Where feeling like an impostor comes from and how to turn it into a strength – a reflection on ‘hyper-sensitivity’

A common experience of people who have mental health or emotional difficulties is a sense of sensitivity, from which vulnerability and fear arise. Writer, Patrick/Patti, discusses below, their experiences of sensitivity and explores how it can be embraced to the point of being a strength. The piece was first published on their site, Beyond Non-Binary.

And the [sensitive people] shall inherit the earth.

I remember back at University wanting to take an acting class with one of the most popular professors, and one who was also rather famous.  She decided who could get into her class, and it was always way over-subscribed.

I went to the first class, a teaser, to see what it was all about.  During that class she said something that stung and which I have never stopped thinking about.  She described feeling like a fake, feeling as if everyone can see through you, that everyone thinks you don’t know what you are talking about…I had often felt that.  Even when standing up in front of a crowd of people to speak on a topic that I knew a lot about.  She went on to say that this feeling is common to women.  My mind was screaming, “me too!”  [It was only in later years that I link my feelings to being non-binary].

She also described the sting in your cheeks from smiling too much.  She also linked this more commonly to being female.  This has always been a very real, and almost daily part of my life.  Always.  In middle school English we had “spontaneous speeches” where we were assigned a topic and had to give a speech on it, exactly 60 seconds, right then and there, in front of the class and a video recorder, and were also assigned a grade then and there.  My topic?  “How come you smile so much?”  The answer to that question merits its own post.

The university drama professor linked smiling and feeling “found out” to the same emotion, and linked it to being sensitive.  Hyper sensitive.  She went on to link this trait to acting, an ability to tap into sensitive energy and to use it to display emotion.  While I bristle at the idea of gendering something like this, and I was rather annoyed with her at the time, she was right about the sensitivity part.  From the Gabor Maté book, Scattered Minds, reviewed here, we get the single most defining characteristic of ADD is heightened sensitivity.

Growing up, I was very drawn to drama.  I remember vividly the emotional landscape of my fellow actors [British parlance does not use the word “actresses”].  How prone to tears and flights of emotional fancy they were.  Especially the good ones.  It makes me wonder how the creation of a demi-monde must hinge on having this heightened sensitivity, living life in Technicolor, more vividly.

And I realise that this is what it is like for me to live with ADD.  There are all the drawbacks: chaos in my organisation skills, easily distracted, so many unfinished projects, a rapacious need for mental stimulation [now manifesting itself as a love of D/s]…but each one of these also has a positive flipside.  There are also many other purely positive consequences: the chaos also leads to lateral thinking, to creativity; distraction is provoked by fascination—there are so many beautiful and wonderful things to get lost in; unfinished projects are like friends, and having them unfinished means they are still hanging around talking to me; and the mental stimulation is so enriching, emotionally, spiritually, erotically.

And to think, all of this stems from hyper-sensitivity.  One lifestyle Domme who I really admire has noted to me the prevalence of ADD people in the scene.  It fits.

But what else fits?  I know that ADD is meant to make us less functional as humans.  I see this in many ways in my life, and overcoming those challenges requires conscious effort.  Understanding them took a long time, but understanding is not nearly enough to overcome with.  It takes work and swimming against the tide.  But the really, really important thing?  This feeling of being an impostor, feeling like I am not good enough, or that I will be found out, is actually an extreme motivator.  This sensitivity, this fear, this awkwardness, and if the Professor is right, this femininity are all tools that lie at the heart of my power as a person.  But they could just as easily be my weakness.  And that is what I am driving at.

When our weakness, or weaknesses, can be made our strengths, then we have the power to really achieve. And I look at that in my own life.  Humility provokes a positive response.  Submission provokes a positive response.  Doing the work that it takes to overcome the feeling of not being good enough, not knowing enough. The curious and unexpected thing that I am finding as I journey into the world of D/s, is that I am losing my fear, that I feel less and less like a fraud, and feel my strength growing.

Be strong, give to those around you, and the world will lay itself at your feet.

by Patrick/Patti, Beyond Non-Binary, 8 July 2021

Affirmations to protect my sensitivity against hostile work and social interactions

Vincent Valentine, a software developer of British Pakistani background, writes about his approach to protecting himself against being hurt in the workplace and managing confrontation and his emotions. The piece was first published on his site, VincentTheMuslim.

Often in the workplace (and in life), we come across people who try to belittle us, dismiss us, insult us. People do this for many reasons – because they feel insecure or anxious, because making others feel “small” makes them feel “big”, and sometimes because they have simply misunderstood who we are. Either way, dealing with such behaviour can be very difficult if you are a sensitive person such as myself. It is not only because I am a sensitive person that I am affected – I also suffer from social anxiety, which comes from my childhood baggage to do with being called “weird” or “mentally weak”. Thus, words that insinuate I’m stupid, weird, or incompetent, words that intend to shut me down or are unnecessarily hostile, can be very hard for me to handle, regressing me back to my childhood self.

As you can imagine, constantly regressing to a traumatic period of my life is extremely painful, and repeating this process everytime someone slights me has got to the point of exhaustion. Naturally, I have had to come up with steps which help me to navigate society without being triggered by every insult, to allow me to function better amongst insensitive people, and to protect myself against those who purposefully try to trigger me.

I attempt to do the following before every social interaction where hostile behaviour might occur. This includes when meeting with friends, work colleagues, or family. It includes work meetings, family outings, dinners, gaming sessions – anything really where someone might “attack”, ridicule, or insult me.

  • Put up my emotional, mental, and spiritual “armour”
    Before every relevant interaction, I consciously prepare myself for the prospect of someone being “mean” to me. I’ve learnt that if hostile behaviour comes when I am not ready for it, it catches me completely off guard and I often end up spiraling. This makes it difficult to compose myself or respond to the behaviour in a reasonable manner, as well as causes me a lot of unnecessary pain. Therefore, I try not to feel too comfortable or relaxed when going into relevant settings, as this makes me extra vulnerable to the effect of the “low blows”. I then spend a lot of energy attemping to calm myself and regress to pretending I was not affected by the words, which later makes me feel worse because I denied myself my emotions and did not confront the behaviour. By mentally preparing myself for the possibility of hostile behaviour, I am then ready for it and can manage and respond to it in a calm honest manner.
  • I am normal, I am smart, I am strong
    I reaffirm to myself that I am smart, that I am “normal”, that I am (mentally) strong. I remember that if people attempt to insult me, or dismiss me, it’s because of their own insecurities and fears. It is a way for them to feel “big”, because somehow I have made them feel “small”. It is not personal to me, or a reflection on me, it is a flaw in them to reflect on and fix, and not one I should internalise based off their projections. Remember people are often just “lashing out” and trying to deal with their own pain – remember hurt people, hurt people.
  • Being rude, hostile, belittling, or demeaning is not okay
    I reaffirm that it is not okay for someone to be hostile, and I should call out such behaviour. Often when someone behaves in a “hostile” manner, my first reaction is to want to pretend they were not rude, and then be hostile back in the same way. Reading this out loud now, it sounds petty, it sounds childish, it sounds silly, but it is a common response to hostility as it gives the illusion of “strength”. However, ths often creates an environment where the “worst” person in the group / team sets how low the bar is, and people feel uncomfortable coming forward when they are upset by the behaviour for fear of appearing “weak”. It is just better to call out the behaviour directly, so to avoid playing silly games and reinforcing unhealthy cultures, and to deal with the problem at its core.
  • Having emotions is okay
    I reaffirm that it is okay to have feeling, to be hurt by the hostile behaviour of others. As mentioned above, the “go to” reaction when someone slights me is to pretend there was no slight, as though that gives me some sort of “strength”. However, all it leaves me with is unresolved feelings, with feelings of disappointment at myself for not having been honest about my feelings and not having stood up for myself. I always feel better when I am honest about how the other person’s behaviour made me feel, it allows me to maintain composure and tackle the problem at its core, whilst not getting caught up in a cycle of passive aggressive baviour.
  • If triggered, remain calm and don’t react with more hostility
    I reaffirm to remain calm if I am triggered. Sometimes we cannot help but be “triggered” – we are after all only human. The best thing to do in such situations is to confront the behaviour itself, or do nothing. Even to say “that wasn’t a nice thing you just said” can be an appropriate and powerful response – and if you cannot regain enough composure to do that then it is better to do nothing. The immediate reaction can be to want to respond to the hostility with more hostility but this will only escalate the situation, and escalating the situation will only resort to the burning of bridges, and – specifically in a professional environment – can even result in job loss. You do not want permanent reprucussions for emotions which – no matter how strong they feel at the time – are going to be temporary. It is better to reflect on the emotions and if required express them to your friends and loved ones (my wife is a common victim of this), as this will help you better understand yourself and better protect yourself for the next “incident”. If you cannot regain composure, or the hostile behaviour does not improve, it is okay to walk away from the situation – “leaving people on read” can be an appropriate response even in real life.

So that’s it. I hope you have found the above helpful, and it helps you navigate future tricky social situations.


To read more by this writer, check his WordPress website, VincentTheMuslim.