One of the most insidious tricks my mental illnesses play on me is impostor syndrome, the feeling that all my accomplishments are mistakes, and that it is only a matter of time until I am exposed as a worthless fraud. A failure. And even though I know depression lies and that this is its most vicious lie, I still struggle, seeking validation for even the easiest of tasks in a desperate effort to escape the feeling of being a failure.
My therapist recently decided to confront this particular neurosis of mine by asking me what I was good at, what I did right.
“Honestly, I feel like I’m fucking everything up. Most days I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water. Can you fix that?”
My therapist decided to take a different tack, asking me to describe what I had failed at, what had turned out so horribly for me. I couldn’t answer.
Great, so I’m a failure and knowing how I’ve failed, I may have thought. This is the opposite of what I wanted. I wanted you to fix me, not pile on the failures to make a failure sandwich. Failure squared.
“But you know your not a failure,” my therapist pointed out. “And that is the evidence. You may always have those doubts, but so does everyone else. What we’re here for is to keep that from becoming disruptive and debilitating in your life and by redirecting your thoughts the way I just did you can keep those feelings and the anxiety of being a failure at bay.”
I nodded, not wanting to open my mouth and say something wrong that would prove that she was being too kind and that I was a failure.
“And here is the most important part,” she continued. “How many times have people left because of your mistakes? Even when things didn’t go your way, how many times did it cost you the people in your life?”
Again, I failed to answer because the truth was there weren’t any examples I could think of.
“You aren’t a failure, and even if you are the people in your life don’t expect perfection, they want to see you, successes, failures, and all. If anything, being that honest will strengthen your relationships. And it will provide positive reinforcement that you aren’t a failure just because you aren’t perfect.”
And this of course is the point of cognitive behavioral therapy, to reinforce ways for me to redirect negative thoughts with evidence that I can hold on to in my mind, pushing back against the lies of mental illnesses by grounding myself in that evidence. And bit by bit it makes the fear of being a failure easier to ignore.
So basically my therapist pointed out that I was a failure at being a failure. Which just means I’m human. And my darkness and fuck ups make up a part of me, but they aren’t the whole story. So I should stop listening to the lies of my mental illnesses when they say I’m an impostor. And if this is something you struggle with too, you should stop listening to those lies as well. Because even if I’ve never met you I can promise you aren’t as much of an impostor as you probably feel like.
And kudos to my therapist for making a damn good dent in my impostor syndrome, and doing so in one 50 minute session to boot. I guess she earned her paycheck today.