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Impostor Syndrome

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Do you feel like you do not deserve the position you’re in or the praise you receive? Do you feel like a fraud or like you are deceiving others about your qualifications or abilities?

You might be suffering from what has been termed Imposter Syndrome (sometimes called Impostor Phenomenon).

A term first coined and defined by clinician Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes in the 1980s, Imposter Syndrome involves persistent feelings of self-doubt, guilt, or lack of confidence in one’s capabilities despite personal, educational, or work-related achievements.

For example, you might feel unqualified to write a book or create a YouTube channel, thinking “what do I know?”, and as a result, you avoid doing what you’d love to do.

Or you might have a role at work, and worry that you somehow got there “by accident” and “don’t deserve to be in that position” and that people will “find out” how “incompetent” you are. Not only is this stressful, but it can also lead to hiding mistakes, working overtime, reassurance-seeking, and avoiding opportunities for growth or advancement.

Possible vulnerabilities:

  • Family dynamics with parental or societal pressure to achieve in school/work
  • High perfectionism
  • Low self-confidence
  • High anxiety
  • Linking competence to success
  • Attributing success to external factors
  • Linking self-worth to achievements

Symptoms of Imposter syndrome tend to manifest themselves when someone, usually with one or more of the previously listed vulnerabilities, is faced with a new role or a new challenge.

It can involve putting extreme pressure on yourself to achieve, constantly believing that you are not good enough, and fearing others will notice your shortcomings or think you’re a fraud.

People with imposter feelings tend to also dismiss positive feedback. Due to their self-doubt and low self-confidence, they are not able to see themselves the way that others see them. Their diplomas, awards, or praise just never feel good enough to reassure them that they are competent.

Due to achievement pressures, gender / racial/ cultural discrimination, or biases present in society, educational institutions, and the job market, impostor feelings are more common in the following groups of people:

  • High-achieving women or successful women
  • Graduate students/medical students/pharmacy students
  • Ethnic minority students
  • People of colour
  • Women of colour

How is Impostor Syndrome Diagnosed?

Since impostor or fraudulent feelings are an internal experience, Impostor Syndrome cannot be diagnosed using any physical test.

Dr. Pauline Rose Clance developed the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale, a questionnaire that helps individuals or clinicians determine if someone is suffering from Impostor Phenomenon/Syndrome.

The test will also tell you the approximate extent to which you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome because it can exist in varying degrees in different people.

Treatment of Impostor Syndrome

People with Impostor Syndrome can find it hard to talk to someone about their feelings for fear of being misunderstood or embarrassed.

However, talking about how you are feeling can be instrumental in developing self-appraisals that are more flexible, compassionate, and congruent with your actual abilities and strengths.

Competencies can be viewed more nuanced than the all-or-nothing view of “competent” or “incompetent.” The right to learn, grow, and make mistakes is a right we all can benefit from.

How can therapy help?

Therapy can help you cherish your accomplishments and learn from mistakes without letting them define you. It will help extinguish your feelings of inadequacy and ultimately lead to better mental health.

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