I was recently inducted into Pinnacle Honor Society, which recognizes the academic achievements of non-traditional students. The induction ceremony was lovely, but I couldn’t help but feel that I didn’t belong there, that there was some mistake. I felt that, despite qualifying on paper, I didn’t really earn my membership; that my good grades were some fluke and I in fact do not even belong at college at all.
This is called impostor syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome is the feeling that you aren’t really as intelligent, talented, or otherwise deserving of success as your accomplishments suggest. No matter how good your grades are or impressive your resume is, you feel like a fraud who doesn’t belong.
According to this article, Impostor syndrome can sometimes be caused by growing up in an overly critical or conflict filled family.
My mother prided herself on never praising mediocrity, and encouraged humility, often exulting in ‘God’s work’ in ‘keeping you humble’ when something embarrassing happened to me. When I was successful at something, humility was still encouraged; when I made excellent scores on the ACT, my mother attributed it to all the studying she allowed me to do, not to any intelligence of my own.
Self-esteem and self-confidence were considered psychobabble, at best, and at worse, the deadly sin of pride. We were supposed to have ‘God-confidence’, because after all, what were we but worms who deserve the fires of hell?
I have therefore never had very high self esteem, and it’s easy for me to believe that I don’t belong, that I’m actually very stupid, and that I have no talent at anything. Accepting compliments for academic achievements is very hard. My brain conjures up a million reasons why I don’t deserve it.
I’m an INTJ according to the meyers-briggs personality typology, and I’ve read that they are naturally very confident. All the rest of the profile fits me, but not that. And maybe that would describe me too, had I not been raised with humility that is actually self-hatred.
I would like to end this post with a rousing affirmation of how much I do deserve to be in an honor society, but my heart isn’t in it. I can name the syndrome – and that does help! – but it’s only half the battle. The other half is a long slow fight to rewire my brain, to find the confidence that I had when i was young and thought I could do anything.