Imposter syndrome is based on a network of rather negative beliefs that make us feel like a phoney. Treating those beliefs themselves as the imposters is a way to escape their grip.
When the going gets tough at work, have you ever stopped and wondered if you were hired by mistake: that you got through the interview stage by some kind of fluke – or maybe even a deception – and that before very long, everyone around is going to see right through you… This feeling of inferiority, marked by a sense that you may by a complete ‘phony’ has come to be known as ‘imposter syndrome’. The term was first coined by two psychologists – Dr Suzanne Imes and Dr Pauline Rose Clance – in a paper in the 1970s, and has since made its way into everyday language.
Thinking about imposter syndrome is a useful way of looking at our own relationship with our workplace. The sense of discomfort that it describes can sometimes be the result of being in some kind of minority – specifically a ‘stigmatized’ minority which suffers from beliefs such as ‘people like that are not really cut out for work like this.’ We can all think of plenty of examples. The sad fact is that all that social prejudice that is ‘out there’ in society can also work its way ‘in here’ – into our own minds, driving our own belief systems in a negative way.
But it’s not just about the wider social factors, because all kinds of things within our family and upbringing will play into imposter syndrome too. If I am told repeatedly by my parents that I am not a brilliant student like my cousin, or I come from a family where university education is seen as an expensive luxury that is ‘not for the likes of us’, then even if I make it to university I may struggle to fit in.
And then, once this initial unease is set up inside our heads, it is almost as if our internal radar is on the lookout for anything that will support this negative view of things. Events that don’t run in our favour can quickly be seen as failures: failure to get on the team, failure to get a high mark, failure to get invited to that party, failure to get a laugh for my joke. And successes are written off as meaningless: if I got a good mark, it’s because the test was simply too easy.
Stuff that some people might take in their stride becomes, for the ‘imposter’, yet more proof that they don’t fit in. But it is all about perceptions. Imposter syndrome is built upon a network of beliefs that themselves are false: it is these beliefs which are the imposters, and they need to be dismantled, one by one.
BOOK SUGGESTION: The Imposter Cure
This is not who I really am.