Fraudulent Feelings: An Article on Imposter Syndrome

Words by: Selin Kaya

Have you ever felt like you’re a fraud, had an overwhelming feeling that you’re undeserving of your successes, or felt that everything you’ve achieved boils down to luck?

It sounds a bit grim, right? If you’ve felt these feelings, don’t panic. The good news is you’re not alone, and you’re definitely not an imposter.

As I first sat down to write this piece, a wave of self-doubt overcame me. Do I really know enough to be writing about this at length? I’m used to writing reviews and essays — what makes me think I can pull off this article if I don’t know the first thing about psychology? How long will it be until someone sees through the cracks?

Enter imposter syndrome (also referred to as the imposter phenomenon), originally coined by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in 1978 — a term characterised by the psychological experience where you believe your accomplishments were achieved not through genuine ability, but rather through luck or having manipulated people’s impressions.

This phenomenon was first observed in highly successful women and university students who were unable to view themselves as competent and talented, despite the evidentiary proof of their achievements.

Their successes were attributable to external forces such as personal charm or ability to meet other people’s expectations, instilling the notion of being an imposter or a fraud.

However, despite this early research, imposter syndrome has been found to affect all people in equal numbers.

Behind us imposters is a dominant fear of failure. Other common traits are perfectionism, overworking, discounting your achievements, and dismissing well-earned praise.

A few of my friends who have said they’re in the same boat — but don’t worry, this boat is not the Titanic, and we can get out of this one relatively high and dry.

So you’re feeling like a fraud — now what?

Valerie Young, Ed.D, internationally recognised expert on imposter syndrome, and author of the award-winning book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spirit of It has ten steps to combat these thoughts — and has conducted a Ted Talk on it too. A few of the ten steps I found helpful were:

Separate Feelings From Fact:

A lot of the time we mistake our inner thoughts for fact. If you’re feeling like you’re silly or stupid, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are.

Accentuate the Positive:

Mistakes are bound to happen from time to time, after all, you’re only human! Forgive yourself when these inevitable mistakes do occur. Young says the trick is to not obsess over making everything perfect, and to do a great job when it matters most.

Develop a New Script:

Ever hear that internal monologue press play when you’re in situations which may trigger those imposter feelings? When you encounter those feelings, think, “everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.”

Reward Yourself:

Congrats! You’ve made it this far. Instead of relying on external feedback from others, learn to pat your- self on the back and treat yourself, whether that be a day off from study or your favourite takeaway food, enjoy these moments guilt-free.

Fake It Til’ You Make It:

When I first saw this step I thought this was just another out-dated cliché, but the more I delved into it the more I liked it. Courage comes from taking risks, and in changing your behaviour first — your confidence will build. Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Just like my mum always says, there’s no time like the present!

As it turns out, you are not alone. A lot of other people experience these feelings too.

To learn more about imposter syndrome see:

Mike Cannon-Brookes’ TED-Talk

Lou Solomon’s TED-Talk

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