Have you ever felt like an impostor? Welcome to the club
Impostor syndrome is remarkably common, and I suspect nobody has a cure for it
He had outed my impostor syndrome. This is the belief that people are mistaken in thinking well of you.
Somebody laughed at me once because when he praised a piece of work I had done, I deflected the compliment by muttering that, “yeah, I really got lucky with that one.”
“Oh, luck did all the work, did it?” he asked.
He had outed my impostor syndrome. This is the belief that people are mistaken in thinking well of you, that what you have achieved really has little to do with your own efforts, and that one day the world may well find out what you’re really like and will rip your mask away.
I get the impression impostor syndrome is now so common that in any roomful of people most of those present think they’re impostors in one way or another. This matters when it boost people’s anxiety, as I think it does for some, which can be bad for both physical and mental health. At an extreme level sufferers can be quite tormented by it, devaluing all the things they, in fact, do well.
I just accept that for better or worse, completely believing praise from other people is beyond me
My own attitude to impostor syndrome is to accept it as a quirk of my personality. These days, if you praise something I’ve done I’ll thank you kindly.
Yes, by the time you’ve finished speaking my brain will have decided you’ve made a mistake and that you’re seeing something that isn’t there. impostor syndrome is that automatic. The good thing is, I don’t care. I don’t go around thinking fearfully, “O my God, I’m such an impostor, I should be ashamed of myself.”
I just accept that for better or worse, completely believing praise from other people is beyond me. I’m never going to figure it out so I’m not going to worry about it.
Two paths led me to this point and they might be of help to other impostors. One is my belief that every single thing that I have is due to a combination of self and circumstance. Circumstance includes what other people do, including fairly random events. For instance, someone needs something done and you happen to be in their line of vision so you get the job. You can at least give yourself the credit for having put yourself into their line of vision where you could be seen.
The other path was the realisation, through the world of work, that being an impostor isn’t in the least abnormal. Having spent much of my career in journalism, I had the privilege of being surrounded by plenty of fellow-performers and poseurs and of learning that we impostors are not such a bad lot after all. But it’s not just journalists, (who, however, do it with more style) – no matter what business you’re in, I invite you to open your eyes to the amount of posing and arm-chancing that goes on in every workplace in the land.
Do I want to be cured of impostor syndrome? Well, do I really want to be a Trumpian figure who uncritically soaks up praise
It will make you feel less alone.
Impostor syndrome may reflect a profound truth. The concept of “no-self” is a bedrock of Buddhist psychology. I have never read a satisfying explanation of no-self but it seems to mean that each of us is a product of a hodgepodge of conditions: conception, birth, weather, fashions in child-rearing, ideologies , the things we do, the things that are done to us etc. These conditions keep changing. For instance, your self of today may have very different beliefs on social issues to those you held twenty years ago or that you will hold twenty years from now. In other words, we are all impostors.
Do I want to be cured of impostor syndrome? Well, do I really want to be a Trumpian figure who uncritically soaks up praise and goes around beating his own drum? No thanks. And how would the world survive it if we were all to shed our impostor syndrome and to strut about like billions of mini-Trumps?
As for the possibility of a remedy, I suspect impostor syndrome is like procrastination: nobody knows the cure for it.
So relax and accept it, get out there and deliver your lines, and if the audience applauds, take a bow.
Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (email@example.com).