One often neglected theme is the fear of somehow being unmasked or shown up to be fraudulent in some important way that many adult daughters experience; that irrational but powerful fear is a direct consequence of not having their emotional needs met in childhood. Some of that feeling of faking it seems to emanate from the shame they feel—of being excluded from the magic circle of being loved and still wondering whether they are somehow to blame. This is an unconscious pattern of thought that bubbles up to the surface in times of stress and anxiety and, unless she’s been in therapy, the chances are good that the daughter won’t recognize its provenance.

I’ve been married ten years and I know my husband loves me but when we disagree or argue, I become terribly frightened because a part of me thinks that now he’ll see me for who I really am and he’ll leave. Who could blame him for leaving someone like me? I’ve just managed to fool him into thinking I’m someone I’m not.

Another driver of the fear is what her mother and others told her about who she was and is. The internalization of what’s been said to and about her in her family of origin—that’s she’s fundamentally lacking or unlovable, that she’s “difficult” or “too sensitive,” that she’ll never amount to anything or will never be good enough—is also unconscious, and becomes the first thing her conscious mind offers up as an explanation when things go wrong or are difficult. This habit of what psychologists call self-criticism—attributing outcomes to deep-seated character flaws rather than specific circumstances—also feeds the daughter’s sense of putting on a show for the world that eventually will be found out.

I had my yearly review at work and my boss had nothing but good things to say but made it clear that I had to be more proactive to get promoted. To come up with new ideas and to challenge others on the team when needed. All I could think was ‘who would ever listen to my ideas?’ while he was talking. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head telling me I was stupid and that I wasn’t worth listening it. I’m 38 but I can’t seem to turn off her voice.

Finally, the feeling of faking it is fed by the daughter’s inability to see herself clearly and to trust in her own perceptions. Her mother’s face is the first mirror in which a daughter glimpses herself and if the reflection is one of love and attunement, there’s fertile soil for the growth and flowering of her own sense of self and worth. According to attachment theory, this child is securely attached, meaning that she trusts both herself and other people, needs and wants intimate connections, and has a secure base of connection that allows her to deal with setbacks and stress productively.

That doesn’t happen when a child is ignored or marginalized, or when her mother is unresponsive to her needs. A wellspring of self-doubt along with a detachment from her own thoughts and feelings fills the space where a sense of self should reside. That, too, can be the source for that feeling that she’s nobody in disguise and should people see as she really is, they will head for the hills.  These children grow up to be adults who display an insecure style of attachment which is either avoidant or anxious-preoccupied, each of which is a maladaptive way of coping with emotion and stress.

I never fully let my guard down with anyone because I’m sure that if they see me as I am, they won’t like me. That makes me think that if I’m hiding and faking it, the chances are good that everyone else is too and that makes me even more cautious and cynical. Sometimes, it feels like every relationship I’m in is a game. I know not everyone thinks that way but I just keep finding people to play hide-and-seek with. It’s depressing.

Five proactive steps to take to overcome that feeling of faking it

  1. Recognize the feeling and track it to its source

Really looking at how your childhood experiences shaped and affected you, especially your mother’s treatment, is an important first step in combatting the fear of being found out. Recognizing that how your mother saw you isn’t necessarily true or even worth thinking about it is the second.

  1. Work on seeing yourself more clearly (without self-criticism)

This is hard for many women because the habit of self-criticism is so ingrained. If you have a close friend or intimate, ask him or her to describe you honestly and realistically, and compare that to the first thoughts that come into your mind when you think about yourself. Focus on the things you genuinely like about yourself and move on from there. Eventually you will get to a place where you can look at what needs improving without dissolving into a puddle of shame or self-recrimination. Being able to see both your strengths and flaws is part of being human.

  1. Practice self-compassion

Try to be accepting of yourself and understand why that little girl inside still feels as though she’s play-acting or pretending, and see that impulse as something she was convinced of by others even though it really has no merit.

  1. Turn off the critical tape

Recognize that this is an unconscious default position and start arguing with it every time it pipes up—and, yes, I mean literally. Talk back to the voice that says you have nothing to contribute, and make a list of what you’ve done recently that mattered to someone. Assert your own authenticity by pointing to what you’ve already accomplished. Become your own inner cheerleader starting now.

  1. See yourself as others see you

Don’t be an obstacle to your own thriving and when you feel scared of being unmasked, remind yourself of the woman other people see: the competent and reliable co-worker, the friend someone can turn to, the person who makes a killer quesadilla or who is a fine gardener. Push off from those automatic feelings and the fear that rises up with them, and recognize them as baseless.

Allow yourself to “get real.”


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