Around 70% of the population has experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives and I’m one of them. The persistent fear that I’ll be “found out” as less smart/funny/attractive/worthwhile than I initially appear has totally killed my dating life.
I felt like a complete fraud. I could ace the first few dates. I was fun, friendly, and flirty—I had seduction down to a science. But three months in, I turned into a complete mess. I was afraid my partner would find out that I wasn’t who they thought I was. And even though I never outright lied, I still never felt like myself.
I was ashamed of my upbringing. Every time I met a guy with a nice family, I was afraid to admit the shortcomings of my own upbringing, so I avoided meeting them. I pretended to be busy when his parents were in town. I was afraid that my partner would find out that I was from a broken home and I didn’t know how to love. This simply isn’t true, but I believed it to my core.
I overcompensated. I wanted to be the prettiest, funniest, most interesting person my partner knew. I bought new clothes, I laughed too hard at his jokes, I even tried to cook elaborate meals outside of my expertise, all to distract my partner from the things I thought he would eventually find out about me. I thought if I were fun enough, he’d forget about the rest.
I was jealous. I pretended not to be jealous but other women drove me crazy. Just hearing another woman’s name made me feel insecure. I’d pretend not to care, and then look her up on social media later. Then I’d compare myself to her and imagine all the ways this person was better than me. I didn’t even know this person, but I was afraid of her.
I made myself small. I used minimizing language, like “I think…” “I just…” or “I feel…” even when things were pretty black and white. I was afraid that I’d be called out as wrong, so I made myself as small as possible. I apologized constantly for things that didn’t matter and I fished for compliments by saying negative things about myself.
I self-sabotaged. I did things on purpose that I knew would ruin the relationship. Once, I even cheated in a new relationship and then told him about it. I believed I was fulfilling the inevitable. I believed that I wasn’t worth loving and he was going to find out anyway.
I settled for less. I let people treat me poorly. I liked men who treated me like I wasn’t doing enough with my life, like I wasn’t smart enough, or talented enough, because it affirmed my own ideas about who I was. People who treated me better than that scared me more than anything else.
I wouldn’t believe someone truly liked me. No matter what my partner said or did, I believed he was doing me a favor. I believed that he was better than me and he was pretending not to notice. At my lowest point, I said this out loud to a man I was dating. It should come as no surprise that the relationship didn’t work out. However, the experience helped me realize something about my thinking: it was illogical.
I sought therapy. This destructive psychological pattern was ruining my life. I had created a hell for myself inside my own head. I had to get help. During that time, I didn’t date. My therapist and I made a plan to reroute my thinking patterns. Instead of reacting to those thoughts on impulse, I had to ask myself a question: Who said that? Who said I wasn’t worth loving? Or that I wasn’t smart? 99.9% of the time, no one did. I learned that all of the things I was afraid of my partner “finding out” were actually false ideas I created.
I took credit for my accomplishments. I made a list of things I had done and I didn’t let myself pass the credit onto anyone else, not even luck. Every time I did the right thing, every time I succeeded, I wrote it down. I made sure to tell myself I was doing a good job, even if it was just getting out of bed.
I let go of shame. I learned that I couldn’t control the past, and any logical person would know that. My upbringing was something that made me who I am, but not something that made me a bad person. I learned that the only thing I could control was me. I couldn’t focus on the past or on other people. The only thing I could do was focus on me every single day.
I changed my language. I slowly stopped apologizing. I said what I meant without weak qualifying words. I swapped out my negative language for positive thoughts. I wasn’t prideful, but I was honest. I thought people would find me blunt or rude but they didn’t. They found me confident.
I got OK with being imperfect. No one expected me to be perfect, so why did I expect that of myself? I learned to be okay with messing up sometimes. I learned that a good partner knows that you will fail, and will support you anyways. Even if they don’t, I’m there to support myself. And if I’m there for myself, there’s really nothing to be afraid of.
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