Imposter Syndrome in Relationships

Am I Enough? This is a looming question for many of us, upheld by the comparisons we make and the secrets we keep.

Imposter syndrome is a belief of being a fraud, even with some acknowledgment of one’s skills and accomplishments. Imposter syndrome often overlaps with shame (the belief that we are inherently flawed, unlovable, and/or unworthy), thus affecting our self-perception and the ways we interact in relationships.

When we fear we are an imposter and are preoccupied by masking our “inadequacy,” one or more defensive strategies tend to unfold. For example, some may overcompensate with needless self-promotion or excessive knowledge-sharing. Alternatively, others may shield themselves from external criticism by announcing their flaws (before others can name them) or subscribing to a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Imposter syndrome is often compounded by a lacking sense of self. Many carry a fragmented, even fragile, cultural identity within the United States. There is often a tension between the dedication to our culture of origin and to the culture of the United States. It can feel as though we belong nowhere, straddling two or more conventions without a place to definitively call home.

There is a cognitive dissonance that occurs. When we notice a discrepancy between two [seemingly] conflicting beliefs, behaviors, and/or emotions, we may feel pressure, internal and/or external, to choose one or the other. In addition, we can feel that choosing to integrate our cultures and backgrounds is a betrayal.

Previously, it was believed that cultural integration (i.e. combining aspects of both the culture of origin and the dominant/mainstream culture) leads to the best outcomes for multicultural individuals. More recently, however, this assertion is being questioned[i]. Perhaps, there is not a one-size-fits-all path. More than likely, a deeper understanding of our personal values, defense strategies, and internal motivations paves the way to clarity and authenticity.

Furthermore, clarity and authenticity are two tools that can challenge our fears and begin to dismantle imposter syndrome. We begin to stand on firmer ground. With a sense of self-understanding and conviction, we are more willing to share our perspectives and emotions with others. Not only does our willingness to be vulnerable increase our chances of connecting with others, it also invites others to follow suit; a sense of safety is established, thus creating space for intimate relationships to take form and blossom.

Discovering who we are takes time and intention. Psychotherapy, book clubs, and journaling are a few ways we can add structure to the self-discovery process. It can be disorienting as self-awareness expands, yet the rewards are invaluable.

You are not an imposter when you feel confused. You are not an imposter when you feel inadequate. You are human, doing the best you can while juggling life’s demands. And perhaps, living a fulfilling life depends on leaning into uncertainty and revealing ourselves. Which fears stand in your way of taking off the mask? How do these fears relate back to pain from your past? What is it costing you to sustain the facade? And most importantly, what are you willing to do to take responsibility for your fulfillment?

[i] Bierwiaczonek, K., & Kunst, J. R. (2021). Revisiting the integration hypothesis: Correlational and longitudinal meta-analyses demonstrate the limited role of acculturation for cross-cultural adaptation. Psychological Science32(9), 1476-1493.

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

Headlight is now collaborating with health plans and companies to make therapy more accessible and affordable. Speak to a Care Coordinator today.