeavors thinking, “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”
I didn’t feel the imposter syndrome too much over the last several years as I’ve settled into my new life. It’s mostly been writing books, tending to this website and giving interviews to tiny media sources. Yeah, I’ve done more interviews about pornography addiction than anybody on early since 2017, but it’s not like I’m doing them on The Tonight Show or 60 Minutes. (Although I did once appear on a local Connecticut TV show called 30 Minutes).
In the wake of my still-waiting-to-be-released TEDx Talk, I’ve had a lot of new opportunities, including a few international TV shows, podcasts with exponentially larger audiences than usual, more coaching clients coming my way than before, and my second book will be going into production for an audiobook soon. When the TEDx Talk gets released, whether 5,000 or 500,000 people see it, I know it’s going to be a game changer. I’m just not always sure what game I’m playing.
Considering Some Reasons – Nana
I’ve been trying to trace my imposter syndrome for a long time now. Like so many of my issues, I tried to trace it back to my formative years at that babysitter’s home. I don’t think that’s it. I developed many survival skills there, but I just can’t see how it fits into the damage of that situation. I’ve come to realize that imposter syndrome is about not trusting my instincts — almost to the point of not trusting my body.
I’ve reached the conclusion the first culprit is my grandmother. Surprisingly, I’ve actually talked to my mom about this, which for mental issues is rare. Even rarer is that my mom agrees and thinks she has a bit of this as well. My grandmother would never let us believe we were sick. When my parents worked when I was ill as a child, she would take care of me. When I got sick at school, she’d come get me.
And the conclusion? I wasn’t sick enough. There was no sick enough. I was faking it and making it seem worse than it was. To this day, whenever I come down with something, I doubt that I’m as sick as I am. I’ve had mono. I’ve needed emergency gallbladder surgery. I almost died of an allergic reaction to sulfa. Through every one of those illnesses, I wondered if I was full of it.
When I was 20, I broke my thumb falling off a motor scooter. I knew it was broken immediately, but something also said it didn’t hurt as much as it should. So I didn’t go to the hospital for about 8 hours. When I did, the break was pretty impressive on the X-ray. I couldn’t explain why I didn’t go immediately to them. I was hurt, but felt like I wasn’t hurt ENOUGH. My mother has shared that she often questions how sick she really is when she comes down with something and it’s for the same reason.
Considering Some Reasons – Dad
I love my father very much, and I understand like my mother, he grew up in rough circumstances. My brother and I were so much luckier than my parents and they are to be credited for that. We’ve never wanted for anything, but some things that you’re raised with are tough to break, and that includes my dad’s issues with the thermostat.
His dad was apparently a tyrant with the heat back in the 1950s. I don’t know what was different then, or if it was just the fact they were broke, but it sounds like in the middle of winter, the house was kept at a balmy 55. For comparison, I keep my house at 68 and my wife still complains it’s too cold. She prefers 71, but she grew up in an over-heated house.
Nonetheless, my dad kept our heat at about 60. His solution for everything was a sweatshirt and second pair of socks. And he would often say things like, “You’re not cold.” When you’re young, and you look to a person for facts and guidance, when they tell you that you’re not cold, you wonder if that’s the truth. If I’m not cold, what am I? I know I’m not hot, so what do I call this? This may sound minor, and perhaps on its on it is, but I think coupled with everything else, it was another log on the fire. It was another mark for causing me to doubt myself, my body, and my perception of the world around me.
The Damage This Can Do
So there I am, by the age of 10, unable to know if my body is sending me the wrong signals. I’m not cold — although I am. I’m not sick — although I am. When you start to have patterns like this, you start to fill in the blanks on your own. And it works the other way, too. Maybe I’m not smart. Maybe I’m not talented. People tell me I am, but if they lie about some things, maybe they’re lying about this.
As I said, logically, I can recognize what I’m doing. Intellectually and objectively, I can take a step back and put myself in an unbiased observer’s shoes. But then I do another podcast, get told how brave I am and am left thinking, “Am I brave? I don’t feel brave. I feel like I’m just trying to get through the day telling my story. Therefore, I must not really be brave.”
In the final installment on the series of podcasts I did with Rosanna Gill for her awesome Breaking Labels show, I spent several minutes talking about this for the first time out loud in public ever. If you’d like to hear me expound on this a bit more, check out this episode. The talk of imposter syndrome starts at about 31:30.
Any of you deal with imposter syndrome? Any ways of working through it?