A hand touching a mirror

Imposterism: What it is, and Why You May be Feeling it

By Hannah Alvarado
Web Content Contributor

Have you ever looked around at your peers, maybe the people in your classes, people at work, or people with majors similar or the same, and felt like the only odd one out? You’ve thought about what that kind of person is in your head, but don’t see yourself fitting the mold. Yes, you’ve come this far, and yes you are here at University, but you almost feel like you are playing a role, a part. That you yourself, the identity of what makes you, you is all just made up, and that you are, in fact, phony? Or that the accomplishments you’ve made thus far, aren’t your own? Perhaps you feel like the good ole ‘fake-it-’till-you-make-it’ has become your entire life at this point. As if none of what you are, or appear to be, is who you are. If you haven’t, I’m glad for you, as it is a anxious, melancholy and confusing sensation; but if you have, you’re not alone. It’s a phenomena that quite a large percentage of us experience. Its name? It has a few: The “Imposter Experience”, “phenomenon” or most widely used, “Imposter syndrome.”

According to an article posted by NBC News, Imposter Syndrome is a term that was coined “in 1978 by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes”. The psychologists performed a study to explain why certain women of great success, often felt as if they didn’t deserve it, or that they were “playing a role”. It began with Clance observing her female graduate students, and this feeling of inadequacy was rampant among them. As the study went on, though, the data showed that men and women of all: ages, professions, races, personal successes, and collegiate alike, experience this at one point or another.

Masquerade Mask
At times people may feel as if they are playing a part. Photo by Hannah Alvarado.

For all who are unaware, this coincidence is exactly defined by the English Oxford Dictionary as, “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.“ It’s that nagging fear or idea that you are playing a part or are only where you are because of random coincidence and not at all because you actually “belong” where you claim to be. As reported on in an article posted by The Hustle, a study was conducted by the International Journal of Behavioral Science, with data showing that 70 percent of the population have or do feel this way. As well, the article goes on to articulate that if left “unchecked,” this passing coincidence can have lasting effects such as severe anxiety and depression.

Statistics aside, you may still feel as if you are still alone in all this. Numbers are just numbers after all, right? Well, it may comfort you a bit to know that some very well known success stories across the board have put down in words, feeling the same way. Such names you may recognize, such as great historical writer Maya Angelou, to actor Tom Hanks, singer David Bowie, actress Emma Watson, and even Albert Einstein have outwardly discussed feeling like a complete fraud in one way or another. As if who they really are, and how people honor them or their work, did not match up whatsoever. The experience itself speaks to even these extremely accomplished individuals as innermost fears, and lack of recognition of their own abilities. Can you relate? Elizabeth Cox, and Sharon Colman of TED Talks gave a great explanation and insight to this phenomena. As well, Cox gives a bit more background on exactly how Clance and Imes founded this idea. One such highlight I found interesting, was that she began things with her collegiate students. (Hint, hint, us y ’all).

So now you know what it is that you’ve been feeling, and why, so now you may be asking how to deal with this experience. According to the majority of the news sources who have spoke on this subject, such as the ones listed above as well as Time Magazine, and Forbes, talking about it seems to be one of the best ways to go about it. Revolutionary, I know, right? In all seriousness though, its an old piece of advice that still holds real merit. Once you can be open with yourself that you are feeling a certain way, then identify what you are feeling- talking about it with someone really is the last step to coping with this. You may still be a bit nervous to have someone know something so deeply seeded about yourself, I get it, but I guarantee you that there is someone near to you who is at the very least willing to listen.

The Imposter phenomena can make you feel isolated. As if you are just pretending to be what you have worked to become, it happens and it happens to extremely ‘qualified’ individuals. You are more than not alone in this, you are among some pretty impressive company. So don’t worry, first and foremost. Understanding that you as a collegiate, recent collegiate or just a person who happened upon this article, are worth all that you seem. Take a good long look at what you do, and who you want to be, then allow that person to be who you are. Even though you may feel like you don’t belong, I can almost promise you that there is someone else who is looking to you for inspiration. It may sound cliché, but after you’ve recognized this, accepted it, and talked it out there is only one thing left is to be who you are, a friend and have confidence in you and your talents.

Featured image by Hannah Alvarado.

 

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