Imposters and Inner critics

I came across topics which name things familiar to me as a woman, and cultural matters pertaining to women as a whole: the impostor syndrome and “voice dialogue” of the inner critic. Because of their prevalence, these ideas have other names by which they are called, but the terms mentioned here are two that have theories and teachers attached.

Two things are desired when I read this type of personality theory…. some understanding of how it works, especially whether it is at work in myself and those I know, and how those things correlate with teaching within the Bible. That tends to give something lasting fascination for me. And I see both impostor syndrome and voice theory at work and feel that if we understood better we could see the dynamics of the dialogue between and concerning women more clearly.
Imposter syndrome is described this way:

Impostor Syndrome is the “doubting and discrediting of one’s abilities and
achievements” and is especially disabling for gifted women. [Lee Anne Bell, “The Gifted Woman as Impostor”, Advanced Development Journal, Jan., 1990] also recognized that part of the discomfort women express with achievement “may not be a result of impostor feelings as much as a desire to equalize relationships and… disassociate from the male model of achievement.”
Another contributing factor, she says, is that “women tend to define competence as perfection and are often guided by standards that are unnecessarily high.”

The experience of numerous gifted women is seen thus:

Many gifted women may have constraining experiences because of gender, such as being seen as threatening to some men – and other women – in positions of authority. Some may feel pain at being different from “the way women are supposed to be” and have a need to hide their abilities to “fit in” with more “normal” society. ~‘Gifted Women: Identity and Expression’ by Douglas Eby

This same author says,”social reactions toward women, especially those who are gifted, are often demeaning and hostile. Labels like “scattered” and “bitchy”, rather than “multifaceted” and “ambitious” may result from insecurities people feel around exceptional people. The gifted woman’s family may experience strong envy and antagonism. leading to active, though perhaps unconscious, discouragement of her realizing or even pursuing her unique potentials.”

Let’s think about this a moment. Sometimes we do get uncomfortable with words like “exceptional”, and immediately think of someone who feels superior , an elitist… and the Lord knows we don’t want to be elitist. We then start to back away from things that make us think of ourselves or others as “gifted”, “exceptional”, or other terms that may be used to describe someone who is very able or potentially able in areas of talent, intelligence, or other aspects of a life. and we start seeing huge amounts of false humility and societal demands for that false humility arise. Which is another problem, as false humility is a disguise for real pride. But take people who are not unduly prideful, who genuinely have a giftedness, and for them to be forced to downplay or diminish it is to be false.

In things I’ve read there is always a caveat warning there are many types of giftedness and therefore the idea that being gifted is not something identifying the few, but many. It just depends on what sort of gifts we are focusing upon. Certain gifts to certain degrees being the rarity, not the fact that many display the quality of giftedness in their specific domain.

That this is highly necessary to point out is illustrated in the well-known Bible passage of the disbursement of spiritual gifts in the persons of the Church. There are numerous types, with varying levels of measurement, further varied by a number of different callings. In my thinking this does not jive with the idea of pastor as theologian, for instance. Some of the best pastors are not given to being theologians, which is more the pursuit of the teacher; it is harmonious with the calling of pastor, but not the determining factor called for in scripture. This idea is parallel to much of what is submitted concerning adult giftedness. What’s wanted is encouragement and cultivation of potential, and then integration into a welcomed and meaningful place in the whole of society.

Which brings me to the second part of the quote by Eby above. Even those in close relationship react with discouraging repression and envious undermining. We need to see this for what it is, selfish desire to play oneupmanship in making oneself seem more by diminishing another. One of the liberating things about the gospel of Jesus Christ is the complete rejection of that idea and the institution of a new one that we are all actually of one body and every success of a part of us is a success for all of us.

But there is more than one side of the ‘impostor syndrome’ …

Finding the Inner critic

The child who does well in school, gets good grades, wins awards, and “performs” beyond the norms for his or her age, is considered talented. The child who does not, no matter what his innate intellectual capacities or developmental level, is less and less likely to be identified, less and less likely to be served.

~ from article Is It a Cheetah? – By Stephanie S. Tolan

This goes on in the adult world, too, doesn’t it? Still. We compete with each other as to who is the smartest, most entertaining, competent. We disdain the “Losers” with a big L.

We live in a society where we are rated, graded, and evaluated on numerical scales

When the standards of society are unfairly stacked against one of the types of giftedness that isn’t readily quantified -whether knowingly or not- there is a dismissal of the worth of a person. As Mary Rocamora, a counselor of gifted and talented individuals, says, “The systematic destruction of any child’s self-esteem is devastating, but for the gifted it is particularly so. The gifted I’ve worked with tend to have had an extremely intense reaction to being shamed or humiliated in early childhood. For some clients, any attempt to achieve anything can trigger fear and deadness, a sense that any effort to be Somebody is simply a futile effort to avoid accepting that you are really Nothing.”

Self esteem in this sense is a picture of our God-given dignity as persons, and it is this that is attacked: our worth as human beings.

This becomes, for some of us, an internalized “Inner critic” perpetuating the message that we can’t because we aren’t good enough. The comments were made concerning the gifted, but truly, the dynamic at work is one that affects us all in our endeavors in life. Some of us become very damaged by unreasonable perfectionism or bullying humiliations by others. some of us just accept and weather the wear and tear from such communications by others… but do we stop to think how we perpetuate and magnify those thoughts within our own minds?
Never bothering to rewrite a script that originates in something untrue and evil ?

You know what? I don’t want to be that way, and I don’t mind defying the status quo… who is with me on this?

One of the reasons I paused to consider some of these theories is because there is much change that God brings to the personal viewpoint and the self’s consideration of whether we can succeed, and how worthy or loved we are. The way Paul put it is that we need to renew our minds… to bring them under the beam of the light of what God says on the matter and accept that. Displacing the inner conversation we often hold with ourselves is often necessary, as well as rebutting that of the outside review. There is a subtle balance of receiving the needed criticism necessary for healthy change and rejecting the naysaying of faithless negativity. Aligning with what God has to say about us and our greater purpose as humans serves to create the balance we need.

Recently I came face to face with this. It had to do with the idea that God was pleased, delighted with me and my abilities and what I am in His sight. I just cannot believe that most of the time. I often feel like an impostor in the family of God… as if I am always under review and found wanting, yet this does not come from any other voice so much as my inner one. But as we sang a simple chorus in church, one that calls God “Daddy” ( I almost cannot say that… I almost choke with doubt as it sticks unspoken in my throat – maybe straight laced leftovers from my Presbyterian upbringing) and declares that He “sings over me”, He loves me… this idea started to sink in. The revelation that God could love me,me, in that way truly, actually. And I saw how damaging that inner critic had been all these years, and I faced up to the impostor accusations, that not only was I not good enough, but I would never be, because there was something intrinsically wanting in me.

This idea of being loved and accepted by God is one that is balanced in a fragile manner with the reality of depravity. It is the difference between true and false humility, between man’s religion and true godliness; to see that yes, I am broken and cannot fix myself- but that God can both restore and make new, infusing me with Himself. Just like achieving women must face the reality of their true selves, and stop gauging themselves by the outside recognition, we believers must know how God feels about us, and what our intrinsic worth is in His eyes. It is not the fickle standards of either the culture around us, or the internalized views of those who can’t possibly know us or our future.

As long as our goal is simply to “fit in” we are doomed to be outsiders, because in the body of Christ, and in the long range plan of God, there are people ( whom God uses) and times when very little feels like it “fits”. Instead the scriptures urge us to trust God’s wisdom in all our circumstances including our gifts and personalities. That is what we must renew our minds to conform to… that understanding.

There is much more thought that this inspires in me… but I have to try to give those digressions voice another day and time… I will pursue this in several ways, both here and at Intellectuelle. Because, truly, Sarah’s posts lately have been an inspiration that has provoked my thinking about this in the broader spectrum than my “self-help” introspections.

3 thoughts on “Imposters and Inner critics”

  1. Thanks for these thoughts. I’m struggling to put into words my response, but until the words make it out, I wanted to let you know I appreciate your taking on this topic.

  2. If you are anything like me- there are hurt places that make it very hard to bring this up to the surface. Just know I appreciate that it is something you read and consider. Many of us know things, but find it hard to articulate them.

    One of my gifts is that I seek to articulate things in terms that are a sort of flaying of the flesh of a thing. Sushi master of ideas 😉 People like that so long as I don’t turn that talent on them… and I try not to.
    Now there is an unfortunate connotation that brings on visions of inquisition. But maybe some of us have been suffering an inquisition of sorts and need to be set free. I feel that way at times.

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