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Imposter Syndrome

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

This month’s blog is on imposter syndrome, something I have noticed to be experienced and spoken about by many. So, what is it? What does it mean? What are its pros and cons and how can we learn from it.

Imposter syndrome is a term that is commonly used in colloquial language. It is understood to be the experience of not feeling that we are up to the task, that somehow we are a fraud and that soon enough everyone will find out.

This syndrome is something that a whopping 70% of men and women in all lines of work have felt at some point. It is that terrifying feeling, the stuff of nightmares, that we will suddenly be caught out and somehow humiliated. The world will judge us and find out how inadequate we truly are.

It is common to look at the other and feel that they are amazing at what they do, that they exude confidence and that you will never be able to be like that. However in my experience with clients and friends, even those who appear confident, experienced and respected often also have that nagging voice occasionally telling them that it is all a charade and that soon everyone will find out.

So, if this syndrome is something that a lot of us suffer from, why is it so widespread? How can we make use of it? Perhaps if we change our perspective on it, we can experience it differently and construct a new narrative of it.

There are some pros and cons of this syndrome and looking at them can give us an opportunity to transform this feeling into a way of checking in with ourselves, a way of reminding ourselves that we are not perfect, that there will always be things that we can learn and if we can begin to accept that about ourselves perhaps imposter syndrome will be less daunting.

My feeling is that imposter syndrome is so prevalent and commonly experienced by many because it ultimately taps into our common fear of failure, of somehow not being good enough and of being judged. These fears that a lot of us share tap into our insecurities and ultimately add fuel to already existing fires.

There are many negative feelings that are associated with imposter syndrome. We, for example, can feel very anxious, have low self-esteem or become self-deprecating and unable to enjoy the achievements in our lives. One of the hardest things about feeling like a fraud, is that you’re in a constant state of hypervigilance, always expecting a sudden and humiliating fall from grace.

How imposter syndrome can make us feel is not pleasant and can mean that we feel unable to ask for help, because if we do we might be perceived as incompetent and that would prove our narrative of being less capable than others.

With the negative associations, there are also some strong positives that I feel we should acknowledge. Imposter syndrome and the feelings that it can create in us can also be a driver that encourages us to work harder, to gain higher standards, it can help us keep humble. These are the side effects of this state that I feel we should be concentrating on.

As a general rule, we can always learn from our experiences good and bad. Therefore if we use our feelings that we get when feeling like a fake, to position ourselves in such a way that we can learn from our inadequacy and channel that energy into accepting that we are not perfect and can always change, this might be a good thing. If we are not open to change, we are static and this, I feel is not always a good approach to life.

I am a psychotherapist who at times suffers from imposter syndrome, occasionally I question my ability and this can cause that uncomfortable anxious feeling. Although I know that I have studied for many years before qualifying and that I do have experience in my profession, I also know that at times I am insecure about my ability. Despite this feeling of uncertainty being difficult at times, it can also propel me to want to do better, to keep learning, to keep improving and that is a good thing. If I felt totally confident and sure of what I was saying and doing all the time, I would never be putting myself in a position to learn from the other, I would not be open to constructive criticism or discussion, I would not be open to potential growth.

As therapists we have something called supervision and in my experience the role of these meetings with other therapists is exactly that, we don’t have the answers, we don’t know everything, we don’t have a crystal ball, what we can do is remain grounded open and hopefully receptive to learning.

Being vulnerable and slightly worried about what others think and how impactful our work is, is human and that I feel is what connects us to others, not being perfect and confident at all time. As awful as anxiety can feel, perhaps it is also a feeling that we can use to make us better. Imposter syndrome can aid us to work harder and keep moving forward.

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