Have you ever heard the song, “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling” by Greg Brown? It’s about people trying to lie to themselves about the world around them. Those words might mean something else to you if you often feel like a fraud.
Do you find yourself shying away from people’s compliments or downplaying your accomplishments? Is it hard for you to put yourself out there when you have a dream, because you don’t feel qualified enough?
If so, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. These thoughts can serve you well if you’re lying or being disingenuous. They might have even helped you start to seek recovery.
These same worries about being found out served our ancestors. Hundreds of years ago being seen as not fitting in or getting too much power was risky. It might have meant you were challenging the leader. It could also end up in you getting ostracized from the group and needing to fend for yourself.
The problem with feeling like a fraud
The problem comes when you work toward recovery or pursue your dreams. The unknown is always scary to your brain, even if it will ultimately serve you. It doesn’t register it any differently than real danger to your life. It warns you with thoughts of “who do you think you are?” and can leave you feeling stuck.
I’m familiar with this type of thinking in my own life. I submitted an article to Recovery Warriors and it was accepted.
Before it was published, I decided to hop onto the website and read a few articles from other authors. This wasn’t the first time I had visited the site to read other people’s articles. It wasn’t even the first time Recovery Warriors had accepted an article of mine. However, this time my reading experience was different.
Rather than enjoying the articles, my brain fixated on the authors and their credentials. They were dietician, clinicians, therapists, or people who had experienced outpatient treatment. And I felt incredibly inadequate.
I felt like a fraud.
I don’t have a fancy degree. Even my own experiences were mild. After all, I never met the DSM’s requirements for an eating disorder. Who did I think I was? What business did I have submitting articles and pretending that I had anything valid to share? I felt like a joke and a failure. A fraud.
My article’s felt like they had been flukes. Eventually they would see that I didn’t measure up to the other people who submitted to Recovery Warriors. I felt stuck and didn’t want to write anything else.
What do you do about it?
When those types of thoughts come up, what are you supposed to do? First of all, it takes time to change patterns. Your brain is very efficient at thinking the thoughts it already has been practicing for years. This isn’t meant to discourage you. It is quite the opposite.
Be compassionate and patient with yourself. If you have a slip into old thoughts, it doesn’t mean you should give up.
Your thought patterns can and will change if you keep working on them.
Secondly, recognize these thoughts for what they are. Rather than wallowing in feeling like a fake, start to recognize these thoughts for what they are.
You can tell your brain, “Thank you for trying to keep me safe, but I am not in danger. It feels scary because this is new, but it’s supposed to be new because I am growing.”
The exact wording doesn’t matter. Just give respect to your brain for trying to help you. Tell yourself that everything is going to be all right. You’re not pretending. Living, learning, and growing are supposed to feel like this.
Here’s my example
This helped me in my own situation. I started to coach myself through it.
Ultimately I was afraid that someone would read my article and think I was under qualified to write the article. In the end I was afraid of someone on the internet not liking me. Yet, I knew I could handle that.
What was the risk if I didn’t write? I would feel unfulfilling. Also, my articles wouldn’t be able to help some people who might end up resonating with something I wrote. I could handle someone not caring for my article, but I wasn’t ok with missing out on those opportunities.
When you start to feel that oppressive feeling of hiding behind a mask, ask yourself why you’re feeling that way? The reasons based in fear will keep you stuck. Those based in compassion and courage will lead you in the right way. They are the ones that aren’t based on the thoughts of others. It has to do with who you want to be, even if people might be wrong about you.
The great thing is that most of the time you’ll receive more support when you do this. You’ll also be able to take compliments and feel thankful for them. You won’t get stuck by feelings of being an imposter. Everyone gets those thoughts from time to time.