Imposter Syndrome

Michelle Obama recently raised the issue about ‘Imposter Syndrome’, a term used to describe feeling a fraud, insecure and/or self-doubt. She has spoken about her life experiences of a lack of insecurity despite the success and status she has achieved. Calling it a syndrome is to down play how universal it is. Whilst a lot of emphasis has been placed on this being a ‘female’ issue, men also experience the same struggle in feeling a fraud, as people of all ages, gender, ethnicity and occupations can be affected. Imposterism is n’t about a lack of confidence, and it’s not necessarily linked to depression or anxiety, so where does it come from and why do people feel like this?

If we get praise or perhaps we get the job we really really wanted, we might think we must have fooled someone. We might struggle to accept that someone sees the best in us, because we struggle to believe it in ourselves. Because we doubt ourselves privately and often don’t disclose this to others, we then tend to think we are the only ones struggling with this. Furthermore we cannot always judge how hard we have worked in comparison to others, or how difficult other people find tasks making it all the more difficult to shake off the notion we are frauds.

So, imposterism stops people from sharing their ideas, applying for jobs they’d really excel at, and possibly simply making changes in their life. Like mental illness, talking about it helps reduce the fear, enables irrational thoughts to be identified and help overcome feelings of self doubt. Professional discussions and feedback from friends, peers, managers and colleagues can challenge the negative feelings we have, help overcome the insecurity and self-doubt, and, may possibly even lead to improved, efficient ways of working.