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Overcoming the Impostor: Dreamworld Manifestation

By Dr. Patty Williams on September 30, 2023

Bright Insight Support Network founder and president Dr. Patty Williams is a trauma therapist and coach who specializes in EMDR, ND-Affirmative DBT, and IFS modalities. Through Bright Insight, she works to counsel, coach, and advocate for gifted, twice-exceptional, and neurodivergent persons, along with other marginalized populations.

Overcoming the Impostor: A Dreamworld Manifestation

Impostor syndrome frequently finds its way into conversations among gifted persons (and in this blog space). This phenomenon describes the feelings experienced by high-achievers who, despite their evident accomplishments, wrestle with embracing their own success.

Gifted folks who experience impostor syndrome may grapple with persistent self-doubt and the fear of being unmasked as impostors, struggling to attribute their achievements accurately to their genuine competence. This challenge can be particularly pronounced among quick learners who effortlessly grasp complex concepts without needing to study as diligently as their peers.

Gifted individuals may not always be able to demonstrate their knowledge through the typical effort and time invested in research. Sometimes, they simply possess deep insights due to exposure to a subject matter and a natural talent for identifying patterns and ascribing meaning. And while it's prudent that gifted persons not become complacent in their own educational journeys, this doesn't negate the fact that they undeniably possess the knowledge they hold.

I've certainly struggled with impostor syndrome in my life and in so many avenues. It even enters my dreams. I have one recurring dream that seems to exemplify it- though it is not what others may expect. It is about high school.

My Dreamworld Impostor

I skipped much of my high school career. Whether I showed up late, left early, or simply refused to go, it is a wonder that I graduated at all let alone with honors. Heck- I spoke at my graduation about making a difference. Now, I do not tend to get down on myself about this. I had a difficult childhood and my teenage years were tricky. Throw in some pretty serious demand avoidance and rejection sensitivity, and you have a lovely equation that equals “I don't wanna and you can't make me."

Because of my lack of high school attendance and lack of support, I did not go right into college. It was not the right time for me to do so anyway. Did I miss out? Oh, I am sure I did. I probably missed out on being a middle school English and physical education teacher or something. Did I go back eventually though? You betchya, and with a greater understanding of myself.

I do not look at this path with regret, however, I think my psyche does. I can tell you how I know, too. About once a month for as long as I can remember, I have this dream that involves going back to high school because, though I graduated, I was reportedly missing a semester's worth of credits. So, as an adult, I have to go to high school classes.

Sometimes in these dreams I cannot find my classes. Sometimes I've skipped so much that it is time to take a test I cannot pass. Sometimes I cannot get into my locker for books because I was gone so long that I cannot remember the combination. Sometimes I sit in a common area waiting for classes to end. Always, there is some sort of regret or panic that I feel in these dreams.

I like to interpret my dreams- particularly when they reoccur. To me, these dreams were about anxiety and regret. However, a recent reoccurrence took this in a different direction for me.

The Most Recent High School Dream

So, several months ago I had the dream again. I was at my high school after being told I needed to go back and get enough credits for my diploma. I went there with my schedule and walked around, trying desperately to find my classes. Finally, the class period ended without me making it in- I failed again. I did the responsible thing, however, and went to the academic counseling office to ask for help. After all, adult me really needed to get these credits taken care of, right?

When I got to the counselors they were mad at me and shamed me for not doing better. They were mean.

This is where everything changed though. Yup. I asserted myself. For the first time in any of these dreams, I told them: “NO." I looked at them, my eyes at equal height to theirs and I said:

“I have four degrees, the last of which is my doctorate. I do not need to be here to prove anything."

And that was the last time I've had this dream.

I beat the impostor.


Though I suspect it has been filed far away, I may have this dream again someday. You never know what your psyche will drudge back up when needed. However, I have a very clear and distinct feeling that the impostor aspect of this dream was resolved. I am happy about this and even proud of my brain if that makes any sense.

As an EMDR therapist, I truly believe that our dreamworlds matter. This dream was a processing dream- my favorite kind. Other dreams tell me about myself while some tell me “what's next." Since I was a child, I've called the more foretelling ones “window dreams."

Whatever your dreams may communicate to you, consider listening. The calm and joy I received from this dream was meaningful.

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