A few weeks ago, I joined Romina Ruda in her new podcast Sleepover. The episode is out! In case you’ve ever wondered whatI’m like when drinking wine in my pajamas, this is your chance to find out.
Romina is a copywriter at Gogel Publicis, as well as the founder of Asphalt, a platform that supports new artists and free thinking, co-founder of Kino Kabaret Tirana, and creator of NightFlix. She’s a TV personality and many of us grew up watching her.
We talked mainly about impostor syndrome, but also about difficult childhoods, my story, mental health in Albania, faking it in relationships, and much more.
I’ve already shared the original episode on social media and received some amazing feedback from many of you. Because of the fleeting nature of social media and because, according to my Google Analytics, most of my readers aren’t Albanian, I’ll be sharing it here as well.
I’ll add the video version once it’s up on YouTube. In the meantime, listen to the episode in Albanian or read the English transcription below. Cheers.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Romina Ruda: Let’s start with Cheers.
Romina Ruda: Welcome. You’re the first Sleepover guest that actually was dressed for a sleepover. You brought a bottle of wine. As everyone should in a sleepover. So I think we’re going to have a good time.
Me: For sureee.
Romina Ruda: Thank you so much for joining me. I’ve been following your page for a long time. I really, really love it.
You’re so detail-oriented in the way you share your thoughts, have a great sense of humor, sometimes speak with irony, but always with clarity. I think this is because you’ve studied psychology, so your profile The Inner Dolphin is also dedicated to mental wellbeing. Tell me a little bit more about how this started.
There are a lot of young people who study psychology but don’t follow this path. What’s your story?
Me: Thank you so much for the kind words. You asked me about my name before we started recording, and my dad takes full credit. The name Delfina is about water and swimming and much more. So, The Inner Dolphin is a dive into my subconscious and conscious mind, my inner self. I started The Inner Dolphin while I was in university studying psychology.
As you said, lots of people do not really feel the psychology path, even though they study it. It might not have been their first choice, just what the Albanian educational point system had in store for them.
I’ve always loved it. When I was a kid, I didn’t know the degree existed. However, I always knew I wanted something related to the way people think and live.
Psychology has answered many of my questions.
I opened my blog in uni, but I’d write, then I wouldn’t write for months. I’d publish something, then disappear. This relates to what we’re going to discuss today.
One beautiful day, I decided that enough is enough. I made a public announcement that I would write a new article every Sunday. I’ve been writing about psychology and so much more. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
Romina Ruda: Your page actually has such an engaged audience, and most importantly, a positive one. Some of the topics you cover may be a bit delicate, but people’s feedback seems great.
One that comes to mind is an Instagram Reel about weight loss that you recently published.
“You’ve lost weight.” “You’ve gained weight.” Everyone knows. Everyone has a mirror.
Me: Ah yes. I could talk about this all day. It’s so insensitive to comment on someone else’s weight, yet so many people do it. If someone wants to talk about it, you’ll know.
I make these lighthearted because I know how tough the topic can be. Humor helps us cope with difficult feelings. And a lot of people resonated with the video, which felt good.
Often, I tackle deep topics that aren’t exactly appropriate for a platform as visual and social as Instagram, where people aren’t always in the mood to read long articles, but it seems like I’ve found my-
Rudina Ruda: Golden mean.
Me: Yeah, my “tribe.”* It’s an amazing feeling.
Romina Ruda: Let me tell you about something that happened to me. It was one of those days where you realize it’s simply not your day. At 8:30 AM.
I was going to work. This woman stops me and tells me: “Clean up. You have something on your back.” At the time, I’d hurt my spine. It was physically impossible to look at my behind.
“Would you please look at it and tell me what it is?” She tells me it’s white hair.
Relieved, I tell her I have a cat.
She grabs my arm and says: “But it’s terrible. Can’t even look at you.”
Me: In the meantime, you were just happy it was cat hair and nothing else.
Romina Ruda: I know, right? So I’m like whatever. I walk a few steps and run into an old friend.
I was thrilled because I hadn’t seen her in years. First thing she says: “Wow you’ve gained so much weight.”
So I was like, damn, everyone’s feeling opinionated today, huh?
Me: *laughing* Someone hates cats, another has a problem with the way I look.
Romina Ruda: Everyone has an opinion. Maybe the knowledge that everyone has an opinion makes people prone to the topic we’re discussing today, impostor syndrome.
It has existed since the dawn of time. Many famous people struggle with it, some openly and some privately.
These past few years, I’ve seen that there’s a shift in perception surrounding impostor syndrome.
Here we try to establish the Albanian equivalent of the word impostor.
We’ve seen way more mental health awareness. It’s amazing. I’m so grateful that the internet, and I do believe it’s the internet, has made us realize how similar we are, even though in different corners of the world.
Impostor syndrome has a definition, right.
Me: Yes. Even though we’ve heard more conversations around impostor syndrome in recent years, it was first studied in 1978.
People who suffer from it feel like their success isn’t deserved. Others will find that out soon. These people can spend their lives feeling like impostors until they learn that there’s a word for what they’re feeling.
When you don’t know what you’re struggling with, you think you’re the only person in the world feeling that way. The internet has helped us realize that it’s not just us. There are hundreds of thousands of others feeling the same way.
Romina Ruda: We’re all on the same boat.
Me: Just knowing that there are people out there struggling with the same thing is super helpful.
Romina Ruda: The first time I read about it somewhere, maybe in The New York Times, I thought to myself, shit, they got me.
I’m guessing this is very common for people who were high-performing as kids. Since they received endless praise and adoration back then, nothing seems enough now. It feels like they’re not doing those extraordinary things their parents and everyone else expected of them. The whole time you feel like you’re letting yourself and everyone who cheered you down.
Me: That’s the thing because, especially with kids, it’s like our affection depends on their achievements. We focus on the external.
That may be why kids who relentlessly heard how they excelled at something, I’m assuming you’re part of them—
Romina Ruda: Yuppp.
Delfina here: Romina was a child star and many of us grew up watching her on TV.
Me: There’s no limit, right. You’re always expected to reach more, more, more, but what’s enough? So it’s normal to feel like there’s something wrong with you and people will discover you were just a one-hit-wonder that will never create anything good ever again.
Romina Ruda: Yuppp.
Me: Which is obviously not the way things work.
So, four risk factors make people more prone to feeling like impostors.
#1? Achievements. For example, if you’re promoted to an amazing position, that is impostor syndrome dangerous territory.
You think to yourself: “I have this salary? These huge responsibilities? Oh no, I don’t deserve these.”
Obviously, you think this to yourself. You don’t go around telling your boss or HR.
Romina Ruda: *laughing* Yeah, I doubt anyone has ever said: “No, please. Not the higher salary.”
Me: Our family situation is the next risk factor. We already know that family affects every damn thing.
Romina Ruda: *laughing* Thanks, parents. For all the, uhm, gifts you got us.
Me: Unfortunately or fortunately, our families and the way we grew up affect our present decisions.
People who’ve had extremely talented or high-achieving siblings usually suffer from impostor syndrome. They feel like they’ll never reach that level of success.
Whatever they achieve, it’s compared to… You’re nodding right now, so I’m thinking something’s resonating with you.
Romina Ruda: I’m just going through every single chapter of my childhood.
Me: Yeah, when you have such a high standard, it’s hard to feel like you made it, even though you might be achieving great things in other fields.
The third factor is suffering from anxiety or depression. As anyone can guess, it’s a sure way to–
Romina Ruda: Does anyone in 2021 not suffer from anxiety or depression?!
Me: If you struggle with those, there’s a high chance you feel like an impostor. Because of course, anxiety and depression affect the way we think and how our brains work.
Romina Ruda: It’s like you have a cricket whispering all the time: “You’re not enough. You’re not enough.”
Me: Yeah, they affect the way we perceive others and ourselves.
The last risk factor is being part of a marginalized community: being a woman, a person of color, part of the LGBTQ community, disabled, etc. If you’re the only woman in a team with ten other men, many illusions about your worth can appear. But that’s all they are.
Romina Ruda: “There’s something substantially untrue about who I am.”
Me: It sucks to know that this affects marginalized communities disproportionately because they’re the ones struggling the most. It’s sad to think that on top of the shit they have to deal with, they also have to worry about others finding out they’re impostors.
But what makes me hopeful is that once we realize how this affects us, we have the power to turn it around.
Romina Ruda: So this is fixable. There’s still hope.
Me: Hell yes. In Albanian, we say “Hope dies last” (shpresa vdes e fundit), but we also say “hope never dies” (shpresa nuk vdes kurrë).
Romina Ruda: *laughing*
Me: I want to know, which one is it?!
So, like for many other mental health issues, therapy is the recommended route. It’s great for any mental health problems–actually, in Albania, we often associate “mental health problems” with severe disorders. There’s this notion that you should be really, really bad if you’re asking for help.
Romina Ruda: You must’ve hit rock bottom.
Me: Which is untrue.
Romina Ruda: It’s just like doing a car checkup. Is everything working? What’s that rattling noise? Is it the engine or what? *laughing*
Me: Great analogy. When it comes to physical health, we’re all now aware that we should take care of it. Maybe we don’t actually do this, but we know we should.
We’re quick to put our job first and our mental health last, until we burn out and are unable to work or socialize.
Romina Ruda: Everyone’s fighting to turn mental health care from a luxury into a commodity. Therapy should be included in our healthcare packages. Everyone should have access to free therapy. I hope this is the next step for us as a society.
There’s a huge stigma here that if you go to therapy, you’re “crazy,” even in our generations which I never expected.
Also, everyone believes that it’s expensive. Okay, it relatively is. But let’s say you spend 2000 ALL ($19) on three drinks. In the meantime, therapy is something you do for your mental health. So that when you do go out to drink that weekend, you don’t drink them sad, but happily.
You don’t drink them to let down the anger you pent up during the week. You enjoy them and your friends’ company.
If you make that shift in the way you think, I believe therapy is invaluable.
Something else I’ve realized from discussions with my friends is that finding the right therapist is like finding the right life match. Someone might have had an unpleasant first encounter with therapy, but it’s important to keep trying to find the right person. At the end of the day, I think it’s also about chemistry.
Me: For sure. There’s this notion that the first therapist office you walk in will be the right one who’ll fix every single problem in your life.
It’s a relationship based on trust. Like any other relationship, it involves many contributing factors to its success or failure. I don’t know why we have this expectation with therapy.
Therapy itself has become more diverse. Maybe your therapist’s approach was simply not right for you. This doesn’t mean that therapy itself didn’t work for you. It just means you need to find someone else. You can also read on different therapy approaches and choose therapists based on what sounds more up your alley.
And it’s chemistry. A therapist might have the right approach, but they might not be right for you. You distrust them or feel like they don’t get you. This is normal. We’re people, therapists are people, and our biases affect us.
And it’s a numbers game. The more you give it a chance, the more likely you are to find your dream therapist. If there’s one challenge that’s worth taking on, it’s this one.
So you can actually enjoy those three drinks *laughing*. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself. It’s a long-term investment.
With the drinks and the pent-up anger, you’re just going to do the same thing next week.**
Romina Ruda: Ufff.
Me: So that’s not a solution.
There’s not a lot of information at the moment, but it’s growing. I’ve seen a lot of people creating mental health content in Albanian, even therapists themselves.
Romina Ruda: Is there a database?
Me: There is. There’s a database of licensed Albanian therapists and their contact details.
I’ve written a guide about different therapy approaches and various therapists in Albania for a company I worked for. I basically took this on myself, even though there weren’t many tangible financial benefits for the company.
Then, months later, this friend of mine told me she had googled “therapists in Tirana” and my article showed up first.
Romina Ruda: That’s so cool.
Me: I was like Yesss. I did a good thing. But therapy remains a luxury, unfortunately. It’s different in the capital, but in other cities, the stigma is unbelievable.
Romina Ruda: Absolutely.
Me: It’s scary.
Romina Ruda: Now that you mention it, the stigma has gotten so bad that… We see many people suffering from mental health issues wandering the streets of Tirana–I live in Tirana, so I’d like to talk about what I know–and many of them aren’t in mental health facilities because their families are ashamed.
Just because of the stigma, people get their own kid or sibling to that point where we see them wandering the streets aimlessly. It’s terrible.
Me: It is. Even though it is changing… I do this thing where I try to look at the bright side. Can’t deny the truth, I know. There are people who put their struggling family members in these situations because they’re worried about what others will say.
In the most barbarian way, let’s just say this. People will talk about your family member when they get to the point that it’s so bad–
Romina Ruda: …that they will see them wandering in the streets.
Me: In the meantime, why not–obviously there are many other reasons why we should do this–prevent this from happening by getting them the mental health care they needed to begin with? Why not give them a chance at a normal life–”normal” because normal is…
Romina Ruda: It’s relative.
Me: But yeah, normal as in a healthy functioning member of society. And we can’t take this away from them *starts whispering* because we don’t want others to know that there are people in our family that struggle with mental health.
Romina Ruda: In this context, it seems like impostor syndrome was made for our country. We grew up with “What will others think? What will they say?”
Long before we created a virtual persona for the internet, we had a social persona, one that is different from who we are.
Does impostor syndrome pass into interpersonal relationships? What I’ve read so far bounds it to the professional aspect, not feeling enough in our job or not taking on bigger projects by fear of failure, which I get 100%. Will I be able to do this podcast? Maybe I don’t have the right equipment. Will I be able to finish the first season? Will I realize halfway that I suck at this?
Me: I don’t have research to back up what I’m saying, but I have a strong feeling that people in creative fields are more likely to suffer from impostor syndrome.
We associate our creative output with our worth. Our inherent worth doesn’t depend on what we achieve at work or with our art. Our worth is… is. It’s inherent.
You think about whether you’ll “make it” with this podcast. You have so many questions.
It’s easy to say and harder to apply, but I feel like the divide between those who feel like impostors and those who are, is this worry and endless thinking we do about it. You worry about the quality of your art, about what you’re putting out there for people.
In the meantime, you have this random person who does not give one single fuck about the quality of their work and doesn’t sit around wondering if they’re an impostor. They “push” their work and success down your throat.
Let’s just say these are the people that should be worried about their work. Oversimplified, obviously. It’s not “who worries, isn’t and who worries, is.”
Romina Ruda: But it’s good to question yourself from time to time.
Ah, the irony of life.
Me: Studies show that people who suffer from impostor syndrome don’t ask for promotions, meaning they can’t advance professionally.
They don’t ask for it because they don’t believe they deserve it.
Romina Ruda: Oh?
Me: This study was done in 2014. If you don’t ask for a raise or a promotion, you’re unlikely to get it. They won’t ask you out of anywhere to accept a raise and promotion.
Romina Ruda: Oh no, no, please. Not the salary, I already told you.
Romina Ruda: Does impostor syndrome affect our intimate relationships?
Here we go. I kind of feel like an impostor in the first stages of my romantic relationships.
After I read about impostor syndrome, I feel like I’ve been spotting it everywhere.
I get this feeling of “faking it” in the first stages, of needing to be more compatible with my partner’s desires or likes. What is this? Am I projecting impostor syndrome into the relationship?
Me: The problem with reading a lot of psychology articles on the internet is that you end up saying: “Oh, I suffer from this too!” way too often. I haven’t come across any studies about the effect of impostor syndrome on intimate relationships.
But let’s say this.
This whole “faking it” thing can be easily explained. The desire to connect with the other person, to have things in common…
There’s this episode on Friends where Phoebe meets her mom. It’s like:
I mean, I like pizza.
I LIKE PIZZA!
Dogs, I like dogs.
I LOVE DOGS!
Often in relationships, we do this exact thing. We try so hard to grab on to the few things we have in common, we–
Both at the same time: Milk it.
Me: The thing is that if you’re in the right relationship, you won’t have to milk absolutely anything. Everything will flow so naturally that you’ll never feel the need to pretend you like something more than you do because your partner does. You won’t have to focus on a specific part of your personality–that maybe isn’t as important to you–just to appeal to him more. Yeah, that’s it.
Romina Ruda: At my therapist friend’s house a few years ago, I found the book Psychopathology.
Me: Oh no.
Romina Ruda: *laughing* So I got it and we went to University.
Explanation: University is a place, well, a university in the middle of the city where a lot of young Albanians hang out at night.
Page: Borderline Personality Disorder. First sentence: fear of abandonment, real or imaginary. I closed the book. I opened it again.
I’d never realized–this was probably ten years ago–that my inner struggles and thoughts and feelings are so common that people have actually studied them and put us into categories.
So I have another question. Do you get all hypochondriac when you’re reading these things? With so much information on even the most specific things, like impostor syndrome, do people who aren’t struggling with these things feel like they are?
Me: This is one of the negative aspects of the popularization of mental health. Everyone can access this information and conclude that they’re suffering from X thing.
Just like it happened to you with BPD. It’s as important to promote mental health awareness and wellbeing as it is to mention the crucial importance of psychologists in this process.
A therapist doesn’t leave you wondering if you’re “being hypochondriac” right now. They’re trained to diagnose mental health issues and help you understand what you’re dealing with.
People like us who don’t have the necessary education and training usually self-diagnose wrongly.
Even for impostor syndrome, there’s a test you can do to know if this is what you’re struggling with.
Therapy isn’t accessible to everyone, so these resources are helpful, but they’re never the end all be all.
I’ll send you the link to the test so everyone can do it. When we realize there’s an issue, we’re already on the path to solving it. Let’s get those raises and promotions!
Here’s something else about impostor syndrome. When something good happens to us, we attribute it to luck. When something bad happens to us, which is related to external factors, we internalize it and say it was our incompetence’s fault.
It’s like a loss-loss situation and not a good place to be in.
Besides therapy, there are also lots of helpful tools and exercises online. One of them is the opinion vs. fact record, where you’re prompted to divide your thoughts into opinions and facts.
We usually consider our opinions facts: “I’m worthless” or “I’m bad at x.” In the meantime, it’s just an opinion not based on facts. This is part of CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, which provides you with the mental tools you need to be able to positively affect the way you think.
Romina Ruda: For me, TikTok has been a gold mine of therapy tips and tricks. Here’s one that I really liked. Every time I have a negative opinion, the way I resist it is by visualizing that I’m hearing it from someone I can’t stand.
If I have a thought like: “You’re not good enough for this thing that you’re doing,” I think of a specific person who shall not be named saying it to me. Then, I’m like, I’m going to listen to this jackass?!
Me: It’s great how we can learn life-changing tips online. When the way we treat ourselves changes, so does the way others treat us.
If you’re kind, respectful, and loving to yourself, you expect others to do the same.
Just like you won’t let that person you can’t stand tell you shit or judge your capabilities, we shouldn’t let our selves do so.
Romina Ruda: Cheers to that.
Thank you so, so much for being here. Thank you for your energy, you’ve filled my house with good energy.
Me: Wow, thank you.
Romina Ruda: And good wine.
Me: Two things I love being associated with!
Romina Ruda: I’d keep this going on for hours, but I’m trying to respect our listeners’ attention. I’d love for you to be back, so we can talk about how the popularization of mental health content affects us. I think there’s this romanticization and glorification of mental illness, which is affected by the humorous way these topics are treated on social media, but also in movies and shows and whatnot.
Me: I have MANY thoughts on that, but I’ll save them for next time.
Romina Ruda: Next wine bottle is on me.
*I’m not sure if I regretted this immediately after saying it, but I do now. The word tribe is “a colonial construct that was used to marginalize Native Americans.” A lot of indigenous people find it offensive. I apologize for using it.
**If it sounds like I’m blaming people who have to choose between temporary fun and therapy for financial reasons, and they choose fun, I’m not. I know that making the decision to get therapy is hard. I know that financial constraints make it 10x harder. Do what you can with what you have right now. No judgment here.