“Is there a word,” I Asked MetaFilter “for the fear that you're doing something wrong but don't know what it is? Though my searches reveal nothing, I believe there simply must be a name for the fear that you're doing something wrong that prevents you from succeeding (broadly defined), but don't or cannot know what that wrong thing is. Someone suffering from this condition might strongly suspect that they constantly commit and have always committed some social faux pas but also feel unable to identify that faux pas.”
This line of thinking probably doesn’t come only from my recent re-reading of Errol Morris’ “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is”, though that did its part. I don’t fear the Dunning-Kruger Effect, when “our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.” (Though, by definition, how would I know to fear it?) I don’t fear that the world has secretly turned against me, since I most often hear that sort of grumbling from people too powerless in the first place for a world to consider entities at all. I fear being held back, and knowing I’m being held back, by my own mistakes, mistakes I can’t identify.
In the world of Leonard “Stinky” Brown from Hate, “Could it be that I’m a total asshole and never realized it?” Now, I can’t point to any particularly harmful tics, critical knowledge gaps, routine oversights, or bad social behaviors on my part — but therein lies the whole problem! If I knew what I was doing wrong, I wouldn’t do it, but as it stands my only identifiable evidence remains my total lack of success. I don’t need anything more to stoke the worst suspicions about myself.
The MeFites came up with these possible banners:
- “Unknown unknowns anxiety disorder.”
- “In my family we call that a ‘Maloney’. Not sure why, but whenever you are out and keep checking your fly to make sure it is up or wiping your face to make sure no food on it or fixing your clothes or asking, ‘Did you say something to me?’ we say, "’Why the Maloney?’ Whoever Maloney was, it was not my generation so I never met him/her.”
- “I always thought of it as ‘free-floating anxiety’ even though I may be misusing a clinical term.”
- “Lack of insight?”
- “Imposter syndrome: ‘Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.’”
- “Crippling paranoia.”
These all sound interesting, but don’t quite capture it. Suggestions? Try to let me know before my MacArthur Fellowship comes in, since that will probably make the condition go away.