Today I am writing to you about something that a lot of people across all walks of life will experience, the dreaded Imposter Syndrome.
I mostly want to talk about this because I got slapped in the face with a big dose of imposter syndrome last week, so it’s very fresh in my mind and the emotions it pulled up are still pretty raw. But also, I want to talk about this because it’s something that is mentioned every so often, but I don’t see as much discussion about it as I would like. Even when there is discussion imposter syndrome tends to get mixed up in self-doubt and self-hatred and I think it’s well able to stand on its own as a topic. Perhaps as a spin-off from self-doubt but I’ll leave those kinds of definitions to the psychologists amongst us.
Keep in mind I am coming from the perspective of someone who writes, and most of, if not all, the people who I have spoken to about this are also writers so that may influence my viewpoint, though I’m not sure it will because this is a very universal issue that affects all kinds of people in all different situations.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is the name given to feelings of severe inadequacy. Often these feelings will leave the sufferer feeling like a fraud. It is often discussed in reference to a person’s work life, though can be experienced in a range of contexts, from relationships, to hobbies, and more fundamental situations like basic existence.
It can affect anyone, regardless of their, experience or success. A number of high achieving people, including Michelle Obama, have suffered from imposter syndrome.
While the syndrome has likely been experienced by many people since the dawn of humankind, it was first given this name in 1978. When Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes of Georgia State University penned the paper “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” which was the result of a long and detailed study.
What are the symptoms?
While Imposter syndrome is not an officially recognized psychiatric disorder, it does have common symptoms, experienced across the range of suffers. The symptoms usually include anxiety, doubting one’s achievements, frustration and low self-esteem. Sufferers will also likely develop bad habit such as constantly comparing themselves to those around them.
In a nutshell, people who suffer will be anxious and feel like they do not belong or deserve their position.
Sufferers will usually engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as perfectionism and overworking, usually experienced to combat the feeling of self-doubt and nothing being good enough.
What can you do to lessen the impact?
These steps will help, though some may be more challenging than others to complete.
Focus on reframing your views, this can be accomplished by trying to focus on completing tasks rather than making them perfect. This is damn hard to do but using mindfulness techniques it becomes easier to let those feelings of concern go and the more you do this the easier it will get.
Avoid comparison with other people. This one will benefit your mental health in a number of ways. Again, the best way to stop this is to notice when you’re doing it and if noticing isn’t enough to actually stop you then try distraction techniques as well. By being more mindful of what our thoughts are doing they should become easier to control.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite writers, Neil Gaiman, talking about his own experience with Imposter Syndrome.