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A Look at Imposter Syndrome

“I don’t belong here, I just got lucky” – this thought has frequently come to mind throughout my time in graduate school. I studied the material, I have the years of experience, and yet I still feel like a fraud when I step into my roles as a graduate student, teacher, and associate consultant.

Individuals with imposter syndrome often attribute accomplishments to external factors, such as being in the right place at the right time, or in other words, to luck rather than ability (Corkindale, 2019).

Coined by researchers as imposter syndrome in 1978, many high achieving and successful people often suffer from persistent feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, despite evidence of their success and competence (Clance & Imes, 1978). Imposter syndrome manifests in a sense of fraudulence, meaning that you have an inability to believe your success is derived from your own skills, capabilities, experience, and knowledge. Individuals with imposter syndrome often attribute accomplishments to external factors, such as being in the right place at the right time, or in other words, to luck rather than ability (Corkindale, 2019).

Imposter syndrome, while not recognized as an official diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), has been a widely recognized and accepted phenomenon by researchers and psychologists. Originally believed to only impact women, current evidence suggests that imposter syndrome impacts men and women alike. In fact, research shows that an estimated 70% of people experience imposter feelings at some point in their lifetime (Sakulku, 2011).

So, why do we feel this way? As with most psychological phenomena, there is not a clear and direct answer. Research has shown a variety of factors to influence someone’s predisposition for imposter feelings, including family pressure to achieve and perform, personality traits such as neuroticism, and institutionalized discrimination which can serve to hamper feelings of belongingness and confidence (Corkindale, 2019; Bravata et al., 2020; Abrams, 2019).

Imposter syndrome has been linked with perfectionism, in that people who suffer from imposter feelings tend to try and mitigate these feelings by immersing themselves in their work and aggressively pursuing achievement. However, if imposter syndrome is not kept in check, these feelings can lead to negative consequences, such as increased levels of stress and burnout and decreased job performance and satisfaction over time (Bravata et al., 2020).

As someone who frequently suffers from these feelings, I recognize the importance of shifting my perspective on my achievements and success. When imposter feelings occur, it is critical to acknowledge them as such and to remind yourself of your hard work. Talk about these very normal feelings with your friends, peers, and mentors, and you might learn that you are not alone.

Written by: Samantha England, M.S.

Sources:

Abrams, A. (2018, June 20). Yes, impostor syndrome is real: Here’s how to deal with it. Time. https://time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/.

Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., … & Hagg, H. K. (2020). Prevalence, predictors, and treatment of impostor syndrome: a systematic review. Journal of General Internal Medicine35(4), 1252-1275.

Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice15(3), 241.

Corkindale, G. (2019, December 2). Overcoming imposter syndrome. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2008/05/overcoming-imposter-syndrome.

Sakulku, J. (2011). The Impostor Phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science6(1), 75-97. https://doi.org/10.14456/ijbs.2011.6