What type of therapist should I look for if I am suffering from life-long imposter syndrome?
April 11, 2012 10:34 AM   Subscribe

What type of therapist should I look for if I am suffering from life-long imposter syndrome?

I'm a male in my mid-twenties and I've spent my whole life living a series of lies. In order to compensate for my feelings of inadequacy, I've lied to different people about different aspects of my history; things I've said I've done that I haven't, things bosses have said about me that they didn't, etc.. I've never been caught in a significant lie either, which I guess is a testament to how experienced I am at it.

Further to this, I've satisfied my self-esteem issues through this false "impressing" people and womanizing. Even when happy in a relationship, if I am drunk enough I will let my guard down and make a move on someone who I'm moderately attracted to, just to know I can. This has, obviously led to a series of short-term relationships that end quite messily. I wake up in the morning feeling regret. This cycle is starting to creep up again and I want it to stop.

At work, I feel constant pressure to go over and above on everything. I spend most of my time feeling like there's a shoe to drop where I don't live up to people's expectations, despite the fact that it seems to never happen. I constantly restart/rework ideas because I feel they're imperfect, a trait I believe runs straight through to the core of who I am. If it isn't perfect, it isn't good enough. I take on way too many things and have a tough time admitting I want help with anything.

So, that's the story. It's classic imposter syndrome. I feel like who I am isn't good enough, so I compensate, and then I feel like I need to live up to my compensation. When I get worried things are falling apart, I blow them up (delete friends from FB, start applying for other jobs...finding a place to hide).

I'm acutely self-aware of the problem and I want to fix it; I just don't know how. Is there a particular type of therapist who would work well with an intelligent, self-aware person without a lot of historical issues around abuse, neglect, rejection, etc.?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Your problem sounds like something that a talk therapist of some sort would be able to help with. It doesn't sound -- to the very small extent that somebody on the internet can assess this from your few paragraphs -- like you are dealing with some kind of neuro-atypicality. It sounds like you have some behaviors that you feel are problematic and that maybe you'd like to change. There's probably not a pill for that. So talk therapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is popular on AskMe, and I'm sure there will be book recommendations for that in-thread soon.

I did want to talk about something you wrote that may help you with finding a starting place with your therapist:

I spend most of my time feeling like there's a shoe to drop where I don't live up to people's expectations, despite the fact that it seems to never happen.

Think about why you do things that set you up to feel this way. Think about why you're choosing to do this. Because you are choosing this feeling, over and over again. You could choose something else, but you're not.

This suggests to me that you are getting something out of feeling this way. It's comfortable to you in some way, or you feel -- paradoxically -- safer here than you do feeling other ways. It might be that you have been conditioned -- by your childhood, by your life -- to believe that the boom will always drop on you, that you will always be a few minutes away from losing everything, and that you are creating situations in which you can know exactly where the boom will swing from. In this way, you are -- kind of weirdly -- actually controlling your life, because you will have created your own eviction rather than being evicted because of things you can't control. More to the point, you can satisfy the anxiety that you already have as your natural state, by giving it something concrete to be anxious about.

I don't know, and it's something to talk to your therapist about. But remember that you learn patterns and habits because they kept you alive; they gave you something. They helped you in some way, in some circumstance that was formative. Maybe you're not in that circumstance anymore so your patterns and habits are maladapted, but you do them because they kept you safe, once, somewhere or some way.

Good luck!
posted by gauche at 10:48 AM on April 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is generally the domain of "I am doing specific things I don't want to and I need to stop." The approach is generally set up for a limited span of time (as opposed to the "it's done when it's done" approach of analysis,) and during that time you identify the behaviors, identify their general source, are instructed to think and act in such a way as to change the way you think about the source of the behaviors and, hopefully, the behaviors change. (That's a really, really rough lay-person description.) However, CBT doesn't usually dig deep into the source. Rather, you go just far enough to figure out why you're doing something to a depth necessary to get you to stop it.

Whether it's something that is recommended for impostor syndrome specifically, I can't tell you. But a good CBT therapist will tell you if the specific issue you have can/should be dealt with that specific sort of therapy.
posted by griphus at 10:53 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lying really isn't "impostor syndrome." Impostor syndrome is when you feel like you don't deserve the position/advantages you have, not when you construct a facade of lies to bolster your self-esteem.

You might start from a place of impostor syndrome, but you respond to it by engaging in mythomania (habitual lying and exaggeration). Treating the first issue isn't going to necessarily make the second go away, and treating the second isn't going to necessarily make the first go away.

It sounds like you could do CBT work to stop lying, and maybe some psychodynamic therapy to get at why you feel you need to lie.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:02 AM on April 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Here's what I meant to say above, more clearly: "Impostor syndrome" is used to describe an inaccurate sensation of being an impostor, not actually engaging in imposture.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:03 AM on April 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Could this be classified better as illusions of grandeur? Also, do you drink frequently or do recreational drugs?
posted by neversummer at 11:19 AM on April 11, 2012

Yeah, I agree with Sidhedevil, this doesn't actually sound like imposter syndrome at all. Lying to others in order to present a specific facade that you perceive meets a social expectation is not what imposter syndrome is. People with imposter syndrome actively cannot accept any accomplishments they have and attribute their successes to other people, forces, causes, etc. They don't feel like they have any agency or control over their own lives. You are actively making decisions to construct a life you hope will help you compensate for your feelings of inadequacy. Those are two different things.

Based on your descriptions I wonder if maybe you're having manic episodes, or even megalomania moments. Does anyone in your family have a history of bipolar disorder?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:26 PM on April 11, 2012

it's weird... the way you describe your condition sounds incredibly detached, like, text-book-cold. i don't mean to offend. it's just, you don't write like the personality type you described? does that make sense?

it's almost like you're trying to diagnose someone else. that's how it reads. i think that might explain some of the confusion other responders are experiencing trying to get their heads around your self-diagnosis. something is off.

you're right in wanting a therapist. i think any GOOD therapist will do. i'm sure you know someone who sees a therapist, who has maybe talked about it? a co-worker maybe? an old college friend? get a recommendation, and good luck.
posted by chyeahokay at 9:10 PM on April 11, 2012

In order to compensate for my feelings of inadequacy

This is actually what the problem is. As others have said, imposter syndrome is when you have something (a position/stature) that you don't feel you had any right to achieve even though you did.

I feel like who I am isn't good enough

A talk therapist will get to the why of that. A CBT therapist will help you to work through the steps and self talk necessary to help you overcome it. Mindfulness will help you to calm your anxiety.
posted by mleigh at 12:04 AM on April 12, 2012

your post could have been written by a someone who was a very good friend of mine, years ago. I do think most therapists will be able to help you. In my friend's case, the root of his insecurities stemmed from the environment in which he grew up.

If you are committed to living well, living better, you may have some bags to unpack- be gentle with yourself, but hold yourself accountable and one day not only will you not say/do the things that so concern you, but you will be so happy, clear, and carefree because you will see how to forgive yourself for the past. Your patterns are a defense mechanism, and they are there because when you invented them you were defending yourself from something which was beyond your control.

Asking for help with this, and for being honest (anonymously)- is a great first step. At the same time, you might also consider your core friendships. Some priceless people, if you tell them what you're working on, can help you reinforce your sense of value outside your stated accomplishments/intentions etc.

My friend's bigger lies were possible because of experience built upon habits of 'white lies' & exaggerations. These were very apparent to those closest to him- although he explained the inconsistencies as ADD & never 'accomplishing' what he'd lied about because always 'a better opportunity had come along instead'. We loved him, saw his value, and were sad for his patterns- most of which - when we pointed out to him just triggered a series of rationalizations and more twisted truths to make stories line up. We felt badly about this, saw through it, so we never made him 'feel caught'.

We would have admired him, been proud of him, and absolutely would have helped him, if he could have asked. Have faith. Your _real_ friends will be there for you, and once you've decoded & broken your cycle you will have something my friend did not: a feeling of actually deserving that validation & love.
posted by iiniisfree at 9:44 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

OP most likely has NPD and would benefit more from CBT and empathy lessons than medication.
posted by lotusmish at 11:47 PM on April 26, 2012

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