Discovering the concept of Imposter Syndrome

I don’t often share links to other blogs here, but I somehow found a blog a couple of weeks back called Coaching Skills International that has been a breath of fresh air. From what I can tell it’s produced by an online counseling college out of Canada. If I’m wrong, I hope they’ll correct me. I urge you to check it out and see the kind of advice and knowledge they offer.

This past weekend, they posted an article about imposter syndrome. They define it as:

“Impostor syndrome is a psychological condition where people are unable to believe in their successes. Thus, despite the evidence that points to the fact that they are skilled, capable and competent they write this off as temporary – or timing and good luck. Thus, they constantly struggle with feeling like a fraud.”

This absolutely describes the first 37 years of my life, especially the last few years before I lost almost everything and entered recovery. I always had this voice in the back of my head going back to my days as a child that said, “You can’t let them know who you really are. Nobody will approve of, nor like who you really are, so be somebody else.”

I have suspicions that this developed first from somehow getting the message from my environment that I wasn’t enough. I think there’s a fine line between correcting and teaching a small child the right way to do things and making them feel inferior and as if they don’t have the instinct to do things correctly the first time, leading them to constantly doubt themselves.

Most of those negative messages came from a babysitter I had while my parents worked prior to me entering school. I’ve already written about the abuse while I was there, so I’ll skip it, but I also think my imposter syndrome was borne out of a fear of my safety. I internally learned at an early age how to say and do what I needed to avoid her wrath (most of the time) and that involved putting on a show, not being my genuine self. It’s the survival skill I leaned upon too heavily as I grew up.

Finally, I think my imperfect mental health likely played a role in exacerbating my imposter syndrome. Anxiety pushes you to avoid negative things like conflict with others. Depression forces you to put on a happy face for the world. Mania attempts to convince you that you’re something special and the life of the party, despite knowing you’re faking it.

Example #1

I remember in late 2012 when, as the co-founder of a large film festival in Maine, we held a press conference to announce our plans. It was in the space adjacent to our office we also rented and turned into an art gallery.

We had purchased a couple of those large backdrops (called step-and-repeats) you see celebrities pose in front of on the red carpet that usually has small logos for the event and a sponsor. A friend from a local college brought over a very cool looking podium and sound system so there was one of those small microphones you see on awards show to speak into.

As a surprise, I arranged to have Les Stroud of the Survivorman television show come to the festival that year and teased the announcement. I also arranged to have him speak to us via Skype at the press conference. The whole visual set-up was very professional.

As a city councilor (a whole other imposter story), I was good friends with the mayor and he agreed to attend the press conference to speak about the economic impact to the city.

So, we sent invitations to a few VIPs, our sponsors and the media to come to the press conference to hear what we had to say – and they all did. When the emcee (the magazine’s managing editor) introduced me to make the surprise announcement of Survivorman, I came up to the podium and looked out. There were probably 40 invited guests, including four TV stations with cameras and two newspaper reporters there.

I was standing on a stage and they were all waiting to hear me. In that moment, a wave of thoughts sprouted: “How did I pull this all together? How is every media source within 50 miles here? How can none of them recognize that I’m a hustler, a liar and a fraud? I am putting on a totally fake press conference – except it’s not fake. Or is it? It’s for a real event. I shouldn’t be in this position. It should be reserved for talented people who know what they’re doing. This song and dance is going to result in sponsors giving me tens of thousands of dollars I don’t deserve. How do I make sure these people don’t see the REAL me?”

Example #2

In my high school senior yearbook, I won the “Most Opinionated” superlative. I knew what that meant. It was the “Biggest loudmouth asshole who we still somehow like award.”

Even then I felt like I was an imposter. I excelled at things I found simple, like history and creative writing, and figured out how to cheat my way through math and science. I don’t think I was part of any specific clique, finding it easy to bounce around because as a chameleon, I could adapt to whomever I was hanging out with. If I was with the jocks, I’d turn my brain off. If I was with the brains, I’d hide the fact I loved sports.

Fast-forward 19 years and I’m nearing my demise. About six months after Example #1 took place, I was asked if I would give the commencement address for the latest graduating class. It took less than two decades for the loudmouth asshole who had to sit silently at his graduation in 1994 to get the headlining spot for the Class of 2013. This was a new high-water mark in fooling the world.

By this point, I was well into the deepest part of my addictions. I knew I’d need to have a few drinks in me to give the speech, but knew in that condition I couldn’t work from notecards behind a podium on a stage. So, I started the speech with a lame comment and walked off the stage and gave the speech from the auditorium floor, pacing the entire time. I didn’t use notecards and just made some bullet points and wrote a few jokes. I’ve always had the ability to just wing it when public speaking.

After the speech, one person complimented me, saying: “I liked how you came down to talk to the kids and walked around. And the fact you memorized that speech! Very impressive!”

Was it impressive or was it a con? My mind at the time told me I was conning the world and the only way I got away with it was with the numbing effects of alcohol and porn. Otherwise, I might have slipped up and screamed, “I’m completely full of shit everybody! Stop enabling me!”

I tracked down that speech online when writing this. Ironically, in the first five or six minutes, there is a lot of subtext to what I’m saying which sounds to me like I’m wrestling with imposter syndrome. There are so many references to it if you know what to look for. You can also count the number of times I drunkenly stumble over my words. I guess most people never caught on.

But I have to confess, even today, I find that pajama pants joke pretty funny.

If you’d like to see me fake my way through giving an “inspirational” speech, but knowing what was really going on, check this out:

 

 

A post-script to this example is that while I was giving this speech, my daughter was one town away, winning her middle school talent show. She was a bit of a wallflower, not participating in many activities and I have so much regret not being there to see it. My injured mind told me it was easier to fake being a successful professional in front of 3,000 than being a good father, blended into a small audience.

It was years of rehab, therapy, research, introspection, writing and very intentionally making different behavioral decisions that helped me move away from imposter syndrome. If you’d like to learn some practical techniques for overcoming it, check out the article that inspired this post at: Imposter Syndrome I wrote several more thoughts in their comments I haven’t shared here.

 

My Pornography Addiction was About Power and Control, Not Sex

I probably should have recognized this early in my recovery, but I’ve come to realize that my addiction to pornography was just an extension of who I was at the time: Somebody struggling greatly with a lack of power and control to the point I’d fool myself into believing I had both by almost any means necessary.

I recognize that this comes from the faulty survival skills I developed as a child when I was being babysat everyday by a woman who was mentally unstable. Looking back, I can now recognize the severe obsessive-compulsive disorder she had, along with a handful of other issues that led to an environment of multiple forms of abuse and one where I didn’t feel safe.

My outlook on life then, as it was for most of the next 30 years, was to simply survive to the next day. It didn’t matter how you got there, as long as you made it until tomorrow. Along the way, I developed a variety of coping and escape mechanisms. I’ve only recently realized that they were my ways of maintaining control.

I have been diagnosed with a detachment disorder. I think that developed, along with a lack of empathy, because it was easier to not care about things. Instead of being hurt, if I didn’t have any vested interest in most things or people, it wouldn’t have an effect on me when bad things happened. Detaching was control and control equaled power.

For several years in my late teens and early 20s, I had a daily marijuana habit. I can now see it was my way of taking control of my mind, emotions and thoughts. Yes, it was a dulling of the senses, but it was my choice. For the hours of the day I couldn’t control my natural reaction to things, there were those hours that I could check out – on my terms – with the marijuana.

The two constants for so long were alcohol and pornography. I think the alcohol was like a more socially acceptable form of marijuana at the time. Alcohol was my way of taking control and deadening my nerve endings temporarily so I didn’t have to feel.

When it comes to the pornography addiction, I believe that was more akin to the rest of the way I lived my life. I owned a business so nobody could boss me around. I was on the City Council because I wanted to decide what happened in my town. No matter the political or social issue, I’d be on Facebook advocating for my side and talking down to those who disagreed. I tried to create a world where I was in complete control, but the only person I fooled into thinking that was true was myself.

Pornography wasn’t about naked people doing sexy things so I could relieve myself. It was about controlling the people on the page of the magazine, in the videos, or the film clips on my computer screen. If they weren’t doing exactly what I wanted, I could just skip to the next picture or clip and eventually I’d find someone doing what I wanted. Since I couldn’t really control people in my real life (despite trying) I was able to use porn as surrogate.

When that stopped being enough, I made the transition to chat rooms. A lot of the time, things never even got sexual. I simply enjoyed steering the conversations and getting women to admit things they probably wouldn’t otherwise. If I couldn’t get the woman to acquiesce to my sexual requests, I’d get her to try on clothes, or rearrange furniture in her room…whatever I could do to gain power in my mind. Power equaled control.

I haven’t had much in the way of triggers or cravings with pornography in a long time and I was asking myself exactly what that was the other day. I was wondering if I reached a point of being “recovered” as you can read about in my most recent blog. I think that the relative ease that I am having being away from both porn and alcohol has to do with the fact that I don’t feel the need for power and control the way I once did.

I think my ordeal of getting arrested, going through the court system, spending six months in jail and being on probation for the past three years – not to mention the radical changes in my lifestyle and daily routines – have put me in a place where I know that there is just so much control I can exert over my life, and a lot of it is just out of my hands and none of my concern.

Truth is, I don’t care who the President is. I know they’re making decisions that may or may not affect my life, but whether I like it or not, I have no control, regardless of what I used to write in Facebook diatribes. My opinion about a border wall means nothing, so why fool myself into thinking it does? That’s a waste of energy I can use on healthier things. I can’t control who my daughter dates now that she is a legal adult and trying to force my will on her probably will do more harm than good. If my wife doesn’t cook me dinner, it’s up to me to get it for myself. I can’t control the people and happenings around me, especially when they don’t go the way I wish.

Those people who were depicted in the pornography I consumed were there because they were either making money or because they had deep-seeded issues…probably both. But they were not there with the sole intention of being used by me. That was a fantasy I concocted in my head.

Ironically, now that I’ve admitted my lack of control and power, I feel more in control and powerful than ever because it’s grounded in reality, not fantasy. And with reality, I don’t need the escape hatch of addiction to fool myself.

 

Q&A Time: I’m A Porn Addict. Help.

QUESTION: I’m struggling with this addiction and I need help. What now?

ANSWER: That’s about as direct and to-the-point as you can get. It’s hard to get very specific because I don’t know if you’re looking once-a-week and feel bad about yourself or if this is a daily, multi-hour activity that is starting to stray into extreme or illegal territory. Either way there are some common pieces of advice I’d offer.

First is to find a professional to talk about this with. Depending on where you live there may be Certified Sex Addiction Therapists available. That would be your first choice. Here in Maine, where I live, that is an official licensure designation. If that’s the case where you live, you’ll want to find someone who has expertise with addictions. That can range from LCSWs (licensed clinical social worker) to LMFTs (licensed marriage and family therapist) to CACs (certified addiction counselors).

When you find that therapist, be 100% honest with them. You’re wasting everybody’s time and your money if you are anything less. The therapist will help guide you through you journey, but you’re going to have to do the heavy lifting and lying to them (or yourself) is going to largely render the therapeutic experience as worthless. Also understand you are probably going to bring up a lot more questions before you start with answers. This is all part of the process.

Next, find others who are also suffering from pornography addiction. Share your story with them and listen as they share their story with you. Recognizing you’re not alone, and coming to a sense of community with others like you will help you.

You can find these communities with 12-step groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. If these kinds of support groups are not local to your area, there are online meetings and hundreds of hours of recorded testimony available on YouTube of people talking about this exact subject. If you want to be more interactive, there are a handful of really good message boards out there. I’ve listed a few on the Resources page of this website and I’m sure a simple Google search may yield a few more I don’t know about. The point is, you are not alone in this struggle.

Finally, I’d urge you to learn as much about porn addiction, or addiction in general. There are literally thousands of books that you can find online and countless videos on YouTube that address addiction. I found learning about the scientific side of things helped me understand what I was experiencing at a deeper level.

As addicts, we tend to think that we’re a special snowflake and nobody could possibly understand what is happening with us. The reality is, in most cases, we’re just another statistic. Understanding those statistics, especially ones that had to do with success in recovery, was one of the key steps to me staying on the recovery path.

You must understand that your addiction will not go away overnight. Recovery is a long, hard road with triggers galore in the beginning. While I rarely feel triggers these days, even five years into recovery, they can still happen. You need to develop the tools to deal with them.

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If you liked this Q&A, check out the others HERE

You can check out my Resources page if you need a place to start getting help. Click HERE

If you’d like somebody to talk to who has been there about porn addiction, be it yours or someone you love, but aren’t ready to make the leap to get help from the medical community, I can be a great resource. For more information, click HERE

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal training in counseling or medicine. My advice comes from experience as an addict and as someone in recovery for over four years. Please take my words only as suggestions and before doing anything drastic, always consult with a professional. If you’d like me to answer a question publicly, either post it in the comment section or visit the contact page. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

The Day I Truly Entered Recovery from Pornography Addiction Was…

…the day I stopped waiting for other people’s advice or tricks to be the magic bullet solution. I’m now just over 4.5 years sober from porn. I would have told you then that M/O (masturbation/orgasm) was also an issue, but once the porn went away the M/O reduced by 98%. I was a porn addict.

I was in therapy for years long before I ever admitted to my porn addiction, trying to deal with my anxiety and feelings of always being out of place in the world. While it did come to light that I was bipolar, and that was important to contain, I just kept waiting for the piece of advice or the pill that would make my life fall into place and I’d become like all of the other people.

Through my 20+ years of porn addiction and alcoholism, there were certainly times where I was very weak and I know that I certainly did some damage to my pleasure centers by nuking my brain with dopamine, oxytocin and all of those others happy chemicals.

I am grateful for my therapist. She is an amazing guide through my psyche and has helped me connect so many threads that I finally understand the web of who I am, and I couldn’t have done it without her, but she couldn’t have done it without me…and for too long I was waiting for that.

I didn’t know about NoFap or online boards where most guys try to white-knuckle it, or theories like the whole Red Pill thing back when I was in early therapy. I think there are holes to all of those modalities, but if they work for you — actually work — then I think they’re fine because it’s YOU who is making them work.

I sat in a few months worth of Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings mostly listening to men complain about their sexless lives and realized that the only way you’re going to change is if you truly become committed to change.

My therapy moved in a bit of a cognitive behavioral direction and that started to make all the difference. How often do you ask yourself, “Why am I about to do this?” “What is motivating me here?” “Why am I having these feelings?” At one point in my recovery, I was probably doing this 25 times a day. Now, there is a level of muscle memory that has sunk in. Triggers are hardly a bother, for both porn and alcohol.

I’m proof that anybody can beat this thing, but I’m also proof that this isn’t like a broken leg where it just heals on its own, and it’s not like an illness that antibiotics will take care of. It’s not a mental condition that a few pills will contain and nobody is holding back the secret that will make you better.

It’s on you. You need to make the commitment to change. It’s not a desire, it’s not a hope. It’s a commitment. You get your ass up everyday to go to work. You visit your family on holidays. You pay your taxes. You know how to handle commitment. You just have to decide this is worth it and once you take control — well, the hard work has only just started — but at least you’ve taken that legit first step.

Note: I posted this on a message board about porn addiction, but thought it would also fit with what I do on this site. I need to remind people that while they may not end up a pornography addiction expert, they can all end up in recovery.

Check out My Story in ‘Recovery Today’ For Woman Who Wonder If They Have a Pornography Addiction

I forgot to post this a few weeks ago when it was released, but I think it’s a decent jumping-off point for women who may be porn addicts to at least ask themselves a few of the questions posed here.

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