The impostor syndrome is not the same as actually being an impostor and intending to deliberately deceive others. Nor does it refer to those people who ‘fake it until they make it’, which can be an effective way of pretending to be confident before your confidence grows. Nor does it refer to those moments of self-doubt that we all experience from time to time, especially when trying out something new.
Those who experience the impostor syndrome really are successful, they are good at what they do and have objective, external evidence to prove it.
The problem is they just don’t believe it on the inside.
The original academic usage was impostor phenomenon, because impostor feelings are not constant. The feelings are occasional experiences, intermittent and often specific to certain situations.
A syndrome is “a group of symptoms which consistently occur together, or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms”. So referring to the ‘impostor syndrome’ is technically incorrect, it really is a phenomenon… and it isn’t a mental health condition.
What is the Imposter Phenomenon?
The term “imposter phenomenon” was first coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 and was described as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness”. It was first noted among academic women, but has since been identified in many other individuals and is known to affect both men and women in roughly equal measure.
While it is not a psychological disorder, it can be unsettling to experience and stressful.
Experiencing imposter feelings can inhibit people from achieving their full potential. However, others argue that it can be a driver to succeed. In my experience imposter feelings are a driver towards perfection, but may still hold people back from their full potential, because they don’t like to risk failing.
Below is some extra information based on my own research and that of other experts and other useful information relating to the Imposter Phenomenon.
We are still at an early stage in understanding the impact of the Imposter Phenomenon, my interest is in understanding the impact imposter feelings may have in the workplace. As I mentioned, I am in the early stages of my PhD research on this topic. If you are interested in keeping up to date with my research findings and musings on the topic, do sign up to receive my newsletter.
How do you know if you are experiencing the imposter phenomenon?
You can download and read the attached statements, which give you a guide. They are not scientifically validated, nor constitute any form of diagnosis, but will provide you with an indication.
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