KATE ATKIN

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kate@kateatkin.com
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Clip featuring Kate in a recent BBC Look East report on the imposter phenomenon, following up on research conducted by Totaljobs in conjunction with Kate and Dr Terri Simpkin of Anglia Ruskin University. First aired by BBC Look East on 14th June 2019, video extract by kind permission from the BBC. (I’m at 0.36!)

 

https://youtu.be/uLMIxo0Q92E

As you may know, I have started a PhD focussing on the Imposter Syndrome.  While reading academic research, blog posts and press articles it struck me that there are a number of inaccuracies in the way the Imposter Syndrome is portrayed.  Here are five myths I would like to bust – the first being that it should be called the Impostor Phenomenon, not syndrome! Here’s why…

Myth #1:  It’s a syndrome and therefore a mental health condition

Wrong!  While the popular press are terming the experience of feeling like a fraud as the “imposter syndrome”, technically it is a phenomenon not a syndrome. A syndrome is typically used to refer to a medical condition, and one that is pervasive. The imposter thoughts and feelings people experience occur in certain situations, and are not present all of the time.

For example, some people find they feel like a fraud at work wondering when someone will spot that they really aren’t up to the job, or worry that they got the promotion on false pretences, when actually they truly are capable, and really did deserve that promotion. Others are fine at work, but may experience the imposter feelings at home, perhaps as a parent – are they a good enough father/mother, when will people realise they are just winging it and don’t know what they are doing? For others it may feel as if they are not as good as their friends, and they spend time wondering why people would want to be friends with them (clue; it’s because you are a good friend to them).

So, it really is a phenomenon; something which occurs at times and is situational.

 

Myth #2:  If you have self-doubt it means you have Imposter Syndrome

Self-doubt is not the same as having imposter feelings. While blog posts and articles will often confuse the two, one doesn’t necessarily mean you have the other. Self-doubt is normal when you are doing something for the first time. It is quite natural, and I would suggest healthy, to wonder whether you are able to do the task. That natural self-doubt may persist for the next few times you do the same, or similar, task.

The self-doubt which is an indicator of the Imposter Phenomenon is persistent, even when you have completed several successful tasks and have lots of external evidence as to your abilities. In fact, success is one of the fuels for the imposter-style self-doubt and can make the imposter feelings more pervasive and the sufferer more anxious as a result.

But don’t confuse the two!

 

Myth #3:  It only affects women

No, no and no again.  Back in 1978 when the Impostor Phenomenon was first identified Clance & Imes suggested that it was more prevalent in women. However, subsequent research shows that it affects both men and women about equally.

In my experience of talking to hundreds of people about the phenomenon, men and women both recognise it, but react differently. While women will tend to say, “oh, that’s so me!” men tend to say, “doesn’t everyone get that?”

It’s definitely not a “woman thing”, and women don’t need fixing.

 

Myth #4: It keeps you humble

Often people will express a desire to keep their imposter feelings as a way of ensuring they don’t become arrogant. While I have no desire to promote arrogance, I would really encourage you to be able to say, “I did that” or “yes, thank you, I’m glad my skills were useful”. Being able to acknowledge your own knowledge, skills and experience is not the same as boasting about them!

C S Lewis Humility Quote

Humility Quote

Arrogance tends to occur where there is no consideration for others. If you have had imposter feelings it is unlikely you will ever become arrogant. In the words of C S Lewis “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”, and wouldn’t it be refreshing to have both humility and courage without the anxiety that the imposter feelings can bring?

 

Myth #5:  It’s incurable

If you have had imposter feelings you are likely to notice that they come and go.  They may be present at work, but perhaps not when you are down the gym (or vice versa). There is nothing to be “cured” from.  A blog I read on a training company’s website referred to the Imposter Syndrome as being incurable, and someone once told me her mum had been “diagnosed” with the imposter syndrome.  What awful, incorrect messages to give people. They are feelings, irrational maybe, but simply feelings triggered by thoughts. As mentioned in Myth #1 it is not a mental health condition and it is inappropriate and unhelpful to ‘medicalise’ it.

 

However, it would be nice to get rid of those feelings wouldn’t it?

 

Here are five quick tips on how to lessen imposter feelings

  1. Confide in someone you trust who can help you become objective.
  2. Know and use your strengths, either take an online strengths profile or ask people what you are good at.
  3. Accept positive feedback; don’t “yes but…” it, say “yes and…” – at least inside your head.
  4. Objectively observe your thoughts and challenge them with external evidence.
  5. Stop striving for perfection, it isn’t attainable. In the words of the author and lecturer, Tal Ben-Shahar, “go for optimal”, not perfection.

While weeding at the allotment the other evening I spotted a lovely black and red moth… it turns out to be a Cinnabar Moth. Its main food is ragwort and to my knowledge there isn’t any ragwort at the allotment, so what is the moth doing there?

Sometimes we too are out of place. It is at those moments that imposter feelings can strike. Feeling inadequate, wondering whether we will be found out to be a fraud, or whether we are good enough to be in the position we find ourselves in. Reactions to those feelings vary; some people (often men) tell me that they think everyone feels like that, so they just “get on with it”. Others worry about their situation, and for some this worry can turn into extreme forms of anxiety. If this is you, the charity Anxiety UK can be of great help, see: www.anxietyuk.org.uk.  While for others it can result in perfectionist tendencies, and/or periods of procrastination.

But when do we learn the imposter patterns of behaviour and thinking?

For some it can be as a child, having an over-critical parent (whose best intentions is to encourage their child, but the feeling of nothing being quite good enough can be the result). Or it might be a parent who tells the child they are perfect, just as they are, and that no matter what, they cannot fail. Which when the real adult world hits, can be detrimental as the child in question may not have built up any resilience to experiencing failure, so when it happens it is put down to an internal failing, rather than external circumstances.

Other times, it can be from the school system. I was recently invited to be a speaker on the imposter syndrome at the Cambridgeshire Festival of Education. During one of my workshops we had a good discussion about giving feedback. The structure of “what went well; even better if” seems to be a great structure, something positive to use while always giving some encouragement to improve. But therein lies the problem. If this structure is used ALL of the time, when is good enough, going to be good enough? When will the child’s best effort be ok?  If this structure if isn’t sometimes balanced with “good job, well done” or “great work on the way you presented XYZ” it can have the same effect as the hypercritical parent. Nothing is ever quite good enough, ergo the child isn’t quite good enough either. (I know it is illogical thinking, but imposter  feelings are not about logic!).

So if you are giving feedback, whether to an adult or a child, let them know when good enough is good enough. Perfection is unattainable, but being good enough is — and that’s no bad thing. We can still strive for more, but if we don’t achieve it, please give us some encouragement, or reassurance that we are ok as we are, and don’t have to be perfect!

Anxiety and the Impostor

Many people will experience levels of anxiety, some more so than others, and for some people the levels are so stressful they impair their ability to function well, both at work and at home. October 10th is World Mental Health day, with mental health at work being the key focus for 2017.

World Mental Health day

This September 2017 saw the start of my 18th year in business I have decided to formalise my fundraising efforts. Some of you reading this will be aware of my husband’s 2,500 mile walk around England in 2011-2012, with our springer spaniel Poppy, and his subsequent walk along the Welsh Coastal Path in 2013, both raising awareness of mental health and some valuable funds for two charities SANE and Anxiety UK. during my business year from September 2017-September 2018 I will be fundraising for Anxiety UK – a small national charity that provides much needed support for people who experience anxiety, be it phobias, work-related stress, or other causes.

The Impostor Syndrome

I am now also researching and giving talks on the Impostor Syndrome, which for some people also causes high levels of anxiety.   Called, “Behind the Mask” these talks uncover some of the causes and effects of the impostor syndrome and also provide some strategies to help people cope, or strategies to help people manage and support others, who experience impostor feelings.

Anxiety? Or is it imposter syndrome?

During the course of the next five years I will be working towards a PhD, focussing on the impostor feelings in the work place — so will have much more to share through these pages and also through my irregular newsletter (you can sign up on the right, or via the home page). If you would like to support me in my charity endeavours you can donate below, and do get in touch if you would like me to speak to your group, organisation or at your conference. kate@kateatkin.com or call me on 07779 646 976

Kate’s Fundraising Page for Anxiety UK:

Donate to Anxiety UK

 

 

Photo credit: Helena G Anderson

Impostor syndrome

Who is the fraud?

Who am I to write a guest blog for the Oxford English Dictionary on the Impostor Syndrome?

I have now given several talks on the subject of the Impostor Syndrome – more correctly termed Impostor Phenomenon – chaired a panel discussion for the General Assembly on the subject, been interviewed by the Telegraph and Cambridge TV on it, as well as receiving a distinction for my research into it when doing my Masters Degree a couple of years ago.  So why did I still think, “what me?  Really? can I do this?” when contacted by the Oxford English Dictionary to be a guest blogger on their new entry “Impostor Syndrome“.

The answer, as you may have guessed, is that I am one of the 70% who experience ‘imposter’ feelings.

Of course I said yes, and then set about controlling my internal chatter to be able to write a comprehensive piece.

Then I spot a completely incorrect use of the term in the The Times today.  A fraudster does NOT experience the impostor syndrome or phenomenon.  Those who set out to deliberately deceive others are actual impostors.

Please, it’s hard enough to experience the feelings without being confused with with real fraudsters.  So, a plea to all journalists, please don’t muddle the use of impostor syndrome with real impostors.

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