Impostor syndrome, also known as the impostor phenomenon, is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the situation in which highly accomplished, successful individuals paradoxically believe they are frauds who ultimately will fail and be unmasked as incompetent.”
More simply put, the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the feeling that your accomplishments are not real or that you do not deserve praise or success.”
This is something I feel down to my bones.
While I don’t think I’d call myself “highly accomplished,” I would say I’m somewhat successful as a writer and advocate. I’ve spent a lot of time practicing my writing and even more time in therapy getting a handle on my trauma.
It is my dream to work with survivors. To help them to the best of my ability. To make sure not a single one of them has to feel the isolation and hopelessness that I felt when I was trying to recover. I’ve spent a lot of time working toward that.
Now that I’m stepping out into more advocacy and doing more than sounding off into a social media void, the self doubt has begun to set in.
Am I healed enough for this?
Am I even any good at it?
Surely there’s someone better than I am?
Why would anyone listen to me anyway?
I begin to downplay my experiences.
They weren’t that bad.
Other girls have had it much, much worse.
Do I even belong in this community?
I didn’t even use the word trafficking until someone told me that’s what it was.
The lies grow stronger and stronger until they all come to a grinding halt with this realization:
Why should anyone believe in me if I don’t?
Now, I could go one of two ways with that.
I could fall into a hole of “I do not deserve to call myself an advocate” and “I do not belong.” It would be easy to quit. To disappear. To step down from the fight. It would be easy to turn my back and walk away in moments like this.
I can’t always shake the feeling that I’m not enough. That I’m only one person with one experience. That I have a long way to go before I can call myself an advocate. That there is no reason at all for anyone to listen to me.
But I go back to my dream, and it’s still there. The women like me are still there. The little girls like little girl Hope are still there. And I want better for them than the decade after my trafficking that I spent lost, alone, and hating everything about myself.
So I remember something someone said to me once, not that long ago. They were reaching out for my help on an anti trafficking project and one of the women I was speaking with referred to me as “an expert in the field.”
Impostor syndrome tells me that’s not true. I’m no expert. It’s just a lived experience. But the route I’m choosing to take, and that I have to choose anew every time the lies creep in, is “So what?”
So what if I’m not an expert? No expert started as an expert. If this is true, that I’m not enough, doesn’t that just give me something to aim for? Doesn’t it give me a destination to journey toward?
So I tell myself I lived this. I survived this. God has redeemed me. My life is changed.
Do I have more learning and growing to do? Absolutely. Can I always improve myself and my advocacy? Absolutely. Does this mean my advocacy is bad, I’m a fraud, and there’s no point in what I’m doing? Absolutely not.
Impostor syndrome tells me that I am not qualified enough. I am not strong enough. I am not brave enough. I am not healed enough. I am not enough.
My life says otherwise.