You’ve most likely, by this point heard of imposter syndrome and if you’re reading this, you’ve most likely experienced it. The feeling that you don’t fit in, that you’re a fake or a fraud and that you’re close to being found out at any given moment. ‘You’re just experiencing Imposter Syndrome’ is bounded around so much, but this whole diagnosis, in its own right, can be problematic and often shifts questioning away from what is really causing it. When the term was developed byPsychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 founding study, issues such as classism, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, sizeism and many more were not taken into consideration when leading to the term’s now frequent use.
From personal experience, I’ve seen the concept of imposter syndrome have a huge impact on my life, and for many years, I simply equated this to a feeling that was entirely in my head. However, in recent years, I’ve realized that quite a lot of that needs more questioning. Numerous opportunities to prove myself in my early professional life were met with constant micromanaging and picking out as many of my faults as possible by my manager. My early introduction to photographic assisting was met by constant man-splaining and passive aggressive ‘acts of chivalry’. I don’t even want to get started on the outdoors world, which, as I see it right now has a lot of work to do in becoming more inclusive and accepting. Being asked if I was going to ‘sit this one out’. Or when ‘I’d settle down and stop doing this’. Even as far as condescendingly telling me ‘there’s quite a way still to go…just to warn you’ from some random passerby on the trail. These are, of course, a few very light examples of some of the things I’ve experienced, in one way or another, for as long as I can remember. They have an impact, and no matter how hard you might try, these kinds of things start to sink in.
“Imposter syndrome commonly hides a faulty belief that a person is not as competent as other people perceive them to be. Living with this belief can lead to over-functioning, often presenting itself in the form of working long hours, overpreparing, difficulty asking for help and perfectionism. It can also significantly impact a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence, thus affecting their mental health, and spilling into every area in their personal and professional life.” saysBobbi Banks, therapist, coach and neuroscientist. When I started to develop what is referred to as ‘Imposter Syndrome’ several years ago, I truly believed that I was the problem. That there was something inherently wrong with me – that I was self-sabotaging myself from seeing the successes I’d made along the way. It meant I was starting to have little belief in myself and what I was capable of. I stopped wanting to try and do things, because the fear of ‘failure’ was so strong that I would rather stay hidden. I wouldn’t attempt adventures I really wanted to because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I started to develop depression and anxiety around work based situations to a very unhealthy degree.
A quick Google search will reveal thousands, if not millions, of results that offer solutions ranging from action points to affirmations. What is often left out, however, is why imposter syndrome exists in the first place and what role many societal systems play in leading people to distrust themselves and their abilities.
So how can you start to question and dismantle the notions that make you feel a sense of imposter syndrome and gain a better sense of clarity?
Awareness of Toxic Positivity
Toxic positivity is ingrained in so many areas within society, and if you search for any amount of time, you’ll find millions of articles which will suggest that positive thinking is one of the key tools to dealing with imposter syndrome. “Although our thoughts affect our moods…positive thinking is not the solution to life’s problems’’ says Dennis Greenberger PhD and Christine A. Padesky, PhD, authors of ‘Mind Over Mood’, The Guilford Press. “Looking at a situation from all sides and considering…positive, negative and neutral, can lead to more helpful ways of understanding things and new solutions to difficulties you face. Some life situations are so challenging that simply thinking differently about things is not a wise idea”. For example, if you’re experiencing bullying in a situation that is causing imposter syndrome, just changing thoughts is not an adequate solution. The goal is to stop the bullying. Changes in thought may help someone to find the motivation to get help, but simply changing thoughts to allow acceptance of the situation is not a helpful solution.
What is Going On Here?
For many people, the notion that there is something systemic underneath the way they’re being made to feel, will, sadly, be an experience they are well used to. For others, it may not, and can often become internalized as a problem with oneself rather than the system they’re a part of. Most of the treatments for imposter syndrome outwardly focus on how an individual can address their thoughts or attitudes to solve the problem. However, this is an oversimplification and ignores the external factors that often feed into and exacerbate the problem. Positive thinking on its own is seldom a solution. Oftentimes, this may need to be addressed by looking further into and questioning what changes can potentially be made to the situations causing the problem.
Seek Out Safe Spaces
Having people who you can talk to about any situations or problems you’re facing can be incredibly important. It can also be life changing – for example, talking through with friends who may be normalizing what they’re experiencing as just ‘limiting beliefs’ can help to see what they’re experiencing may not be ok and that further action possibly needs to be taken.
Try to Separate Emotions and Evidence/Facts
Just because you think these things, it doesn’t mean they’re true. If you find yourself second guessing what you’re about to say or how you’re going to act in any given situation, try to remind yourself that you are more than capable. You may also find it helpful to remind yourself of past achievements that have helped lead you up to this moment. “Recognize your strengths” says Bobbi Banks, therapist, coach and neuroscientist. “Start a list and add to it each time you notice something you’re good at, qualities you like about yourself, things that make you unique or challenges that you’ve overcome.”
Of course, saying yes to too many opportunities and overworking can be a sign that imposter syndrome is taking over, but it’s also important to remember that if you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, you may feel less like you want to say yes to things. For example, if your confidence is low, you’re more likely to feel like you won’t do a good job of the task at hand.When an opportunity comes up, get used to distinguishing between the voice telling you that you can’t do it because you’re not worthy and the one saying you can’t do it because you have too much on your plate. The first is impostor syndrome talking.