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January 8th, 2019
Hopefully, we’ve all felt this. It’s when you find yourself in a position that feels uncomfortable because it broadcasts an identity and ability that is beyond what we think ourselves capable. Like a fish out of water, there is an uneasiness, perhaps even downright anxiety about this state of affairs.
Growth and progress require a change, and we might benefit from wondering whether all parts of our psychology get onboard with changes at the same time. There does appear to be two conflicting urges that plague all people. On the one hand we want things to stay the same and on the other we crave novelty, stimulation and growth. The first of these is denial rooted in a kind of fear. To want things to stay the same is a fantasy given a long enough timeline, but a craving for novelty, stimulation and growth is an engine to strategically deal with the fact that nothing stays the same.
Regardless of how these two urges might be mapped in the brain, it’s possible to highlight the guilty party as that urge that wants things to stay the same. Perhaps part of this mechanism is to simply assume things are still the same. This is also a bad mental tendency that people have, another area where denial comes in. So often when things are slowly getting worse, we deny any change and simply believe that things are still as they’ve always been. Until perhaps a heart attack devastates our reality and we have a big wake up call to the changes we’ve been ignoring. This instance is a sort of impostor syndrome in reverse. Generally, someone with an impending heart attack probably thinks they are healthier than they really are. Changes have been taking place, but they still identify with a younger, healthier self that never even thought about heart attacks. And then boom, wake up call.
Impostor syndrome, as it’s usually used, implies something good. Our efforts are paying off, other people see the fruits of our labor and see us more for what we are than we ourselves do. It’s almost as though when it comes to problems and work we have to do, we have our focus correctly faced forward, but when we think of ourselves, we look backwards and spend that whole time looking in the rear-view mirror. And yet, such a perspective couldn’t be more incorrect. Each day we are a slightly different person. This is true on a physical biological level as our cells constantly multiply and die, but it’s also true on a mental level if only for the fact that after yesterday, we have one more day of memories and information to incorporate into how we see and understand the world.
Impostor syndrome at it’s most basic is a fairly harmless phenomenon that shows why it’s a poor idea to cling to any identity too much. The Identity Danger can keep us locked into patterns of behavior that make us vulnerable to the changing nature of reality. It’s an instance that reminds us that identity is fluid. Identity evolves as a function of our understanding of reality.
As we gather more information, and unlock further information by taking action, our understanding of reality changes, and thus, our identity changes.
To cling too tightly to any identity is to shut out new information and underestimate the complexity of the world.
Luckily impostor syndrome is fairly harmless, and with the right understanding, we can see that it’s a good sign. It’s proof the we are changing, because our effect on the world has changed. If anything we should seek out situations the evoke impostor syndrome. At the very least, the discomfort of such an uncertain situation will make us more likely to grow.