As a young Marine corporal attached to the Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachment (det) in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, I was ordered to participate in a color guard detail—part of a four-member team that presents the United States and Marine Corps flags at ceremonies.
Being the junior member of the det, I was assigned the left-hand rifle guard spot—the least desirable position for a right-handed individual. Not only would I need to use my non-dominant hand to fulfill my role, I had no idea how to conduct color guard drill activities.
MSGs were considered to be the “cream of the crop” within the Corps, as det members were comprised of Marines from various military occupational specialties (jobs). Although, I came from the military police (MP) field and knew nothing other than basic drill aspects.
However, many of the Rio Marines seemed to know how to conduct ceremonial duties. Therefore, it was expected that I also understood how to march, pivot, surrender arms, and pace myself along with my peers.
During that period of time, the term “lost in the sauce” described Marines who were thought of as being aimless, uninformed, or useless. Though I successfully completed MSG training, I was lost in the sauce as a Marine.
The phrase most commonly used to describe my color guard experience is imposter syndrome. Per one source, “Imposter syndrome is the internal psychological experience of feeling like a phony in some area of your life, despite any success that you have achieved in that area.”
The slight modification I would offer to this description is that rather than “feeling like a phony,” you think or believe that you are a phony. Because I reason that the words we use matter, I reserve “feeling” for either emotions or bodily sensations.
Aside from this minor quibble, I agree that what is understood as imposter syndrome is an “internal psychological experience.” This means that the phenomenon isn’t objectively true, though subjectively believed.
In other words, it isn’t as though the Marines of Rio could somehow intuit what I believed about myself, because what I thought about my inability to perform was an iss-ME—an issue of my own creation and imperceptible by others. My self-doubt wasn’t externally valid.
While I understand that it’s quite popular in the current era to validate people’s “feelings” (thoughts and beliefs), I wonder how validation of supposed imposter syndrome plays out in the real world. That is to say, what happens when objective evidence clashes with subjective assumptions?
I suppose a Rio det Marine could have validated me by saying, “Oh, you think you’re a fraud? Well, you are!” Though I was clearly out of my element as a left-handed rifle guard, it wasn’t as though other det members knew I was fearful of being identified as an imposter.
Moreover, my incompetence as a color guard member wasn’t indicative of my value as a human over all. I could’ve performed terribly without being a terrible person.
According to one source, “Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon do not believe they deserve their success or luck,” as the internal narrative I used at the time was what created the fear I experienced.
Using the ABC Model of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I now understand that there was no Action-Consequence connection at play during my time on ceremonial duty. It wasn’t that I was clueless as a left-handed rifle guard (Action) that led to fear (Consequence).
Rather, what I Believed about the Action is what created my Consequence. This is represented by the Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection. Here’s an example of how it works:
Action – I was clueless as a left-handed rifle guard, though I was ordered to perform at ceremonies at which many people could observe my incompetence on full display.
Consequence – I was afraid to be exposed as an imposter.
When addressing so-called imposter syndrome from an REBT perspective, I don’t validate irrational Beliefs—the unfounded assumptions one possesses about one’s own abilities. Likewise, I don’t attempt to boost a person’s self-esteem.
Instead, I assist clients with Disputation of flawed Beliefs which cause unpleasant Consequences. The aim of this approach in relation to supposed imposter syndrome is to establish an Effective new belief about one’s own abilities.
As a formula, the ABC Model is represented as follows:
Action + Belief = Consequence ÷ Disputation = Effective new belief
To the young Marine corporal in Rio, I would’ve asked about whether or not it was true he couldn’t stand to be thought of as incompetent. Certainly, it wasn’t an accurate claim, because even he thought he was unskillful—and yet he tolerated and accepted his own inadequacy.
Is perfection attainable by humans? No. If an impeccable performance was expected of an MP with limited drill training and experience, it wasn’t the corporal who was irrationally driven, because that would constitute an iss-YOU—someone else’s issue—and not the corporal’s problem.
All I could’ve done was perform to the best of my capabilities and without shoulding on myself. Had I adopted this helpful perspective, I imagine I would’ve experienced mild concern about my performance rather than fear of being thought of as an imposter.
Thankfully, repeated performances on color guard duty served as a form of shame attacking exercise—the gradual acceptance of my limitations through repeated exposure to undesirable experiences. Even when making mistakes I was able to endure my shortcomings.
As you may have gathered at this point in the blogpost, I’m not a proponent of “imposter syndrome.” Giving this phenomenon a name and validating it as though it’s anything other than a self-disturbing Belief that leads to a Consequence is unnecessary, in my opinion.
Catchy psychobabble terms tend to lend credence to the idea that there are plausible conditions whereby people are rendered victims to circumstance. Rather than indulging powerlessness, I invite people to take personal ownership of the nonsense they tell themselves.
Own it and then do something about it!
How about you, dear reader, what is your approach to presumed “imposter syndrome”? Do you shrivel up into the fetal position and wither away internally? If so, and after having read this post, do you understand that the B-C connection is what prevents you from reacting in a healthier manner?
Would you like to know more about how to change unproductive beliefs so that you can tolerate discomfort and respond in a favorable way that better serves your interests and goals? If so, I may be able to help.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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