Pretending to be Perfect: Feeling like a Fraud

What happens when we doubt our judgment? It’s always a disaster. We kick ourselves for not trusting our gut. We did a good job, we were right the first time, but doubt what we are thinking.

This is how we confirm over and over again that our judgment cannot be trusted. Out self-doubt kicks in and overrides our initial approach. It is this doubt that sabotages out happiness, confidence and success. It is entirely consistent with an identity of self-contempt.

This is how we maintain the consistency of our role as the ‘stupidest’ one in the room. It is awful. But these choices have nothing to do with our intelligence. They are emotional. They come from the heart, not the head. People who feel like impostors keep overriding their mature, adult judgment in the present, with these childish assumptions from first grade. This approach makes sure that we don’t find happiness, which we feel ‘stupid’ people do not deserve.

Why don’t we stop? Every six-year-old knows that when we are wrong, we deserve to be punished. More specifically, when we don’t trust ourselves to make good decisions, we fill our mind with doubt as punishment. So by denying ourselves happiness, we are teaching ourselves a lesson. This is done with the hope that we will avoid the same mistake next time. Yet, the cycle repeats itself because people who feel stupid are guilty of being wrong and need to be punished, which makes them feel stupid and so on.

It seems so illogical. There is no reason for it. Not a rational reason, anyway. Some “reasons” are not intellectual, they are emotional and are derived from the subjective attitudes that we have about ourselves. For instance, one “reason” we inflict blame upon ourselves is that we have learned pain is inevitable. So we beat others to the punch by blaming ourselves first. It hurts less that way. It is the lesser misery that we prefer, to the even worse pain of letting others punish us.

We may have learned as kids that our parents expected us to be “perfect.” Our parents’ overcritical attitudes leads children to believe that our human faults and imperfections are a “disappointment” to our parents, and that it was our “fault” that we didn’t live up to their high standards and expectations. To relieve our painful feelings of worthlessness, children may try to deal with the issue of “fault” in their own immature, inappropriate way:

1. They may seek to relieve the pain of their faults through overcompensatory striving for perfection.

2. They may try to “deny” that they have faults, pretending to be perfect and above failure, and that all attempts to accuse them of having faults are “lies” and “gossip” on the part of jealous haters.

3. They may defensively deny their own imperfections by going on the offensive and blaming others for their difficulties. Their motto is “It’s not my fault.” Their defensive tactics include the absurd position that, even when they are caught red-handed, it is someone else’s fault that it is their fault! They will say, “You made me do it!” They cannot see how they contributed to their own predicament. They are already so filled to the brim with negative feelings that they cannot tolerate one more drop of guilt, fault or blame.

4. On the other hand, in obedience to their family’s opinion of them, they may define themselves in terms of fault, guilt, blame and worthlessness. To maintain this negative identity, which is preferable to the even worse fate of having no identity at all. They may seek out guilt and blame, and take more responsibility for the failures and crimes of others than the reality situation demands.

As adults, some may carry their childhood attitudes into adulthood, and as a result, they react inappropriately to their own imperfections, those of others and the ones in the world. As a result, when something happens to confirm these childhood convictions, they end up lashing out in anger.

Guy feeling stupid photo available from Shutterstock

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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