Imposter syndrome vs. "reality"

In my post of last week, I talked about imposter syndrome: what it feels like, how it affects me, and its impact on my writing. From the Caltech Counseling Center:
The impostor syndrome is associated with highly achieving, highly successful people. This makes impostor feelings somewhat different from the concept of "low self-esteem" because there is a discrepancy between the actual achievement and the person's feelings about the achievement that may not be present in low self-esteem. People in different professions such as teachers, people in the social sciences, people in academia, actresses and actors, may all have impostor feelings. It was originally associated with women but recent research indicated that men suffer in similar numbers.
That bit about women is no joke. If you do any Googling about it, you'll see that a lot of discussion about imposter syndrome focuses on successful women, within the context of feminism, how women function in the workplace, and so on. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a man, not a woman. If my talking about imposter syndrome seems strange, makes me look weird or makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to go read my book instead. Its got explosions in it.

Anyway, several people responded to my post with variations of, "But you HAVE professionally published stories. You HAVE written and published a novel. You HAVE been paid for your writing. Those things are real, not fake. End of story." My response was cogent enough that I'll reproduce it here:
I wish it were that simple. The issue is not the facts before me - those are incontrovertible. It's my reactions to those facts that are problematic. To rewire my mind so as to have a different constellations of emotions triggered by a given set of stimuli would be a great trick. I'm not bothered by spiders, but I've got a serious thing about stinging insects. Why can't I just rewire my mind about that stuff while I'm at it?

Emotions are not automatically translated into actions, however. One's emotional response can be controlled through will and intellect so that it doesn't become the primary driver of behavior. As an adult, I've learned to not freak out and start swatting at things when faced with a wasp at eye level. That doesn't mean I'm not still really bothered by them.

Similarly, although I feel like a tremendous fraud as a writer, I know that my next book is waiting for me when my current hiatus is over. I'll feel guilty for putting another one over on you, and afraid that the reaction will be, "When will he realize that we all know he can't write?" Those are emotional responses. As a rational adult, I'll try not to let myself be driven by emotions alone.
That's kinda how it is, how it always has been, and, I suspect, how it always will be.

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  1. I'm not really sure what you want us to say...we try to encourage you, and to TELL you we know you can write, but then you still seem to think that we're secretly laughing behind your back. I know that when you have doubts and people tell you everything's fine that it's not so simple to just believe them but it's difficult to communicate using nuance and sensitivity when you're using something as impersonal as the internet. Still, I recommend you try reading Richard Wiseman's book, Rip It Up. ( It avoids 'positive thinking' mumbo jumbo and quite frankly it's just full of common sense and a bit of science. I hate self help books but that one's actually really difficult to argue with.

    1. You don't need to say anything. This is irrationality is a shortcoming of mine, and has little to do with anyone else.

      Believe me, I'm fully aware of how irritating this must be for you and for the people around me. Every time I try to share what's going on inside my head, I get much the same reaction: "you're far too successful to feel like a failure, and you're far too capable to feel incompetent, so snap out of it." It's why I don't talk about it much. It ends up frustrating me more than anyone else, and I have other, far less personally revealing ways to irritate people.

      It's not that I'm stubbornly refusing to acknowledge reality, deliberately resisting your efforts to encourage me or insisting on wallowing in poor me, poor me self-pity about how nobody loves me or my writing. If I could flip a switch and be one of those people who can revel in their successes and do nothing more than learn from their mistakes, I'd be a very different person.

    2. No one's asking you to revel in your success - just acknowledge that you've had some! People who bask in their success are just irksome as those who feel like a failure. It's really easy to become embroiled in extremes but the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I'm not telling you to "snap out of it", just trying to equip you with an external voice that's pointing out what success you HAVE had, just in case that helps you to turn down the volume on the internal critic. If you feel like an imposter, that's fine, and there's not a lot I can say that can convince you otherwise, but at least accept that you've put books out, you've had stories accepted for publication, etc, regardless of how they were received, or whether people liked them. I know you worry that we'll all one day go "What was he thinking?" but taking that out of the equation, you've still been published - that's the fact I want you to remember because it's a genuine achievement. (And let's be honest here, if I thought you were crap, don't you think I would have told you by now? When have I ever been known to sugar coat something?) I get the feeling I'm not helping in the slightest and I want to because I genuinely enjoy your writing and I want you to enjoy your writing too.


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