Living with Chronic Fraud Complex

I’ll be honest; I’m quite an average person. Oh I know there’s the whole transsexual thing, and the being from New Jersey thing, but regardless, I’m not especially bright nor talented, I have not accomplished a single push-up since 2004, and I waste a ton of time on the Internet. (I did quit that bad Farmville habit, but that’s another story.) I am middle-class, middle aged, pretty much white, male, college educated, opinionated, obstinate, fat, and okay with a sense of comic timing. I manage to remain partnered, I’ve got two terrific children, a mid-range house, a paid-off car, and dreams of a hot tub installation in my future. There is nothing exceptional in any of that, save the partner and children who are measurably and demonstrably superior in many ways. I on the other hand, am pretty good at cobbling dinner, wiping away poop, and figuring out how to soothe my children. But on any given night I may burn the potatoes and overcook the chicken, get shit on my hands and the wall, and wind up bouncing a screaming baby for twenty minutes in an attempt to suss out the problem. In other words, having some success does not in any way preclude future failure. I try on a frequent, regular basis not to attach my ego to my successes or my failures and to keep outcomes away from my sense of self, should I fall victim to an overinflated vision of myself or reach a state of disquiet desperation at my gross ineptitude.

If one only knew me from my public persona—which I have half-assed crafted at the behest of my publisher and a myriad of publishing industry experts, in an attempt to fashion the proverbial “national platform” necessary for author stardom someday—one would think my life is an exercise in perfection. There are the adorable cherubic children, the very cute home, the published books and essays, the leadership title in my online input field for occupation. All of that is absolutely true, and I am proud of my family and friends and where I find myself at this point in my life. It is, however, a curated list of high points. Not posted (in part because I disdain the whiny FB post on principle) are all of the mistakes I replay in my mind throughout the day, whether they be a driver unhappy with me or an argument I had twenty years ago. Also not presented in most public forums are the mantras from my inner critic, my sadness that I’m not on an upwardly mobile career track, my frustration with my creaky knees, and my nagging sense that I deserve all of the rejection slips I get after applying for a grant or to a literary journal. I often realize, with stunning newness, that nearly every other writer I know is more talented than me and writing something more interesting than I am.

There is no point in entertaining these destructive notions more than I do already, so I corral them off of the Internet for the most part. This means a couple of things, namely:

  • I feel like a fraud to some degree, every day
  • I have lots of coping skills for life while feeling like some degree of a fraud

I know I am not alone. Many people walk around nursing a stubborn measure of poser concern. Here is what I’ve done to muddle through my insecurities.

Step outside of yourself—The first thing I do is reality check myself. If I’d heard this story, seen this situation, or learned about these feelings regarding another person, would my response to them be the same? I tend to have way more compassion for someone else’s experiences than my own, presumably because I don’t have an investment in labeling them a failure/screwup/incompetent person.

Leave a reminder of your success—Adverse events happen all of the time, often with an inconvenient regularity that makes the anxious among us wondering if there’s not some common factor at play—namely ourselves. This tendency is a kind of confirmation bias, in that we will dwell on the negative moments and discount the positive ones. When I get a letter from a reader calling me a brilliant writer, I could presume that they have truly horrible taste in literature. The same letter posted about another writer conversely could have me mildly jealous if I let myself go there, so instead I print out the missives and keep them in a folder and when I’m feeling particularly untalented, I read them again to remind myself that sometimes my work is very resonant for people. I’m so proud of those moments, in the end analysis.

Get better sleep—At least for me, when I’m not sleeping well my mood suffers, and when my mood is rough, my inner critic takes full advantage. True it’s a challenge with two kids under age 4, but I try to take some rest and nap time on the weekends, and I do other things to recharge. Then my fraud complex gets quieter.

Do the things you’re good at—I write a new story, pull out a project I can get back to (one can edit forever, of course), or open a notebook to sketch out ideas. I can also work in the garden, bake something, take my kids for a walk, whatever will shake up my brain. I’ve even been known to make to-do lists with one or two items already completed so I can cross them out right away. Yes, I’m an ENTJ. Hard, hard J. But I enjoy admitting my accomplishments.

Consider doing less in a day—This sounds counter-intuitive, but part of the fraud complex may come down to having too much on the agenda to be successful at it all. So pare down the projects, focus in and give yourself the opportunity to succeed. Posers, after all, are about looking accomplished rather than actually finishing things and getting results. You are not a poser because you are completing your work, no matter how many items are in your master list.

Come to understand who the real frauds are—If you’re even beating yourself up that you’re a fakester, you’re not a fakester. Being a poser, after all, means that you are harboring some kind of untruthfulness regarding the substance of your activities and your affect on the people around you. People who self-reflect are attempting honesty. So you’re already not in the fraud realm at that point.

Breathe. Smile. Prioritize. Do. And tell your inner critic it can shut the hell up now, you’ve listened to it long enough.


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Categories: Writing


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