Thursday, 17 April 2008

Confidence trick

It's a truism that many apparently confident people are hiding a swarm of uncertainties, anxieties and even phobias under the cool facade. And it frustrates them that no one can see they're as vulnerable as everyone else.

It certainly applies to me sometimes. I may look confident enough when I'm throwing ideas into a meeting at work, or holding forth on a book I've just read, or briskly hanging the new curtains, but underneath I'm wondering just how long this fragile poise can last. How soon will I reveal my natural blundering, dithering self?

Therapists talk a lot about the impostor syndrome, where a person is actually quite competent at something but forever thinking they're just muddling through under false pretences and will be found out at any moment.

I think my whole life's a bit like the impostor syndrome. How long can it be before everyone realises I'm just an overgrown child whose sense of adult responsibility is wafer-thin, and that I'm barely capable of brushing my teeth let alone holding down a demanding job or maintaining a home?

Deep down I'm riddled with insecurities - about the future, money, old age, friendship, socialising, upsetting people, disappointing people, lack of generosity, you name it.

My relationships with other people are always fraught with doubts and hesitations about what they expect of me, how false or genuine I'm being, how normal or weird I appear, and whether they like me or loathe me. I find it hard to just be myself.

Then add to that my endless difficulties with masculinity. I've never felt masculine in my life but every day people expect me to behave like a man, so I have to fake it as best I can. Either that or some very puzzled faces of the 'So which gender is he?' variety.

The fact is that inside every confident person there's a panic-stricken nail-biter trying to get out - or just trying not be noticed.


Fate's Granddaughter said...

I never knew it had a name...Imposter syndrome. It is an incredible thing to think that so many people feel this way that they have created a name for it, and yet I have spent most of my life thinking it was just me. Is that naive or egotistical?

I think one of the most terrible realisations has been that insecurity doesn't wane when you get older, it just takes other forms. Academia brings out the 'fraud-feeling' in me more than any school-girl teasing ever could have!

I like this post - it was nice to hear something about you for a change!

The Crabling Otter said...

What a great post.

It's worth saying: you are not alone. Far from it, in fact.

Oh, you briskly hang curtains?

Nick said...

FG - Yes, it's an old chestnut. Particularly applied to people who've been appointed to a new job they're very nervous about. Yep, insecurity is always with us unfortunately. And Jenny could tell you all about academia!

I've done quite a lot of personal posts. Try Absent friends, Nudity, Affair assumption, Fear of the dark, Challenge the bullies, Far too thin, On not having children, Couples & break-ups, Bullying, and On being a vegetarian. That'll keep you busy!!

Crabling - Oh I've lived long enough to know I'm far from alone. It's amazing the number of cool-looking celebs and public figures who're actually a bag of nerves underneath! And yes, it's always me who hangs the curtains - Jenny can't be bothered!!

Anonymous said...

Nick - crikey, it's like reading words I could have written myself (only I couldn't have done it as well). Sent a shiver down my spine. Great post!

Nick said...

Conor, you're too kind! Glad you can identify with it. There are many, many who feel the same way I'm sure, but it's just not done to broadcast it - especially if you're meant to be a cool, fearless male.

Wisewebwoman said...

Oh Nick! well written post on the devils that ail us.
I have a long standing joke with dear friends. I say to them:
"You know I passed for a grown-up out there today!"
And we all laugh and tell each other how we fooled the big bad old world for yet another day.
Not as rare as we think, glad to think you and others have the same affliction, though affliction might be too harsh a name. In some ways it's a gift.

Mudflapgypsy said...

I concur wholeheartedly.

I find that if I get busy and stay away from analysing myself and my actions I can do alls sorts of things without a flicker of doubt. As soon as I start thinking about my self and what I'm doing it all goes pfffttt.

Dave Hampton said...

Agreed: I get most hung up with it when working with great people, concerned that I'm not pulling my weight, living up to what people expect. It can generate a lot of worrysome energy and block even more creativity.

Quickroute said...

ah yes - self doubt - fear and loathing - the little tell tale signs that we really are all fragile individuals who put on a fasade every day as we venture into the big wide world. - Nice one!

Nick said...

www - Ah yes, passing for a grown-up, that sounds familiar. I would call it an affliction because it can be so undermining, but if so it's a very common affliction, something like shortsightedness. Just one of those human foibles we have to allow for - both in ourselves and others.

Muddy - Yes, thinking about what you're doing can be fatal. And I'm very self-analytical!

Dave - Those great people are well practised at appearing confident though inside they can be just as jittery as anyone. But I'm always taken in by the act and get throughly intimidated!

Quickie - Self-doubt and fear, sure. No loathing though, just the desire to be more self-assured. But given the complexity and unpredictability of human existence, just how self-assured can we ever be?

Thriftcriminal said...

So do you have the naked in a public place dreams? I get those when I am anxious about being found out as a bit of a fraud.

These days, except in family or professional situations, I adopt the persona of "nice but dim". People's expectations are lower, and I get to evaluate the situation in comfort.

Nick said...

Thrifty - I know a lot of people have nudity dreams but I've never had them. My typical anxiety dreams are about getting lost, being chased by strangers, and body parts disintegrating (usually teeth). Anxiety dreams, anyone?

I like the nice but dim tactic - must try that one. Trouble is I like people to have high expectations, but then I'm afraid I won't meet them.

Queen Vixen said...

Awww Nick - this post provoked a big desire to ride right over the hill on my big white horse and tell you its not so ... however this is how you feel so fair enough. Have you read Manhood by Steve Biddulph. I heartily recommend it for all the wonderful men out their who are challenging and questioning the concept of what it is to be a man.

and ... you are absolutely OK (just one little teensy rescue) I am facinated by the subject of gender - there again my Dad is a cross dresser. I love that about him.

Baino said...

OH God, don't get me started! I have teeth and nudity dreams and ones where I try to scream but the sound won't come out. Outwardly cheeky, capable and very confidant, inwardly totally insecure and fragile! I didn't know it had a name either! Judging by the comments it's a common syndrome so I feel less anxious now! Thanks Nick. *bites nails and scratches inappropriately*

Nick said...

Vixen - No, I haven't read Biddulph but I've spent most of my life challenging the concept of Manhood. I was involved in the women's movement and the gay movement in the sixties and seventies and they helped me to question so many assumptions. Good for your dad - I've done a bit of cross-dressing in my time too! Oh, and you can carry me away on your big white horse anytime!!

Baino - I was thinking of you (among others) when I wrote the post. I haven't had the can't-scream dream, though I've had the one of trying to move and not being able to.

Thriftcriminal said...

Teeth falling out/disintegrating is supposed to be about a feeling of powerlessness. That's the only one I happen to know BTW, I picked up a random book on dreams when browsing in a bookshop and that went into the head and stuck.

Wisewebwoman said...

I do dream analysis (I know, I know, incredibly gifted, that's me)and teeth falling out is usually a sign you are overly worried about money.
PS some of the word verifications are really really difficult, n's and r's blurring into each other. Whine.

Nicole said...

I understand completely. I'm floored that people think of me as competent or accomplished. But I'm learning that it's not just about us faking things, but often, we're unable to see our own strengths and capabilities. Perhaps that's a good thing. Overly confident people are no fun.

Nick said...

www - Teeth and money? I don't quite see the connection, but that's certainly true in my case! Sorry about the word problem, but as you know I was getting a lot of unwanted spam!

Nicole - That's true, we don't appreciate our abilities. But I don't think over-confident people necessarily value their abilities either - they're just full of themselves!