Fraudulence

 

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas I attended a seminar on owning your greatness and fraudulent feelings. I was 18 and didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in life. I don’t remember much from that talk, except that there was a successful-looking female speaker in the front of a large room of (mostly) females, telling us that a common struggle with success is feeling like a fraud. I thought, “That lady? She feels like that? It doesn’t make sense.” And a follow up, “I could never be as successful as her.”

It wasn’t until I went to graduate school that I noticed more about my natural talents. But doesn’t everybody do that? In my practicum training, as I met with clients from the community and then subsequently assessed by a licensed therapist on my clinical skills, I was affirmed in my intuitiveness to see through and beyond what people were presenting. But can’t everybody see that? I looked around and compared: that person is more empathic, this person has better therapeutic presence… and I began discounting myself, and minimizing my own strengths. It was difficult to take risks because of these fears.

As I’ve walked with family, friends, and clients, similar sentiments emerged: What if they find out I’m not what I seem? I did well on this assignment, but I’ll probably fail the next one, then they’ll know. I don’t deserve to be here. I’m a fraud.

The good news: Many people feel this way.

And there’s a name for it: Imposter Syndrome. This name was coined by two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. It is a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative, despite evidence of high achievement.” Those that experience this often “live in fear of being ‘found out’,” and are unable to internalize their accomplishments.

On the one hand, Imposter Syndrome can lurk near to those that have natural abilities in a given area. There can be a belief that had you just worked really hard at something, you would know you deserved credit for it. It’s like a parent telling you you’re smart and wonderful. “They’re just saying that because they have to.” For some, naturally excelling at something leads to a discount of its value.

The other extreme though, is that you did work hard to grow or learn in a specific area, and because it may not be natural, you fear being ‘found out.’ You’re just one mistake away from complete failure. Both extremes lead to paralyzing fear and living in a space of anxiety, potential self-sabotage, and restricted risk-taking that diminishes the greatness you could offer the world around you.

How does one overcome these feelings?

  1. Let go of catastrophic thinking and self-importance. You aren’t that big of a deal (sorry!), and if you make a mistake (like we all do), the world keeps spinning. You probably won’t be fired. It won’t make the front page of the New York Times. You can learn, grow, and do it differently in the future.
  2. Accept and believe in yourself. Luck didn’t get you where you are. Of course, you didn’t do it all alone, but it is you- your character, your talents, that opened up doors and brought about your achievements.
  3. Take time to remember encouragement and affirmation from others. Keep a file with emails, notes, comments that people have made over the years. Make a list of your achievements (especially those that brought the greatest sense of potential failure). It’s easy to discount the positives and focus on the negatives.
  4. Stop the Comparison!! This only feeds the shame, fear, and self-loathing monsters.
  5. Practice Vulnerability! It combats shame. (Check out Brene Brown’s work on this!)
  6. Remember: No one else has your particular set of experience or skills. You have something to offer. When you hold back, you’re depriving the people around you.
  7. Making mistakes and being wrong DOES NOT make you a fraud.
  8. Understand the difference between feelings and reality. The perception of your success is not necessarily the same perception others have.

Some famous people who have struggled with Imposter Syndrome:

Maya Angelou, writer, activist: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”

Kate Winslet, actress: “Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.”

Dr. Margaret Chan, Chief of World Health Organization: “There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”

Michelle Pfeiffer, actress: When asked how she had developed her gifts in 2002, “I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented.  I’m really not very good.  It’s all been a big sham.”

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook: Wrote the book Lean In with Imposter Syndrome as a foundational premise.

Carpe Diem, friends. The world is waiting. 

On Performance

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On February first of this year, a man by the name of Benoit Violier made headlines. His Swiss restaurant was crowned the “best in the world” in December of 2015. His restaurant named Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville had won 3 Michelin stars, and made it to the top of France’s Le Liste above more than 1,000 restaurants worldwide. Violier was found in his home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. Swiss chef Fredy Girardet stated: “He was a brilliant man. Such talent, and an amazing capacity for work. He was so kind, with so many qualities. He gave the impression of being perfect.”

Almost 10 years ago, in an interview for a movie, Jim Carrey is reported saying “I think everyone should get rich and famous, and get everything they dreamed of, so that they can see that this is not the answer.”

What is our culture creating, that the pursuits of wealth, fame, and being the best are the ultimate achievements? More than that, the message seems to be that these things will finally fill the void in our souls. Maybe with enough “things,” enough accolades, enough praise from others, we will finally be able to calm the persistent voice that fearfully echoes “You are not enough. You are worthless.”

A phrase that haunts me is what Girardet noted about Violier: “He gave the impression of being perfect.” Of having it all together. Of needing nothing. Perfection, as we all cognitively know, is impossible. Yet this striving, this performance is all smoke and mirrors to somehow save ourselves. It leads to shame, isolation, and despair.

What if the answer to this existential question of worth and purpose has an existential answer? What if, upon realizing the things of this world will never satisfy our deepest longings- getting married, obtaining a promotion, an award, money, power, fame, beauty, kids, etc.- what if the response is humility to recognizing perhaps only Jesus is the perfect shape and substance to fill the inner void? It does not entail judging or minimizing longings and desires, but more acknowledging and finding rest amidst them. It’s a perspective shift from relying on yourself to showcase your worth, to resting in the worth that is sung over you in tender tones and gentle offerings. Our role then is to receive our worth, rather than to create it.

Worth is not found in what we do. If that were true then it would entail that children, the elderly, and the disabled would not have worth until they became positive contributors to society. Worth is found in who we are- our position as children of God, as sons and daughters, reflected in our character, how well we love others. Performance afflicts us all and there’s always Imposter Syndrome lurking in the background (more on that in another post).

What could our lives look like if we were kind and gracious to ourselves? What if we pursued excellence not for the sake of validating our worth, but out of a passion that leads to joy instead of despair? What if we ceased striving? 

Identifying Post-Partum Depression

Courtesy of Bethany Mccormick

Post-partum Depression is often misunderstood and confused with the “baby blues.” The maternity blues is a fairly common, and transient, experience that occurs within the first ten days of giving birth. It is mostly attributed to hormonal fluctuations and will stabilize within about a ten day period. Post-partum depression (PD), however, does not have these attributes. It often develops somewhat slowly and “under the radar.” A smaller percentage of women within the population will experience PD. It can begin as early as two weeks post-partum and as late as a year. The good news is that if a woman seeks help sooner rather than later, PD can usually be confined to the first year. Unfortunately many women ignore their symptoms or feel guilt or fear in seeking the help that can bring healing. Untreated symptoms allows the depression to stick around beyond the first post-partum year and have negative effects to mom, baby, and the family.

Some of the symptoms of PD will obviously overlap with other types of depression including (but not limited to): worry, tearfulness, irritability, sadness, guilt, lethargy, and  appetite changes. Some nuances specific to PD are inability to cope with the new baby and extra anxiety about the baby. One theory concerning the onset of PD takes into account our more isolated and individualized Western culture  which does not lend itself toward much social support. New mothers without partners, family, or involved friends might feel the weight of parenthood in a more negative and isolated way. Another more common risk factor is the heaviness of expectations that the mother has for herself, or that others around her have for her. These expectations for what a mother should be and/or feel can wreak havoc on a new parent seeking to do the best they can in the situation they may be in.

If one has concerns that they might be experiencing post-partum depression, I would encourage you to seek help immediately in order to address it before it becomes a more severe issue. There are many avenues for mitigating the effects of PD and moving beyond it. There is hope for an efficient and effective recovery for mom, infant, and family.

Worry and Ruminating

Worry can be described as a distortion and misuse of our God-given imaginations. It is giving a small thing a big shadow (Swedish Proverb). Edward Hallowell says worry is vulnerability + powerlessness.  In our culture, and especially in the parental demographic,  excessive worry dominates thoughts and constricts relationships. Rumination is defined as persistent or repetitive worry. The word “rumination” actually comes from the action of a cow chewing its cud- chewing, swallowing, regurgitating, and chewing it again. That’s a grotesque picture which I find fitting in relation to worry.

Most worry is not a passive affair. Although one may not realize it, most people actively seek worry. It can be enlightening to assess how often worry actually saved you (or those you worry for) from something. Generally speaking, excessive worriers were often conscientious, inhibited, and highly sensitive children. There are some infant and in utero studies that suggest some people are more “hardwired” for worry than others. Though this might be true for you, this does not negate that fact that you must take responsibility for this propensity and learn healthy ways of managing this toxic thought process.

Some typical beliefs and assumptions that can fuel worry include:

  • Intolerance for uncertainty (Need to control and/or have certainty)
  • Intolerance for discomfort
  • An inflated sense of responsibility an culpability
  • A distorted assessment of potential risks
  • Perfectionism
  • Worry is overvalued (Examples: “Worrying prevents bad things from happening.” Or, “Worrying shows my children I care.” “Worrying allows me to focus on worst case scenarios so I won’t be surprised by life.” And even: “I can anticipate and avoid discomfort by worrying.”)
  • Worrying about worry (Example: “I’m going to make myself sick.”)

There are many ways to process and deal with worry. It all takes practice and processing to understand what leads to your specific worrying tendencies and how to change them. Some worrying is a part of other mental illnesses but have varying, and specific, characteristics (like with Depression, OCD, or Panic Disorder, to name a few).

A properly trained therapist can help you learn healthy ways of reframing your thoughts, practicing mindfulness, understanding cognitive distortions and themes in worrying, and identifying irrational thoughts. Understanding one’s view of God has major impacts on how one worries as well. If God is not believed to be sovereign in all things (i.e. have complete control), or if God is not believed to be good, these assumptions/ beliefs (among others) will impact our thoughts and thus our behaviors in our relationships with family, friends, and God himself.

Worry is a chain that binds and constricts, preventing us from living truly free lives, and allowing others to live free lives. It can give a temporary sense of (false) power and control over various situations, but in the end leaves us feeling exhausted, discouraged, and burned out on life.

A Small Window into Bipolar Disorder

I recently read An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison which invites the reader in to the ups and downs, fears, and thrills of living with bipolar disorder. I particularly invite anyone who knows someone with bipolar to read this. This is not a self-help book, but more of a memoir of one person’s experience, the complexity of the illness, and her personal path to acceptance and management. The author lives with bipolar and has done research as a psychiatrist learning about and treating others with this illness. Bipolar Affective Disorder is primarily a biological issue that can lead to high states of mania that may include hallucinations and delusions as well as the lowest places of depression. These mood states can cycle over a period of hours, days, weeks, or months. One can even experience mixed states, often described as the worst part of bipolar disorder, which is experiencing all of the negative feelings associated with depression along with the agitation, restlessness, and activation that accompanies mania.

Bipolar is not a character flaw, or a sign of personal weakness. There are ways to live a fulfilling and productive life, though that usually includes both medicine and psychotherapy to learn ways to manage one’s illness and mitigate its effects and thrive in work and in relationships. Nearly 6 million adult Americans are affected by bipolar disorder. An equal number of men and women develop this illness (men tend to begin with a manic episode, women with a depressive episode), and it is found among all ages, races, ethnic groups, and social classes.

Education around the illness and putting up safeguards of caring friends and family is a great first step when one is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. There are many misconceptions surrounding this and those suffering from it often suffer in isolation. This often adds to the distress of the one with bipolar and need not be the case. Part of the reason I enjoyed An Unquiet Mind was because it helps to demystify and educate others on the struggles and personal experience of one who struggles with bipolar. If you or someone you know struggles with Bipolar Disorder, I highly recommend pursuing a therapist and/or a psychiatrist. A great website for learning more about mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder is http://www.dbsalliance.org.

Indecisiveness

This is one of those things that hits everyone at one time or another. For some though, it can impede growth and paralyze.  Chronic indecisiveness is a developmental roadblock. There are many possible reasons one stagnates in their lives due to indecisiveness. (Many of the thoughts discussed here come from the book “Overcoming Indecisiveness” by Dr. Theodore Isaac Rubin)

One reason is lack of self-confidence, this may seem obvious to some, but to those who struggle with decisions, it tends to be a blind area. Another reason, which has an overlapping three-fold mechanism, first involves self-effacement. This is a word that, in this context, essentially means self-erasing. It is a mode of operation that seeks to “cope” with potential conflict by avoiding potential conflict. A habit of this allows the person to increasingly disconnect from themselves. Often the decisions that are made when a person is actively seeking to avoid being assertive (aka make decisions) are ones that can prevent success and encourage failure. Secondly, an inappropriate dependence on others often accompanies this. Unhealthy dependence on others is a form of self-effacement. It is highly correlated with the desire to be liked.

People who habitually rely on others to make decisions for them often find ingenious ways of getting an “ally” to decide all sorts of issues that they are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves. (Rubin, p. 50)

The final piece in this “trifecta” for indecisiveness is the obsessive need to be liked. Unfortunately, good decision making is not consistent with winning popularity contests. This is devastating news for some. For those struggling with insecurities, self-loathing, dependency, and detachment from their feelings, being liked becomes the central issue of the decision rather than the substance of the choices themselves.

Finally, another main road block to decision making is the belief that there are perfect situations and the possibility of perfect decisions. Obviously there is no such thing as a perfect decision, but many people with this road block are not aware that they are inundated with perfectionistic tendencies, and live in perpetual anxiety and/or stagnation.

It is imperative that people stop being afraid to rely on themselves for decisions in their life, to take responsibility for their own decisions, and learn to live with the consequences- good or bad. Obviously there is wisdom in prayer and processing with wise others in our lives, but it’s when these things become crutches and tools to avoid responsibility that there is concern. Overcoming indecisiveness requires much insight and courage. Self-awareness will aid the recovering indecision-maker for,

“without a real self, we cannot relate honestly and fruitfully to others or really help anyone else.”

Know Thyself

The primary purposes of seeing a therapist (or counselor, I use the terms interchangeably) can be distilled down into finding freedom and learning about one’s self.

The Hebrew word for prayer is tefilah. It is derived from the root Pe-Lamed-Lamed and the word l’hitpalel, meaning to judge oneself. This surprising word origin provides insight into the purpose of Jewish prayer. The most important part of any Jewish prayer, whether it be a prayer of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise of God, or of confession, is the introspection it provides, the moment that we spend looking inside ourselves, seeing our role in the universe and our relationship to God.

In Christianity and Catholicism, St. Ignatius of Loyola developed the now-ancient practice known as the Prayer of Examen. This prayer involves reflecting on the previous day’s events, becoming aware of God’s presence in them, reviewing the day with gratitude, paying attention to one’s moods and emotions, choosing something about the previous day and praying on it. This practice forces a person to slow down and process events, how they responded, where God is present, and begin to understand one’s triggers, sin, success, fears, etc.

So much of what I do with clients involves helping them to learn about who they are, which is part of the process of growing and living a fulfilling life. God created each of us with specific talents, skills, gifts, and personality quirks to bless others and further his kingdom. So many of us do not take the time to learn about who we are and what makes us tick. Often, it’s easy to pursue the positive traits we have (I have the gift of teaching, I think this way, I’m good at this). What’s harder is taking the time and often painful effort to discover what fears we have, what lies we believe, what we actually like and dislike, and what our priorities are. Similarly, it is default for many people to simply take on the traits/likes/propensities of those around rather than discover what they are all about and who they are.

Self-awareness is a very key piece in learning how to live a fulfilling life. We are constantly growing in to who God created us to be. He gave us an identity, and we ought to give ourselves the space to discover what that is. If we are created for painting, and all we do is go to museums, we are wasting our talents and living in a space of longing and grief that does not have to be reality. Knowing thyself helps us to see our role with others, this world, and with our God. It is a process that can bring up painful feelings and memories, but will ultimately allow one to live with more clarity, peace, and be a rich blessing to others.