The imposter inside me

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An impostor lives inside me. She looks and acts and speaks just like me, except smaller in every way. She’s been there for so long, I can’t remember what it was like to live without her. We’re so much alike, sometimes I forget that I am me and she is she.

She appears whenever I step into a space that’s bigger than the one I’m used to inhabiting. Whenever I want to try something new and bold — something different, something scary, something at which I might fail — I hear her voice.

You can’t do this, she says. You aren’t ready. You aren’t qualified. Everyone will see right through you. You aren’t the sort of person who steps into the spotlight. You’re the sort of person who does better behind the scenes, working hard and quietly for someone else’s spotlight. You should stay there and stick with what you know.

I used to hate her. I resented the way she kept me small. I blamed her every time I chose to play it safe instead of take a risk. “Go away!” I would shout at her whenever I saw her in my own reflection: “I am better than you! Bigger than you! Stronger and smarter and and thinner and far more fun at cocktail parties than you! I am not you!

But shouting at her didn’t make her go away. It only made her stronger, louder, even more afraid for us. So after decades of fighting and railing and denying, I decided to try something else (of course she warned me against it). I tried listening to her instead — not taking her advice, mind you, just listening.

I was quite astonished to learn that beneath all those warnings and protestations, there was no dark, malicious voice. There was just a young woman, sometimes a young girl, who had been deeply hurt by taking risks in the past and wanted to avoid that pain again at all costs. She was trying to keep me safe in the best way she knew how.

Oh, oh, oh, this changes everything. “What do you need?” I asked her once.

“I’m cold and afraid and tired of trying to protect us,” she said, clutching a beloved stuffed cat (she was a girl this time). “Won’t you stop doing these crazy things so I don’t have to anymore?”

“Thank you,” I said. “You’ve done so much to keep us safe. You’ve saved us from countless scraped knees and burnt fingers and bullying classmates, but you don’t have to protect us anymore. You can rest now. I’ll take things from here.” And I hugged her and handed her a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate, and she laid down and went to sleep, a profound expression of relief on her face.

She still wakes up sometimes (she’s been quite restless lately). When she does, I thank her again and gently remind her that she is safe and loved and accepted no matter what. And that her work is done.

An impostor lives inside me. I spent so many years trying to deny her, pretend she wasn’t there, stifle her voice in hopes it would go away… none of it worked. She’ll always be with me.

More than anything in the world, she needs to know that she is safe and loved and accepted no matter what. She needs a lot of reminders, and I am the only person who can give them to her.

Because I am she and she is me.