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Impostor Syndrome

01/12/19

In the Third Epistle of John 1:11 “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.”

I like to share ideas from various fields of study and relate them as to how they impact our soul development and the view we have of ourselves as Children of God. Our interactions with the natural sciences, social sciences, psychology, humanities, diet, health and medicine all play a part in our journey on earth.


Since we have a human nature and a spiritual nature, we are affected by both the physical and the spiritual facets of life. Our purpose on earth is to imitate the way of Christ: to balance our human and divine natures in a way that allows the complete expression of God through us, so that we can serve, love, and embrace the uniqueness of every other Child of God. But we have a challenge, and that is to see past the immense and immediate impact our physical world and physical bodies have on our self-perspective and recognizing the subtle and profound nature of our souls and spiritual being.


Much of our earthliness can block God’s Light from our consciousness. Although God’s Being, Essence, Light, and Love is always surrounding us and moving through us, we frequently allow our egos, the small, pushy and talkative part of our worldly identity, to dominate our perceptions. That is why it is so critical to move into prayer – to leave behind the physical world and enter the spiritual realm of awareness. Like Christ, we must seek God, seek our God-home within. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:1 to “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”


As human beings, inundated with worldly temptations and influences, that is tough to do. If not attentive, our thoughts take us of on a trail of confusion, imbalance, comparison, and judgment. We are susceptible to various mental errors, logical fallacies, cognitive biases, and psychological phenomenon that keep us from being open to all of God’s good. Instead, we attract disharmony through our earthly thinking and emotional reactions.


One example I want to mention today is called the Impostor Syndrome or Impostor Phenomenon. This is characterized by the constant feeling that we are frauds; what we have accomplished is a fake or a fluke. Despite external evidence that we are competent, we hold to the belief that we are deceiving people and live in a fear of being “found out”.


Research says that 70% of us experience this syndrome, consistently believing we arrived at our successes by mistake. Some of us surmise that our achievements are the result of some sort of undeserved good fortune―threatening to disappear at any moment and expose us as fakes.


Although the beginning studies in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes attributed this phenomenon primarily to women, all people are subject to its harms. At home, new parents often describe feeling as though they are not prepared to parent their own children, second-guessing if they will ever get it right. In church, people shy away from serving because they fear any role of leadership because they feel undeserving or unprepared. This phenomenon can stifle the influence we have as a coach, leader, parent, pastor, teacher, or even friend.


I have experienced these feelings at various times in my life. They seem to appear when I am entering upon a new path. In comparing myself to others on the same path, and assessing my skills, experiences, and accomplishments with theirs, I have at times find myself lacking, so I feel guilt and shame.


For instance, when I received the Physical Fitness award when I graduated from High School, I remember how embarrassed I felt as I walked on stage to receive it. I was not on a sports team any of my school years; I was in choir, and actually walked back up on stage to receive the Music award. I was OK with that; but to receive the Physical Fitness award – I felt like a fraud.


I remember graduating from College with Honors and feeling like I had scammed everyone. When I became a public-school teacher, I felt like that. 15 years ago, when I became a minister, I felt like I didn’t deserve that title or responsibility, and often thought “Why should anyone listen to what I have to say?” So, for me, this syndrome seems to rear its nasty head when I engage something new, and when I make assertions about myself before I have developed the skills and knowledge to justify those assertions.


Years ago, I heard the phrase, “Fake it till you make it”. That’s how I have felt much of my life: like I have been faking it, and still haven’t made it. That is the Impostor Syndrome. In my case, it is related to my ego and comparing myself with others – their abilities, their schooling and education, their experience, and their expertise. What I need to realize is that my value is not based upon my own strength, but on the strength of Christ within me. If I can take my focus off myself and place it squarely on God, then I realize that I have the power, strength, and capabilities to do anything God hands me.


In Jeremiah 1:6-8, Jeremiah hears the call of God, and responds by balking. He says, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” And perhaps he was not wrong. But God didn’t say, “Oh Jeremiah, you’re not young. You know how to speak! You’re capable and talented and you can do this!” Instead, God tells him not to focus on his fears and inadequacies, and tells him, “I am with you and will rescue you.” God doesn’t respond to our fears of inadequacy with reassurances of our strength, but with a reminder of His. With God, all things are possible, we are told.


The Impostor Syndrome comes in many flavors and sizes to choose from. In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Dr. Valerie Young has categorized them as: The Perfectionist, The Superwoman/man, The Natural Genius, The Soloist, and The Expert.


As Perfectionists, we are control addicts and micro-managers. We set unreasonably high goals and when we fail, we experience self-doubt. We can’t delegate, and if it’s not 100%, it doesn’t qualify as good. And if we don’t have all the skills, resources, and plans in place, we will not begin. This applies to our participation in the physical world as well as the spiritual.


We can imagine what being the Superwoman or Superman is all about: we stay late at work, push ourselves hard, and consider downtime a waste of time. As an Impostor workaholic, we are not actually addicted to the work itself, but to the validation that comes from working.


When we fall under the spell of The Natural Genius, we judge our competence based upon ease and speed as opposed to our efforts. In other words, if we take a long time to master something, we feel shame. Like the Perfectionist, our internal bar is impossibly high. Not only do we judge our self based upon unrealistic expectations, we judge our self on doing it correctly the first time. If it doesn’t come easy, and we aren’t quick and fluent from the onset, then we are fakes in our minds, and crumble in confidence.


The Soloist is someone who feels as though asking for help reveals their phoniness. If we don’t have all the answers, we are a fraud. Similarly, as The Expert, we measure our competence and worth based on “what” and “how much” we know or can do. Believing we will never know enough, we fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. Even if we have been in our role for many years, we feel like we still don’t know enough. It’s true that there’s always more to learn; we are growing, learning, and changing all the time. But an imbalanced obsession for more information can be a form of procrastination. Like the Perfectionist, we don’t move forward until we feel like we have all the information.


There are some things to keep in mind to help us overcome the Impostor Syndrome. First, perhaps it is time to refocus: let’s take the focus off our perfection and look to the perfection of Christ. Let’s turn the other cheek to our strengths and abilities and be open to God’s strength within us and the abilities that develop through Divine Strength.


We must recognize that we are in the process of becoming all that God intends for us to be. Each of us is learning, growing, and transforming. That’s why we are here. We are not put here as perfect hybrids, a combination of a spiritual and physical being; we become as good a hybrid as we allow Christ to develop through us. Stephanie Doane recently shared one of her favorite sayings with me: TTT – Things Take Time. Accomplishing great things, or even mediocre skills, takes time, patience, and perseverance. As we “ask, seek, and knock,” we are a 'work in progress' that is primarily evolutionary, not revolutionary.


Also, let us remember that our worth is not based upon anything in the world, or from the world. Our worth, right now, no matter where we are, is based upon being a Child of God. We cannot add anymore to our worth in God’s eyes, all we can do is become more useful to God by striving to be all that God intended us to be.


And lastly, let us cease the constant comparing. “Oh, their spiritual path is more defined and clearer than mine. Their experiences are richer than mine.” Let us know that we are a Child of God, not because we chose God, but because God chose us. It was not random; we are intended to be here. Perhaps our body would have been here in some way, but our soul was placed in this body for a purpose.


We are told in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”


In Romans 8:29 we are told by Paul that God has predestined us “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” We are in the process of becoming like Christ, fully imitating Christ. But we are not there yet. And as part of this spiritual process, there is one more area of the Impostor Syndrome that we face: as we walk the path of Christ, with its divinity, moral compass, integrity, tolerance, love, compassion, joy and peace, we must at the same time deal with the worldliness of our human natures and not feel like a fraud. This is the time when ‘fake it till we make it’ makes a lot of sense. We must keep asserting the truth of who we are and who God wants us to be while enduring the process of ‘becoming’. We will stumble, and it is through God’s strength that we rise again. We may need help, so we ask Christ for help first, then ask humanity as Christ guides us.


But know this: We are not frauds; we are not impostors as we walk with Christ. When we move into prayer, from the silence of our inner holiness we will hear Spirit’s whisper for us to release our self-judgment and endless comparisons and take the hand of God so that we can stand tall and proud as an authentic Daughter or Son of the Divine One.


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