Feelings of Fraudulence? How Imposter Phenomenon Might be Affecting You
If you’ve ever felt like you’re just pretending to be as intelligent as your peers and fear that one day you’ll be exposed as a fraud, you might be experiencing what is called Imposter Phenomenon (IP).
What is Imposter Phenomenon?
According to Very Well Mind, Imposter Phenomenon, also known as Imposter Syndrome, is the internal struggle of believing that you are not as smart and capable as those around you think you are. IP may manifest itself in different ways, it is commonly related to feelings of self-doubt. For example, you might be hesitant to participate in a class discussion out of fear that what you have to say isn’t good enough, and that people will judge you for being academically inferior.
Other commonly noted experiences of IP include an inability to realistically assess your skills (for example, applying for a program or position you are unqualified for), attributing your success to external factors (relying on others for validation), and self-sabotaging.
A study about factors leading to IP conducted within the University of Windsor sampled responses from over 800 students and 80 faculty members. Many identified ‘negative interpersonal experiences (like bullying), transitions and new roles, formal evolutions, interactions with authority figures, and high expectations (either from within or outside) as being associated with their feelings of IP.
Characteristics of Imposter Phenomenon
IP was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance. Though their study was based on the idea that only high-achieving women struggled with IP, we now know that it can affect anyone regardless of gender, social status, skill level, or area of study. Imes and Clance talk about four features that ‘contribute to the maintenance of imposter feelings over time’:
- Spending excessive amounts of time overworking. The cycle of worrying about your intelligence; working hard to make up for it; and temporarily feeling good when you achieve a good grade reinforces the IP mindset.
- A sense of phoniness- engaging in intellectual authenticity by not sharing your true ideas or opinions, instead, saying what you think the other person wants to hear. An example of this may be noting your professor’s biases and supporting these biases in your own work, even if they aren’t a true reflection of your beliefs.
- The use of charm and perceptiveness to win the approval of your superiors. This could be done by identifying a person that you respect, like a professor or superior, and forming your behaviour to act and respond in a way that they will respond positively to.
- Holding back on your own ability in fear that others will respond negatively to your confidence. Consistently downplaying your success for others may eventually lead to the genuine belief that your accomplishments are not as impressive as they truly are.
Two University of Windsor faculty members are leading the charge in bringing awareness to IP. Michelle Bondy is an Experiential Learning Specialist in the School of the Environment and the Faculty of Science; and Dr. Dana Ménard is an assistant professor of clinical psychology and registered clinical psychologist. Together, they conduct virtual workshops to help students identify and manage Imposter Phenomenon.
Both Bondy and Ménard have experienced IP at points in their careers. Bondy describes the imposter feelings she encountered the first time she was a teaching assistant, sharing “periods of transition and starting new projects tend to be sources of IP for me, even when I’m really excited about the change or new project”. Ménard added, “it’s an unavoidable side effect of being surrounded by smart, accomplished people, and when you work at a university, you are surrounded by smart, accomplished people all day, every day”.
How Can Imposter Phenomenon Affect Me?
Ménard shared that IP causes a “decrease in self-esteem, increases in burnout, and changes in career plans, whether this means changing programs or even dropping out” are also potential long-term effects IP can have on an individual. However, IP is not only found in students- it also affects many professionals in their careers. Bondy explains that this can cause major career impacts, for example, “avoidance behaviours could prevent someone from applying for a promotion”.
Strategies to Cope
Aside from attending their workshops, Ménard suggests other strategies to help manage Imposter Phenomenon. By keeping track of your imposter thoughts, you can actively train yourself to recognize situations that trigger these feelings. Learning mindfulness strategies can help you respond to these situations more thoughtfully. Don’t forget to celebrate your victories! Be proud of your efforts and accomplishments, and reward yourself by doing things you enjoy.
University of Windsor Student Counselling Centre- 519-253-3000 ext. 4616, firstname.lastname@example.org
University of Windsor Wellness Outreach Office- uwindsor.ca/wellness
Good 2 Talk- 1-866-925-5454 or text good2talk on to 686868