Though it’s more frequently applied to career settings, impostor syndrome is a legitimate thing anywhere. It’s “a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ … Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.” (Thanks, wikipedia.)
What does this have to do with God? A whole lot, in fact.
I spent a lot of time sitting in churches, convincing myself it was real. We don’t have physical, tangible evidence of God, so the whole ordeal is based on faith. It’s not a lack of faith in Him—it’s a lack of faith in ourselves. We watch those around us raise their hands in praise or sing the glories of God, and we wonder why we don’t have the same ethereal glow. It’s why we begin questioning things: Is this God thing even real? Where do I belong? Am I spiritual enough to understand this?
It’s how I finally stepped out of the Baptist church at all. I felt like an impostor, but I stuck with it. I knew God was real, but I didn’t experience Him like everyone around me. It took a long time to realize that I wasn’t an impostor, and even longer to step out to seek the Truth. I wasn’t faking my faith, despite my fears, but it wasn’t the place I was meant to be expressing it.
When I started attending Catholic events, things were good for a while. I finally found the place where I could be myself, where I could focus on Him rather than my own feelings of inadequacy. But sometimes, as I sit or stand or kneel in Mass, the old impostor syndrome creeps back in. And it’s that old lingering doubt that I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m not like everyone around me. It’s a little scary, because I remember what it was like the last time I had those feelings, and what I went through to change it.
It’s also more pronounced this time: “What are you doing here?” it asks, surrounded by these people who know what they’re doing, who grew up in this Church. I know I’m completely wrong. I’m not the only one reading the creed out of the book, nor the only one not receiving the Eucharist. But it still feels like there’s a giant spotlight over my head declaring, She doesn’t belong here.
But I’ve come to understand that this will happen in any church. Anywhere. Impostor syndrome is completely selfish—it focuses on me and how I feel. When I stop feeling sorry for myself, and when I stop feeling self-conscious about not knowing all the responses, He comes back. When I focus on God, things are good. It’s why things were good when I started my conversion. Because I told myself over and over again, this isn’t about me. It’s a simple concept we forget too often.
So, sure, sometimes I feel like a giant fake when I attend Mass. But sometimes I don’t. The career-centric way of overcoming this is “fake it til you make it.” Keep on doing what you’re doing. You know this stuff. And if I keep on attending Mass, and I keep on praying… maybe one day I won’t feel like I’m faking it. But probably not. I’m still human, and I still do stupid things. But if I could be less stupid, maybe I’ll feel a little less like an impostor.