I can explain my absence pretty well, though I can’t necessarily excuse it. For the past half-year, I have been busy either studying for the GRE or working on applications for PhD programs in political science. When not doing either of those, I work full-time as a research assistant. When not doing any of those three, I have been making time to read and write poetry.
I am incredibly, unbelievably happy. I absolutely love my job. For the first time, I feel like I have a genuine shot at a poetry side-hustle. I have an idea of what I want to do in the near-future, and that is deeply reassuring. And, since I am the way I am (i.e. incapable of taking any good news in good faith), all of this means I am filled with abject terror at the prospect of losing this happiness and, specifically, of failing. And right now, the biggest possible/plausible failure for me is a failure to get into a doctoral program in political science.
At this point, I should apologize. Not having written anything that isn’t a poem or for research purposes in months means I’ve lost my ability to write in a way that’s charming, relatable, or funny. And maybe I shouldn’t reduce this to charm, commiseration, or funniness.
I’ve talked about imposter syndrome a lot in the past. The concept isn’t new to anyone anymore, and that’s good! The more accessible this idea becomes, the easier it will be to talk about imposter syndrome and its effects on people. My specific imposter syndrome makes me feel like the best con-artist in the world; that I’ve duped everyone into thinking I’m intelligent and capable, when really I’m a slacker, a procrastinator, a plagiarist, a regurgitator. But I’ve done that concept to death, and I think what’s worse than the imposter syndrome is the opposite: if I’m not an imposter, if I truly am successful, if I truly am worthwhile, then the fall will be even worse. At least if I fail as an imposter, I’m getting what I deserve. That’s justice. That’s accountability. I can self-flagellate and feel a grim satisfaction. But if I fail as Neiha Lasharie, then what happens?
My therapist and I had a breakthrough recently. She was listening to my usual self-deprecating diatribes (“I’m a horrible person masquerading as someone with good intentions,” etc) and then, after intently scribbling something in her notes, said, “You’re gaslighting yourself.”
I felt like an old-timey bank robber, suddenly thrown into sharp relief by a helicopter spotlight. “Oh. I am.”
My therapist went on to say that it was obvious that I had picked up the language of gaslighting from people throughout my life, that it wasn’t something inherently in me, but a learned behavior. And if it was learned, then that meant it could be unlearned. I felt both guilt and relief. Guilt at the fact that I had been doing unto myself what I swore I would never let anyone else do to me, and relief at knowing. I’ve seen a change in myself over the past few weeks since that breakthrough, but it has opened up another avenue of fear. I’m assuming that my imposter syndrome – and maybe that of other people – is related to the self-gaslighting behavior that I’ve learnt. But I’ve become so used to my imposter syndrome as truth that I don’t know what is on the other side of overcoming this obstacle.
I love taking responsibility for things that aren’t my fault, and the gaslighting is absolutely the reason for that. But if I am able to suppress this urge to gaslight and be honest with myself and give praise where it’s due, then I will also have to face myself and be honest about my shortcomings, in a way that’s realistic and healthy. I will have to face my failures as a matter of fact, rather than something that can be grandiosely ascribed to a personal defect. I’ve grown comfortable in my self-perception of being a con artist. I’m comfortable being the villain in my story. I don’t know how to see myself as a nuanced person. It’s easier for me to think my boss hates me because of a mistake I made than to accept that my boss could move on with her life and expects me to move on with mine after said mistake was corrected.
I keep going back to the same question: is this a form of narcissism?
My therapist told me to write a positive poem about myself, and it took nearly a month for me to get something down. It became my favorite poem I’ve ever written, but getting into the headspace where such a poem was possible was a month-long endeavor. I felt uncomfortable praising myself, as if allowing myself to admit to any goodness in me would immediately make me fulfill my destiny as a narcissist. And narcissism, in my logic, is how you become a monster. And monsters are the reason I’m even trying to get a doctorate in political science to begin with.
Maybe that’s not it. Maybe the reason I’m reckoning with this “what’s on the other side of self-loathing” problem is that I still don’t trust myself to be responsible for being a source of good in the world. I want this doctorate because it is a way to assure my responsibility. I cannot be of service if I haven’t learnt all I can – for me, for myself, a PhD is the minimum qualification for being worthy of service, for being a truly Good Person. I’m forcing myself to jump through ever-higher hoops because I want to see if I’ll fail. I’m trying to reject my null-hypothesis:
H0 – Neiha Lasharie is an inherently bad/unintelligent/narcissistic person and therefore shouldn’t be trusted with a doctorate in political science.
It turns out, as far as I’m concerned, my testing isn’t complete yet.