Do you have a voice inside your head that tells you that you are a bit rubbish? My friend D calls the voice her “crazy inner roommate”. You know the deal with this bitch. You can’t move out. You can’t ignore her. You can’t make her move out. All you can do is roll your eyes and say, “Alright. What is it now? What’s your latest complaint? And can you please – please – buy your own biscuits instead of eating all mine?” (I won’t put D’s full name, as her crazy inner roommate might get pissed off about it.)
The crazy inner roommate comes under a lot of different names: anxiety, self-loathing, shame, fear, humiliation, worry. There’s also a lot around at the moment about imposter syndrome, which strikes me as another name for the roommate. Once something that people would only mutter darkly about while pretending it only happens to others, imposter syndrome has become a widely acknowledged phenomenon that, I suspect, affects most of us, men and women, at one time or another. It’s real enough (and I have seen it in myself many times), but I think we don’t need to dress it up with a fancy name like imposter syndrome. Let’s call it what it is: self-hate, self-doubt, vulnerability, hesitation, uncertainty, human nature.
Imposter syndrome rarely shows up and just blatantly says, “I’m not good enough to do this because I’m a fraud.” That’s too literal an interpretation. Instead, it shows in more subtle ways: “Who am I to say this?” “Who am I to try?” “Who do I think I am?” “What made me think I could do this?” “Why do I think it’s OK for me to ask for this?”
On and on it goes until, suddenly, the day has passed in a haze of pointless self-recrimination with occasional breaks for checking social media to make sure that the lives of strangers you don’t actually know are still as amazing as they appeared last time you looked
These questions are paralysing because, in our own heads, we start to answer them as if they were normal questions. We start to find evidence for the case against us. Maybe it’s a bad idea to do this because you might get rejected. Maybe you shouldn’t try because you might fail. Yes, who do you think you are because you already messed up last time you did something a bit like this, didn’t you? And on and on it goes until, suddenly, the day has passed in a haze of pointless self-recrimination with occasional breaks for checking social media to make sure that the lives of strangers you don’t actually know are still as amazing as they appeared last time you looked. (Phew! Yes! They still are! What a relief! So glad I checked!)
The thing to realise is that you are not the imposter – your crazy roommate is. All the things you have done? You did them in spite of her (or him). And all the good decisions you ever made? Your crazy inner roommate did not take these decisions. All the failures and bad times and tough days you’ve overcome? You survived those – while that imposter inside you just moaned and kvetched and bad-mouthed you. Whenever that voice asks, “Who are you to…?”, the smart answer is: “Well, who am I to doubt myself?” Because do you really know it all? Can you really be certain of failure? Who says you have all the answers?
The funny thing is that the crazy inner roommate is right, of course, though. Who are any of us to get up in the morning and even be certain of making it through the day? We’re no one to think that. And one day we won’t make it through. In the meantime, let’s get on with life – without being so unnecessarily shit to ourselves while we’re at it. (Sorry – I went a bit dark at the end. But you know I’m right.)