Interpersonal Imposter Syndrome

There’s been a lot of public talk about imposter syndrome over the past few years, which I think is a very good thing. It affects pretty much everyone, but does its damage by isolating you inside your own mind, so the more “successful” people who admit to feeling like failures at times, the better everyone else can become at changing their own perspective.

I’m no exception – I certainly have moments where I downspin into ‘omg why did I ever think I can do this I’m going to fuck it up and everyone will realize I’m a moron’ but rarely does it get overwhelming. I’m pretty good at reminding myself that I’m talented and qualified, and I know I have the credentials and experience to back things up.

However, there’s another side to this that I’ve never heard discussed, and that’s Interpersonal Imposter Syndrome – imposter syndrome about relationships with other humans. If regular imposter syndrome is feeling like a fraud about your work, interpersonal imposter syndrome is feeling like a fraud about your friends and lovers.

That’s something I have in great abundance.

I constantly worry that the next thing I do or say will be the thing that makes my friends realize they don’t want to be friends with me. I often find myself falling quiet in discussions involving 3 or more people, because I assume the other people would much rather talk with each other than with me. If someone tells me they like spending time with me, my brain responds “you just haven’t found the part of me you can’t stand yet.”

A lot of these things can loosely fall under the heading of “abandonment issues,” because the in-the-moment fear is that people will leave me. Digging a little deeper, the real fear fueling that is the fear that they will leave because they realize they do not actually like me – that I am, in fact, unlikeable and unloveable, and everyone who likes or loves me just hasn’t realised that yet.

It’s nonsense, of course.

I am a complete and decent human being, fully capable and deserving of intimate connections with other people. But, just like regular imposter syndrome, this is not a feeling that responds well to reasonable arguments.

There’s been a lot of writing/encouragement around the “fuck what other people think, just be yourself” ideology, which I approve of, but it doesn’t address the root cause, which is for me the notion that I will be alone forever unless I actively make sure that other people like me. Compared to eternal loneliness, “being myself” doesn’t seem like such a great payoff.

The solution, as with regular imposter syndrome, is a bit of a trust fall. It’s a long hard slog of taking risks and occasionally having them pay off, of forcing your mind to focus on the good things you have instead of the times that didn’t work out. Being yourself and doing the things you’ve always wanted to do, and seeing some friends fall away and finding new ones. I’ve been putting a lot of work into this over the last few years, and I’m certainly no expert, but I can tell you this: it’s worth it, because I’m damn tired of living in fear.

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