Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a polyamorous mom

October 2 2014 | Guest post by Christina S
By: Thomas RickerCC BY 2.0

Once upon a time, there was a woman. She lived in a polyamorous, sex-positive family. These things were very important to her — that her children saw good healthy alternative relationships, and understood that whoever they were inside their heart was not only okay, but to be celebrated.

She liked people… just people in general. She thought they were beautiful, and loved to learn (and learned to love) the intricacies of their personalities. Physically, intellectually, emotionally — she saw their strengths and enjoyed them for what they were. But she couldn't apply the same standards to herself.

When she looked at herself, she saw that she wasn't trying hard enough. Her house wasn't clean enough, she wasn't a good enough mother, or friend, or daughter, or sister, or wife, or girlfriend. She wasn't beautiful — her face had blemishes and flaws, and her eyes were uneven, and her nose was too big, and her teeth were just awful. She wasn't smart enough, or clever enough, or funny enough. She definitely wasn't a good enough writer.

She really wasn't quite sure why anyone would want to be her friend. She couldn't fathom how she'd managed to keep a job writing, yet somehow she had more than one. She often felt like she'd wake up one day and her friends and family would realize she was faking it, and she wasn't worth their time. The people she worked with and for would realize she really wasn't that good, and wasn't worth their money.
But sometimes, when she wasn't paying attention, she could see more clearly.

Once, she was walking into a restaurant and saw a woman on the other side, walking toward her, wearing the same shirt. She thought, "Wow! She's wearing the same shirt I am! She looks so much better in it though, and I love her hair…" and then she realized that she was looking at a mirror on the wall of the restaurant.

Another time, she was reading an article online, nodding in agreement with the writer, and thinking she'd have to share it on Facebook because it was so well articulated… and suddenly it clicked in her mind that she'd written it. Yep, there was her byline at the bottom.

She didn't live happily ever after. She struggled and pushed and just kept going, making the happy, and hoping for the ever after.

Yes, I'm the person in that story. Sometimes I focus on my own flaws so much that I don't even recognize me when I see myself more objectively. I think so many of us suffer from Imposter Syndrome, or simply from the belief that everyone else is somehow doing a better job than we are. This may be magnified in my situation because I'm a lot of things to a lot of people, and though I generally feel secure in those relationships, I sometimes do wonder how I got so lucky. I think, though, it also makes it even more important to recognize when I'm not seeing myself clearly, and take a step back.

So I'm here to tell you, if you ever feel the same, that it's not true. If you think you're not smart or funny or clever or pretty or whatever it is that matters to you in this world? First, try to see yourself through someone else's eyes. Just take a glance at yourself, don't examine your perceived flaws. Look at something you've created with an uncritical eye.

Because you're awesome. You are beautiful. You deserve to live the life you want to live, and to be an example of how being yourself is okay, and awesome, and necessary — whether you're a bisexual, polyamorous, secular agnostic, humanist hippie with a dream of living on a commune (like I am), or something else that's not quite part of the culture of sameness.

  1. I was bawling by the end. You could've been writing the thoughts from my head. I have this so ingrained in who I am I can't fathom ever not feeling this way. I'm not a mother or a wife, or a writer-for-money (how could I even think of such things when everything I write isn't worth the paper?) but everything else- I'm never a good enough friend, daughter, sister, aunt, girlfriend to either boyfriend. I don't deserve any of my friends, boyfriends, accolades… and most especially not the dream job I've spent three years trying to get and keep failing to achieve. It's such a hopeless feeling.

    10 agree
    • It is πŸ™ It's an awful feeling. It really really helps though to just remind yourself that like all feelings, it's a valid feeling. But the fact that you feel that way doesn't make it true. And of course, of course if it's leading to more than just the occasional "I don't belong here" feelings, take it seriously, whatever that means to you. (Counseling, changes, whatever – I'm not suggesting anything bad, just that it can be so awful to be stuck in that loop!) I wish you the very best of luck; we're all in this!

      5 agree
  2. Thank you. I needed this so much today.
    In my work I am consistently building others up, holding hope for them, focusing on their strengths.
    I, too, find ways to love almost anyone in my personal life. People are amazing and beautiful to me.
    But I often feel like an imposter and impending failure in so many facets of my life.
    So thank you for the reminder.

    8 agree
    • You're so welcome.
      Oddly, so did I, even though I wrote it. πŸ™‚ Seeing it published today just made my day.
      And while I don't love the sentiment, "impending failure" is just the perfect description.
      Good luck with loving yourself, too!

      1 agrees
  3. I definitely feel like this was written just for me! I'm going through a big cycle of feeling not enough right now and I'm thankful to see someone writing about it.

    2 agree
  4. I take agreeing so strongly with this to be a sign that my "set impossible goals and get better results" philosophy has outlived its usefulness. Thank you.

    6 agree
    • I get where you're coming from! It probably has for most of us πŸ™‚ Thank you for the comment, and good luck!

      1 agrees
  5. In my experience, even the folks who are undeniably wonderful at what they do suffer from imposter syndrome, at least occasionally… while people who obviously think that they are hot shit are almost always cranking out crap. So I take the impostery feelings as a good sign- if you're a little insecure, you're hungry, and you're going to constantly try to improve. Just, y'know, remember that it's not exactly accurate and try to cut yourself a break sometimes πŸ˜‰

    (Meanwhile, why is my spell check insisting that it's "Impostor"? Even Google seems confused.)

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    • Thank you for the kind comment! πŸ˜€ It actually reminds me of something I was reading yesterday about the Dunning-Kruger effect (I do love how everything has a name… or two) which is essentially that people who are incompetent or unintelligent can't recognize their incompetence, because they're not smart/good enough to do so. Along with which, people who are competent tend to underestimate their abilities, assuming tasks that are easy for them are easy for everyone else. Very interesting stuff. People are just fascinating. And again, thanks! I'm working on cutting myself a break πŸ™‚

      5 agree
  6. What perfect timing for this article. I've been in such a state over almost the last year (new job makes all the insecurities feel tripled). I woke up this morning and forced myself to actually look in the mirror…I never really see myself, and my eyes glaze when I put on my makeup: my mask that let's me hide and fight and be what I need to be every day…and as I forced myself to look, I also forced myself to find one thing. Just one that I could hold on to today. One thing I could focus on to remind myself that I have something I can appreciate. Something that someone else might just wish they could have. And as I was being yelled at by people who would never meet me, who would never know they drain the life from me, I thought to myself "this person will never have my lip color." Although it won't make me feel like enough in any area in my life, I knew that today, today, my lips looked fabulous all by themselves. No lipstick. No hiding them. They were enough today. Maybe one day I'll bring lucky enough to be able to look in the mirror and say "Today, you are enough. You are worthy. You are perfect because you are you".

    Thank you for speaking to so many of us today and for making us realize we're not alone. You gave us a gift of acceptance and understanding that we needed today. Thank you for that gift.

    7 agree
    • I'm torn on saying congratulations on the job, because it sounds like it might be a pretty rough one. So I'll say good luck with it instead.

      You are enough. I hope you can start seeing that. You're so very welcome for the little I can do.

      1 agrees
  7. This is so much of what I feel every day. I feel I don't deserve the good things I have, and that everything bad that happens to me is because I do deserve it. It's having your worst fear be that you're not good enough, and everyone knows it, and then feeling like you're living in that fear every moment of every day.

    I'm going to make myself read this every time I feel it. This hit home for me.

    3 agree
    • That weird dichotomy where we get the good things by luck and the bad things are deserved makes so little sense, when I think it's usually the other way around! Funny though how our feelings don't quite process that. I wish you the best in fighting that feeling, and remembering you've earned the good things.

    • This is something I've wondered for some time. Success is consistently defined as "getting a good job", and a "good job" is one that pays well. No where in that definition is a sense of satisfaction, happiness, or pride in your work. It's worst are the comments that young unemployed people are at fault because they chose to pursue something that society doesn't value because it makes them happy. How awful.

      1 agrees
  8. I'm glad you're learning to recognize your strengths, but this seemed a lot like a humble brag to me. I think if you want to be proud of yourself go for it πŸ™‚ show love for yourself and your accomplishments and help the rest of us do the same … But maybe try to limit the humble brag tone?

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    • Wow. Ouch. I think the message may have been missed here, and I'm really sorry you see it that way. πŸ™

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      • I disagree with the tone criticism, but I kind of understand where the feeling might be coming from. As others posted above, I have found that imposter syndrome often appears in very talented people, so depending on where the reader/listener is in their own life, it can be frustrating to accept.

        Of course, that only makes it harder for the sufferer. I just got back from a weekend with friends where I was feeling particularly down on myself – I'm currently unemployed and wondering what value all my skills have if I'm not putting them to use. A lot of pep talks about how awesome my friends think I am helped some (I have great friends) but at the same time, the voice in my head kept saying "they don't GET it! I'm a fakey mcfakerson and one day they'll see that as clearly as I do!"

        It's important to try and keep things in perspective, but it's also okay to struggle with feeling good enough, even if, objectively, things are pretty good. Beating up on oneself for the way you feel, like you're not allowed to feel bad because others have it worse, doesn't help anyone.

        1 agrees
    • I know it can be hard to understand, but those dealing with impostor syndrome, we don't know how to brag. I can't say if the author feels this, but any time I tell someone I can do this or that, or anytime I feel I did a good job on something, I almost immediately feel a sense of shame; how could I dare to think something good about myself? What kind of awful person am I that I dare to think I did something right? It's a difficult cycle to break.

      3 agree

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