I can’t even count the amount of times I have been guilty of googling my symptoms to try to figure out what is wrong with me. I have bashed my hip on the bench, forgotten that I’ve bashed it, googled the symptoms (pain) and diagnosed myself with secondary cancers. I have had a suspicious looking rash (it was food colouring- forgot I’d used it making play dough) and come up with meningococcal. I’ve even googled my forgetfulness and wondered if I have some kind of early-onset dementia.
So imagine my surprise when I read something on the internet that other people had google-diagnosed me with. An interesting turn of events, right?
I was talking to a couple of friends who pointed out that I seem to have Impostor Syndrome. My response:
So I looked it up. This time I can’t blame food colouring or forgetfulness. I think they’re actually on to something. I read all about Impostor Syndrome and thought “Well, fuck. I think I legitimately have this.”
“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
Immediately after, I had my doubts. I sat down and really thought about it.
Impostor Syndrome is for high achievers, right? Do I really consider myself a high achiever in any way? I mean, really? What have I done?
There was that one time I helped to kick up a big enough fuss to land on television and make news all over the place- was that really an achievement? I mean, yes, it hopefully educated some people about the legal rights of mothers to breastfeed in public- but was it not just a case of being in the right place at the right time? Just luck- a slow news day perhaps?
I have a blog, so what, anyone can have a blog. I have had a blog post go viral– but again, that’s just luck (no, really). I have other pieces that rack up views every single day. Things I’ve written have resonated with a lot of people- but again, a lot of that is timing, right? One in particular got me invited to write for a national website. I can explain that, though, because a blogging friend worked there at the time, so that’d be the reason, surely.
Actually, I’ve been paid to write stuff for a few different big websites. But hey, lots of people do, right? Doesn’t make me special.
Then I started to think about the course I’m doing, where so far I have a high distinction average. Sounds impressive, sure, but it’s just a Certificate IV, no big deal, it’s not like I’m studying at Uni.
I kept going with these thoughts for a while, including things I’ve done at work, things others have said to me, small ways I have helped to change minds and stuff like that.
Do you see what I was doing to myself? I was talking myself out of having Impostor Syndrome by down-playing things I have achieved. I was telling myself I wasn’t actually good enough, I wasn’t actually high-achieving enough, to be experiencing Impostor Syndrome.
Even as I type this, I have an underlying fear that people will read it and roll their eyes.
They’ll talk about how up myself I must be for even thinking this could effect someone like me. I am Impostor Syndroming (I know, not an actual word) myself out of having Impostor Syndrome.
The truth is, I work hard. I have a demanding job but I do okay at it despite the ever-present fear that someone will realise I don’t know what I’m doing. I do know what I’m doing, but the feeling remains. I work hard here on my website. I work hard on freelance articles. I work hard to help other writers. I never ignore anyone who asks for my advice and the fact that other writers do ask for it, quite frequently, says something. I can’t realistically be the massive fraud that the little voice in my head insists I am.
I wondered if this was something that primarily effects women. After all, I know so many women that downplay their achievements or explain them away as simple luck or timing. Psychologist Ellen Jackson says not:
“The women who coined the phrase ‘Impostor Syndrome,’ psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes did so in a research article in 1978. They were discussing the experience of high-achieving women who felt that they were not as intelligent or as competent as people seemed to think they were (and indeed as they actually were). A lot of the research and media articles on the Impostor Syndrome have focused on women but more recent research suggests that it is just as common in men. Women are just more likely to talk about the experience.
It’s estimated that up to 70% of us have felt it at one time or another and for most people it’s just an inner battle with self belief but for some people it can cause real psychological distress.”
So there you go- it’s not just a female phenomenon. We are just more likely to talk about it.
So, if you have it, what do you do about it? There are some strategies that can help. For me, I think the most helpful thing I can do will be to recognise what I do actually know and do well. I have to re-frame how I think about myself and the things I have achieved. Whether it’s a good mark in my studies or a piece of writing that helps someone, it’s still something I can be proud of, without comparing myself to others and finding myself lacking. I haven’t won a Nobel Prize or a Walkley or whatever- but very few of us ever will, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean I’m without value. Pursuing something, doing it well enough, trying– that’s what’s really important.
Do you sometimes feel like an impostor?
#FYBF @ With Some Grace.