The Imposter Syndrome


Galatians 5:1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

In 1978, two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, observed what they called "the impostor syndrome." They described it as a feeling of "phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative despite evidence of high achievement." While these people "are highly motivated to achieve," they also "live in fear of being 'found out' or exposed as frauds."

If it sounds familiar, you aren't alone. The amazing American author and poet Maya Angelou suffered from the Imposter Syndrome. She shared that, "I have written 11 books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out.'" Despite winning three Grammys and being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, this huge talent still questioned her success. Marketing expert Seth Godin, even after publishing a dozen best sellers, confessed in his book The Icarus Deception that he still feels like a fraud. [Carl Richards, "Learning to Deal with the Imposter Syndrome," The New York Times (10-26-15)]

As a Pastor I've discovered, through getting to know people, that there is a spiritual form of the "Imposter Syndrome." I find it in those whose lives are bearing the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) yet are doubting their salvation. Maybe not all the time. Maybe just when they mess up, make a mistake, sin. Instantly they wonder, "If I died right now would I go to heaven?" They get the sense, even after they repent, "If people knew, they'd think I was an imposter, a hypocrite," and they wonder if they just may be. Do you know anyone like this? Do you suffer from the Imposter Syndrome?

It's been my experience that the Imposter Syndrome is often born from an "and" mentality of salvation. We know salvation is a free gift given through Jesus and nothing we do can earn it. Yet, there are moments when we can fail, fall short, and question our salvation. Why?

Because somehow we have made salvation an "and" proposition. It's faith in Jesus...and. This is what Paul is warning against in Galatians 5. There were some teachers who were teaching that it was faith in Christ and circumcision. Paul calls this type of thinking a "yoke of slavery."

He says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." The idea that salvation is faith in Christ and my good deeds (or personal righteousness) will always leave us under a yoke and wondering if we're imposters. The freedom we have in Christ is this: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." (Romams 8:1).

 Prayer: Holy Father, we know we are sinners. We need Your forgiveness. Help us to realize that Your grace is big enough and strong enough to hold us even when we fail. We thank You for the grace You give through Jesus Christ, our Lord, in whom we pray, amen.