Imposter Syndrome: The Crippling Sense of Feeling like a Fraud

Do you often feel inadequate, undeserving or a total fraud? Then you may be suffering with the psychological term coined Imposter Syndrome. It’s is described as feelings of the persistent inability to believe that one’s success are deserved or have been legitimately achieved.

Imposter syndrome is a seemingly universal phenomenon. A recent study in 2020 featured in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that 82% of the population faces feelings of these kind at some point during their career.

Here, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Professor Nicholas Clarke, Deputy Dean and Professor of Organisational Behaviour and HRM at Kent Business School reflects on his own experience of Imposter Syndrome and how he dealt with its effects:

‘Although many of us will have heard the phrase “imposter syndrome” and have a sense of what it might mean, it is only recently that this is becoming an area of research. This is due to an increasing awareness of the mental health burden that often accompanies it. People often think of academic life, as a student or staff member in a university, as essentially about learning and discovery.

‘But this often fails to capture all of our experience, particularly when feeling that we are underserving, inadequate or even a “fraud”. These feelings are far more commonplace than is acknowledged.

‘I say this as someone who grew up on a council estate, was the first from my family to go to university, and the first to have a gained a PhD. As an undergraduate I often felt that I was not as bright as other students and certainly nowhere near as articulate. As I followed my academic career, the experience of rejection both in terms of submitting papers and research funding applications would often bring thoughts to the fore again, that I really shouldn’t be here.

“Anxiety and Stress”

‘With this often came additional anxiety and added stress. Over the years I learned to manage this to the extent it’s far less of an issue, but it never really goes away. Many of us experience this, with such wide-ranging backgrounds that there are just as likely as many probable causes. How best can we deal with it? I only speak from my experience but these are two significant insights I gained.

‘First, you are not alone! I didn’t speak about these feelings for years, as I believed to do so would unveil what I thought were my inadequacies. Increasingly, I found myself in conversations with colleagues where many of us shared similar feelings and experiences. Verbalising feelings and trying to understand why we sometimes felt the way we did, was perhaps the most important in helping me to understand what was going on for me.

‘Second, this simple act of talking about it normalised something which I had spent years hiding. By doing this, I was able to address many of the assumptions that framed how I saw myself (why an imposter?) and that were having a negative impact on my self-belief and confidence. For me, dealing with feelings associated with imposter syndrome has been a long journey, and I wish I had talked about this long ago. In Mental Health Awareness Week, I hope we all find ourselves able to talk about how we are feeling whether it’s about imposter syndrome or anything important to us. Bring things up in conversation with friends and colleagues or others. It can make a lot of difference.’

Professor Nicholas Clarke, is Deputy Dean of People and Planning at
Kent Business School and Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Human Resource Management.

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