Happy Monday, all! Today we have a wonderful, insightful, and vulnerable guest piece by Ransom to Love author, Chloe Keto, on her experience of imposter syndrome and how that translates in her sapphic romance, which follows an unconventional tale of love featuring trans rep and self-acceptance. Let's start our February with openness and support by diving into Chloe's piece, with the reminder for anyone who needs it that you are not an imposter, and you are worthy. Sometimes, we just need a great author to remind us!
Let’s start out with a statement. “I don’t think I should be writing this article.” Why? Read on...
There are imposters walking around you and starring in the books you enjoy. There might even be one sitting next to you right now! I’m not talking here about spies or nefarious characters; these imposters are people who don’t belong and have achieved a status that is beyond their capability. They live in fear of being found out and their lives crashing down around their unworthy ears. The truth about these people is that no such thing is valid. They do deserve to be doing what they do, employed as they are or identifying as they feel. However, that isn’t what their brains are telling them and this gives rise to anxiety of failure and fear. There’s a name for this somewhat irrational anxiety. It is called Imposter Syndrome (or “Having a brain that lies to you about how utterly rubbish you are at everything”).
Such a lack of self-esteem was first documented in 1978 by Clance & Imes, so it isn't a new thing. It certainly seems to be common in many conversations I have today both at work, with other women, and as an author.
Imposter Syndrome and the anxiety that frequently accompanies it are regrettable bedfellows to far too many people, seemingly more so for women than men. While there are probably many societal reasons for this, inevitably it also becomes a theme in our literature. Whether it’s directly called out as Imposter Syndrome or not, a feeling of “unworthy inferiority” is such a common character attribute.
If it’s common in life and literature, you’d think we’d be good at recognising it. As fans of romance, we’re all familiar with our favourite characters muddling along in blissful ignorance of their slow-burning mutual attraction. However they, and we, can be just as ignorant of the root causes of our insecurities and when our brains are lying to us.
Here, I have to come clean and reveal that yes, the reason I’m passionate about this subject is because I am an imposter — whether it is an imposter as the manager I purport to be at work, the good parent I strive to be at home or the author I endeavour to be with my friends Teri and Sophie from Ransom To Love. I have a deeply held sense of belief, somewhere in my psyche, that I’m not good enough at whatever I’m doing.
Oddly, when I set out to write “Ransom To Love”, my debut Sapphic romance, I didn’t set out to make it a story of Imposter Syndrome and anxiety. Teri just grew into it. The insecure character was originally going to be Sophie – a result of her evil-ex Hannah. However, Teri assumed rather too many of my own insecurities for comfort. So she began to write her own story. It was a story of being a woman in a man’s world, of being trans in a cis world and most of all, it was a story of her journey to incorporate love into her self-awareness.
Teri’s Imposter Syndrome is something we don’t see outwardly until the middle of the book. To start with she’s a cocky, self-assured hacker (albeit one with a conscience). What we, and Sophie, grow to learn is that cockiness is a front. It’s the front that often comes with hiding who you are. Having a front is fine, it’s a way to get through life. It becomes unhealthy when nobody is allowed beyond the barrier. Teri starts to do this with Sophie, opening up about her story.
Imposter Syndrome runs deep in our psyches. It’s about a fundamental (or “core” in CBT terms) belief. “I am a failure”, “I am not worthy of love”, “I am not a ‘proper’ woman”. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to connect with these beliefs through counselling and I got close, but never got the t-shirt. I know my confidence is shocking; I regularly think that nobody would want to read my inane ramblings. However, getting to precisely what that core belief is and why, can be elusive. Such is the case for our Teri. Despite opening up for Sophie, what we see as she is confronted with the reality of her actions is that she struggled more than anything to be open to herself.
So why do I feel unworthy to write this article? It’s because of all those factors. I don’t have a literary degree… I do look in the mirror and question whether I’m worthy to call myself a woman… an author… a parent. Just as Teri says to Sophie at one point, there are many on social media who will, I’m sure, deny me any of those labels. This isn’t their story though, it’s mine. It’s Teri’s, and it’s yours if you suffer the same. Our harshest critic as authors is often not the Kindle one-star reviewer. It’s ourselves. Teri is a transwoman who appears unquestionably female to everyone around her, like myself. Her question to Sophie at a moment of anxiety, “Do I look too male?” is one my wife is sick of hearing. It’s the inner imposter breaking through and boring those around me with my anxiety. A good friend told me last night that I deserve to be heard and I deserve to take up space. She’s right, of course. We all deserve to take up space and unless we are actually spies or catfish then we aren’t the imposters our brains tell us we are.
There must be a positive, there’s always got to be a positive? Well, Harvard Business Review writes about Imposter Syndrome, "It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades." So if you suffer, then take some reassurance that it's often a trait of people who are high achieving. You’re in good company!
The first rule for me is to be open about my struggles. We see Teri finding this for herself as she opens up her trust to Sophie. That’s a massive deal for her. Beyond her Gran and Number One (her loyal but disdainful cat, in case you wondered), she’s not really opened up to anyone before Sophie.
Second is looking for the tools that help you manage your beliefs. My counselling taught me how individual those tools are. For some, it might mean awareness, meditation, sleep. Others find it in positive thinking and constant reinforcement. Training our brains to see the positive in a situation is a huge advantage in life.
What Teri, and many of us, needs is the external help of a trusted, loving voice. Sometimes we do need the kid gloves treatment of Sophie helping a broken Teri up into the shower. Other times, maybe we need that flashlight shining on our thoughts through careful questioning or even a more direct kick up the rear.
Will Teri relapse and struggle with her confidence again in the future? You betcha. Those beliefs don’t go away easily. However, if she’s open about them and listens to those around her then maybe she can ride out some of the lows, just as she surfs the highs. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to do the same and wouldn’t it be even better to learn from our literary friends sharing their struggles to help those around us?
Chloe Keto lives in the south of England and is a romance author of two books, Ransom to Love and Even Fairy Godmothers Need Help. Her most loving supporter is her long-suffering wife.
She’s a longtime, passionate fan of sapphic romance and reads all types (unless they are scary) from historical to fantasy. She loves to beta read for her friends and gets quite excited about a compelling romance.
You can join her newsletter at www.chloeketo.uk to follow along news and recommendations (especially new ones she’s beta read!).