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Do you feel like an imposter? Here is what you need to know

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Where does the term "imposter syndrome" even come from and what does it mean?

The term imposter phenomenon appeared in 1978 when Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes did interviews with highly successful women who considered themselves to be imposters.

They also found out that men also often felt like imposters but that it did not affect them as much as it affected the women they interviewed.

“As soon as a challenge was overcome, it ceased to be a challenge, becoming the expected and ordinary rather than something I had achieved with difficulty, and could, therefore, be justly proud of. I could not own my own triumphs, nor give myself credit for them.” - Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

Now, a very plausible explanation for this could be that work environments were created by white men for white men and not for women, especially not if they are women of color or LGBTQIA+. Men who have doubts tend to find mentors who help them or will eventually be able to put a lot of doubts aside as they get praise for their work. But women have to fight against a lot of microaggressions in the workplace and their doubts tend to be pathologized. This is also what led the term imposter phenomenon to become imposter syndrome, even though this is not something that can be diagnosed as it isn’t an illness or a real syndrome.

Because the term imposter syndrome focusses on the person who feels like a fraud, we fail to work on and change the work environment and fight against systemic bias and discrimination. A diverse environment where people can be seen as professional, encouraged, and rewarded no matter their ethnicity or gender identity is what is needed for real change. Furthermore, imposter syndrome is more present in toxic, biased cultures that value overwork and individualism. So, in order to really help people suffering because they feel like imposters, and knowing that exclusion exacerbates self-doubt, our working culture needs to change.

Now that I have told you about the sociological, cultural, and historical context of the term, I want to focus on how you can know if this is what you have been experiencing and, if it is, what you can do about it on an individual level!

Signs that you are experiencing imposter phenomenon

Clance and Imes found three aspects to this phenomenon:

- Feeling like other people rate your abilities higher than they really are

- Fearing that your true abilities/incompetence will be found out

- Attributing your achievements to external factors such as luck or exceptional efforts.

So, if you can see that you are held in high esteem but think you don’t deserve it, if you often feel like a fraud and think other people will eventually find out, and if can’t see your achievements as things due to your qualities but think it was luck or it happened by mistake, you might be experiencing imposter phenomenon.

Here is what you can do to overcome feeling like an imposter

#1 Talk about it and put everything into perspective

#2 Change your mindset about your own abilities

#3 Challenge and reframe your beliefs, especially those about needing to be perfect

#4 Focus on yourself, don’t compare yourself to others and make assumptions about them

#5 Learn to see mistakes as learning opportunities instead of seeing them as proof of your


#6 Reward yourself for your achievements

#7 Build connections with peers and coworkers for mutual support

I hope that you learned something by reading this article and it helped you feel understood and less alone with this. As always, you can share your thoughts or questions in the comment section or send me a message via the contact form on my homepage!



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