About the Author
Kate Archbold is currently obtaining her Masters in Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship, after spending the last three years as an IBACS student. She likes international adventures, reading, movies and window-shopping online (she aspires to one day actually afford everything on her ASOS wishlist…) Has mastered the arts of definitely not remaining calm, preaching what is politically correct when drunk on homemade pornstar martinis and making the most delicious brownies (fact!).
Image by Lisa Engler
I AM A FRAUD!
Last year, my best friend called me in tears. It’s October-November and she had just started her law degree after climbing up the Dutch educational ranks for years. She felt like she did not belong, and would be discovered by her professors and peers as the “fraud” she was.
“Kate, I’m crazy! ‘Cause, it is not normal to feel like this, right?”
I was about to let her into the best-kept secret of academia; that the majority of people throughout their academic career feel a similar way. It is called imposter syndrome and is defined as the psychological phenomenon in which people doubt their accomplishments and have an internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud” (Abrams, 2018). Even so, it is not exclusive to the academic world, as over 70 per cent of people have experienced feeling like an imposter at some point in their life (Sakulka, 2011).
I had to deliver even more heartbreaking news when she asked: “Does it get better with time?” I was reminded of a conversation me and my tutorial group had with one of our tutors who was about to defend her PhD. Our tutor claimed it got worse the further you got into your career. The more success, the more unworthy of it you feel, even if you are greatly qualified.
Sick of myself and those I love feeling unworthy of our accomplishments, I went to search for answers! What exactly causes imposter syndrome? Is there really nothing we can do to fight those thoughts and feelings?
Imposter syndrome was coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 when they found evidence of people who have external evidence of their accomplishments, who felt like they do not deserve these achievements and the success that comes with it. Individuals make excuses by saying their achievements are based on luck, timing, or dismiss it by believing that others are simply better than they are. Experiencing such thoughts can be quite destructive, causing low-self confidence, stress, anxiety and even in the worst cases: depression. Moreover, it could limit an individual's courage. Suddenly, you are hesitant when concerning new challenges, exploring new interests, or putting yourself in the limelight; eventually thwarting you from living your life to its fullest potential (Abrams, 2018; Nance-Nash, 2020).
Imposter syndrome expert, Valerie Young, has discovered certain types of patterns concerning imposter syndrome. The perfectionist, who will feel like a failure after making the tiniest of mistakes, questioning their competence. Experts, who feel the need to know everything there is to know in their field, and are constantly obtaining new certifications and training their skills. The natural genius who feels like an imposter once they have to work hard to achieve something, as opposed to being naturally gifted. Soloists who feel like they have to be able to achieve everything by themselves, accepting help equals being a fraud. Super-men or -women who feel the need to work twice as hard as everyone around them to try and prove that they are worthy (Abrams, 2018).
So, why does one suffer from imposter syndrome? If only the answer was that simple. Some say that it is tied to personality traits, such as anxiety, while others focus on external variables, such as one’s upbringing. Were your siblings always faster, smarter or prettier? Maybe your parents were never satisfied with your grades? Psychologist Audrey Ervin concludes that could lead to individuals perceiving that in order to be loved, you need to achieve (Abrams, 2018).
Clance and Imes' work and additional early research particularly focussed on imposter syndrome concerning high-achieving women. However, recent work has found that the syndrome has been found to have an equal impact on both men and women (Abrams, 2018). Yet, there are theories as to why women are more susceptible to imposter syndrome.
Essentially an extension of external variables, someone’s milieu and institutionalised discrimination can play a major role in creating “fraud-ish” feelings. Brian Daniel Norton, a psychotherapist, claims that women and the LGBTQ+ community, particularly people of colour, are more at risk to imposter system. He says that it could be explained by a lifelong time of systematic oppression, in which these communities are told directly and indirectly that they are “unworthy”. Thema Bryant-Davis, a professor of psychology, mentions an additional factor: representation. Widespread racist and sexist stereotypes can make marginalised communities doubt themselves. She points at common stereotypes such as women being bad at science and being too emotional to be in charge, as well as people of colour being lazy and unintelligent. Emily Hu, a clinical psychologist, claims that the traditional focus on female beauty can also add to self-doubt. Being sent the message that women are solely valued for their looks and body, not intellect or capabilities, may end up with women questioning if they deserve to be in the position they are or are they potentially hired because of their looks (Nance-Nash, 2018).
To end on a rather positive note, specialists have provided tools to let go of imposter feelings. First, acknowledge the thoughts and put them in perspective: are they helping you or hindering you in achieving your goals? Second, is to reframe your thoughts and to think like "non-imposters". Think of accepting critical criticism with open arms; asking for help will only further you in life as opposed to hindering you. Also, understand that the more time and energy you put into something equals growth - it is a journey, not a destination. Lastly, it is important to share how you feel with friends and mentors. So, call your friends in tears whenever you feel it is necessary, they can remind you that your successes are deserved and you are on the right path. This is particularly useful for marginalised groups as it creates support systems. Moreover, veteran "imposters" can reassure you that what you are feeling is absolutely normal! (Abrams, 2020; Dalla-Camina, 2018).
COVID-19 and the mandated regulations that come with it have impacted our daily lives excessively. New and unexpected obstacles have emerged for students, such as meeting fellow students and making meaningful connections. ACE wants its members to feel seen, and more importantly, enjoy their time studying at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication. To ensure meeting new people, making connections and building a support system consisting of fellow students, ACE has established a Buddy System. If you choose to sign up, you will be linked up with a fellow student from our faculty. So, if you are looking for a buddy, a conversation, good company, a friend or a fellow imposter to support each other through this academic year, then sign up!
If this sparks your interest, you can sign up here.
If you have any questions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are worried about your well-being, please reach out to someone like a student advisor, a doctor or a specialist.
Take good care of yourself and others!
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/
Dalla-Camina, M. (2018, September 3). The reality of imposter syndrome. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/real-women/201809/the-reality-imposter-syndrome
Nance-Nash, S. (2020, July 28). Why imposter syndrome hits women and women of clour harder. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200724-why-imposter-syndrome-hits-women-and-women-of-colour-harder
Sakulka, J. (2011). The imposter phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioural Science, 6(1), 75-97. https://doi.org/10.14456/ijbs.2011.6