You’ve gone to writing conferences, honed your craft, written a manuscript or two, or three, or more, maybe even gotten them published. Maybe even hit a bestsellers list, more than once. Maybe become a perpetual bestseller. And yet…you feel like somehow, someday, someone is going to discover the terrible truth. You’re a fraud. You don’t really have any writing talent. It’s all been a fluke. Everyone who says they love your writing wouldn’t know good writing if it bit them on the nose. And if those people knew who you REALLY were, deep down, they’d run from ever again reading anything you write.
Welcome to Imposter Syndrome. Sometimes known as imposter phenomenon, or fraud syndrome.
An article in Scientific American: defines Imposter Syndrome this way. “Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
Biases that Fuel Imposter Syndrome
Why is Imposter Syndrome so prevalent? Many reasons. But one reason stems from how our brains are wired. We have what’s called in social psychological terms a bias blind spot, which is the belief that we’re more objective and less biased than other people.
So basically we’re biased to think we aren’t biased.
Where this really comes into play is with something called naïve realism, which Elliot Aronson defines in his book The Social Animal as “The propensity to believe that our subjective interpretation of reality IS reality.” We believe other people’s views of reality are wrong. Or misguided. But we see things as they really are. Especially things about ourselves.
There’s also another bias that we have: negative bias. You can sum up negative bias by saying bad is stronger than good. “Negative interactions and events…are far more powerful than positive interactions and events.” (from The Social Animal)
Put our biases together with our fears, worries, vulnerabilities, and insecurities, and you’ve got a recipe for Imposter Syndrome.
Problems Imposter Syndrome Causes
1. It opens a door to the enemy’s lies. And we’re so inclined to listen! This is why one bad review strikes us to the core and invalidates countless positive reviews. Why one negative reader letter will obliterate dozens of letters where readers thank you for helping them, even changing their lives. Remember the negative bias? It’s hard to shake the power of the negative.
2. It opens the door to playing the comparison game. When we read something that moves us, that we find beautiful and truthful, we’re far too inclined to turn that into a denigration of our own writing ability: “I’ll never write like that! Whatever made me think I could write?” At the core, it comes down to not feeling like a real writer. We look at other writers and think they’re the real ones, and we’re the fraud.
3. It opens the door to invalidating what God is doing in our writing. Maybe we become dissatisfied with our sales or career progress because everyone says we should be a bestseller, but we’re not, so something must be wrong with us. Since it doesn’t seem to us that God is doing very much through our writing, we must not be a real writer and this is the “proof.” But who are we to judge what God is doing in and through our writing?
4. It opens the door to fear. That keeps us from moving forward when God brings opportunities our way. Maybe we don’t submit to that agent or editor who was interested, or we don’t ever show anyone our writing, etc.
Practical Solutions for Imposter Syndrome
- Stop focusing on our own abilities. Focus instead on God’s gifting and tasking in us.
Philippians 4:6-9 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Think about this not in terms of what’s good about yourself, but what’s good about GOD! None of us will ever feel confident in ourselves. We’re all too broken and prone to mistakes and wrong thinking. But when we put our focus on what’s true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy about the One who has give us this task, THEN we can let of feeling like a fake. Because it’s not about our skill or ability. It’s about what God enables us to do.
- Embrace the truth that God’s reality IS reality.
Remember, we’re prone to believe that only our interpretation of reality is the correct interpretation. But God is the only One who can see everything clearly, and know everything clearly. We have to get our definition of reality from Him. From His truth. From His Word.
James 4:12 says, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy…”
Micah 4:3 says, “And He will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations…”
Why does God get to be the judge? Because He alone has the knowledge of all things. He alone sees clearly. He alone has the wisdom.
- Stop giving in to the negative. We dishonor God when we do that.
1. Don’t look to base your self-esteem on yourself and your feelings. Build them on the truth of what God says about your worth and value:
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14
YOU are God’s works. You are wonderful!
2. STOP reading reviews. There’s only one review you should care about, and that’s from the One who gave you this task. If He’s happy with you and your obedience, nothing anyone else says matters.
“For the Lord takes delight in His people…” Psalm 149:4
Seek to feel His delight, which will come because of your obedience.
3. Celebrate the positive. Actively look for the delights and blessings God has for you in each day. Even every moment of the day. If you write a line or paragraph that you really like, stop. Savor it. Thank God for it. Recognize that He is using you and celebrate that!
If you’re a journal kind of person, keep a blessing journal, so you can go back and read it over again and remind yourself of the ways God has used and delighted and blessed you and others.
- REST in who God made you to be.
Rest. Don’t strive to be something else. And be thankful for the way He made others, especially when you’re struggling with comparison. When another writer’s work moves you, rather than give in to the temptation to compare, and feel like you have no business being a writer, simply thank God for the way He used that writer to affect you.
Pray for that other writer’s ministry, even. We’re all on the same team. God has a purpose for that other writer’s words, and He has a purpose for yours. Again, rest in who He made you to be. And submit yourself and your writing to Him for His purposes, whatever they may be.
Don’t give yourself permission to compare. To look at anyone but yourself and God when you consider whether or not you can or should do what He’s asking you to do. It’s not about what qualifications you think are necessary to do this task. It’s about the fact that God has given it to you.
Remember there’s only one thing to judge yourself on, and that’s OBEDIENCE. Being a writer, obeying God when He gives you the task to write, isn’t about if you’re gifted, or if you’re able. It’s not about if you’re making money or hitting bestsellers’ lists. That’s all God’s circus, and His monkeys.
The only think you can control, and therefore evaluate whether or not you’re successful, is whether or not you’re obeying God. Doing what He asks. Speaking when He says to speak. Writing when and what He asks you to write. If you’re listening to, and obeying, God, you cannot be a fraud. And if you call yourself a fraud, you’re really saying He’s a fraud. And that, my friends, is never smart. Instead, let’s just be obedient, do what we know to do, and trust Him for the outcome.
We want to hear from you!
Have you struggled with Imposter Syndrome? What helps you overcome it?
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