Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Imposter Syndrome and the Enneagram

This weekend, I listened to a talk about overcoming imposter syndrome. The speaker listed five different types of people and how they might experience imposter syndrome. I noticed that their five types lined up with five of the nine enneagram types, so naturally I had to fill out the other four.

Imposter syndrome is when "people doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as frauds" (thanks, wikipedia!). Artists often talk about it, but this can apply to people in all different walks of life. Neil Gaiman summed it up in an awesome anecdote best told in his own words.

The enneagram is a personality system that divides people into nine different types. I find it useful in character creation, because each type includes a core motivation, as well as a scale for how emotionally healthy people might act. 

I've taken the nine types of the enneagram and broken down how each one might react to imposter syndrome. Each has a Lie that the personality type might believe. You might relate to one type more than others, or you might relate to all of them. I've used "my work" to describe how it applies to imposter syndrome, but your life can also be considered your work, a work in progress.


Type 1: The Perfectionist

"My work has no value because it is not perfect." 

Type 1 is often called the reformer. They have a deep moral code and sense of right and wrong, which can sometimes lead to a black-and-white view of the world. Thus, when looking at their own work, they might feel that their work is too flawed to be "good", and is therefore "bad".


Type 2: The Giver

"My work is only meaningful if others enjoy it."

Type 2 is people-oriented. They can be loving and giving, but sometimes they can go too far and forget to love themselves as well. Rejection feels especially painful, and the Giver might fixate on poor feedback or reviews.


Type 3: The Superhuman

"I have to be good at everything." 

Type 3 is defined by goals and ambition. They know what they want and they have a plan to make it happen. They need to succeed, and they need others to know that they are succeeding. Failure is not an option--but burnout is a very real thing.


Type 4: The Natural Genius

"If I were good at this, I wouldn't struggle so much."

Type 4 is the individualist, seeking to express themselves. They want to encapsulate what's already inside of them, to Be Who You Really Are Inside (cue Disney music). As such, they often seek out art to represent themselves, but when they hit natural snags, they might feel that maybe this doesn't represent their natural, authentic self after all.


Type 5: The Expert

"I am defined by my area of expertise."

Type 5 is the intellectual, who feels an innate desire to be competent in at least one thing. They want to know everything, understand everything, and realizing that their information is lacking, especially in an area that they thought they understood, can be crippling.


Type 6: The Follower

"It's not my win. Others deserve the credit."

Type 6 is the loyalist. They can be anxious and suspicious, especially of their own judgement, and tend to rely on the opinions of others, especially sources that they have already tested and found trustworthy.


Type 7: The Scatterbrain

"I'd rather be achieving something else."

Type 7 is the enthusiast, who wants experience as much as they can. They want to try every option to make sure that they aren't missing out. 


Type 8: The Soloist

"It's only a victory if I did it by myself."

Type 8 is the challenger, defined by their independence. They are afraid of being dependent on other people and are driven to succeed on their own. 


Type 9: The Observer

"It wasn't worth the effort."

Type 9 is the dreamer. Interacting with reality takes a lot of effort, and the Observer will weigh costs before deciding how to act. An achievement may only be a relief that it's over if it required more effort than the person was willing to give.


I think it's important to acknowledge that feeling Imposter Syndrome is valid. These are Lies, yes, because they aren't correct and may be hurtful, but it's okay to feel this way. On the other hand, if imposter syndrome is getting in your way, the one common thread to conquering it is to understand that you matter. No qualifications, no exceptions. If no one else tells you, or if you don't believe them, here it is from me: You Matter.

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