Are you suffering from Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome: A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. 'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence
Many years ago I got a job as a senior manager with one of the world’s big four accountancy firms. How I had got there I don’t know. I have had a very unremarkable academic background. I wasn’t even a qualified chartered accountant, I just had a law degree acquired at night school. So I was horrified when I was asked by one of the partners to sit on a prestigious high profile committee working with government to review and rewrite existing legislation.
The whole group other than myself were leaders in their field, highly qualified in their field and I didn’t have what I thought was a relevant qualification to my name. I was in a state of panic every time we met. They all assumed I had the same qualifications didn’t they? That I had followed the path expected for anyone to be allowed to join one of the professions most exclusive committees.
What if they discovered who I really was? I was terrified I was going to be discovered as an imposter, called out, kicked out! Humiliated. The anxiety was excruciating. Yet I seemed to bluff my way through every meeting and now and again make what seemed to be a useful suggestion and I would breathe a sigh of relief. In the end after five years I couldn’t take the strain anymore and felt I was near to a breakdown, the mask was slipping, I was sure of that. I couldn’t keep it in place any longer. I was a fraud.
Of course, I thought I was the only person suffering in this way but when I was at university studying for my MSc, one of my fellow students, who was a university lecturer at a top British university and already had a string of academic qualifications including a doctorate to her name, had told me she suffered from chronic imposter syndrome, I was completely floored. How could that be possible?
Does any of this sound familiar to you? I was, it seems suffering from what is now known as imposter syndrome. The term was first coined by Dr Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, two clinical psychologists in 1978.
Apparently 'imposter syndrome' is most common in high achieving women (who, me?). Results of working harder in order to prevent people from discovering that one is an imposter, promotes a need for approval and is most common in graduate students. Who knew!!
I’m a lot more comfortable now with who I am and with my capabilities and achievements. I recognise that I never did need to be afraid of just saying if challenged, that I was there on merit. It is still there of course but is quieter than it was before.
Don’t let it get in the way in your life, get help, it can be tamed!
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About Jan Merrills
Jan Merrills LL.B P.G.Dip Counselling and Integrative Psychotherapy
Jan has a practice in Stratford Upon Avon and can be contacted through her profile.