The Imposter Syndrome

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There is a syndrome called the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ or ‘Fraud Syndrome’ which is suffered by many a professional. It has been noted in the arts, in the legal profession, in the sciences, in the academic world, in the corporate environment and so on. First thought to be the domain of women or minority groups, there is now suggestion of the same phenomenon in the wider population.

It is characterised by the feeling that, although people appear to think you are doing well in your work and you may even be receiving rewards or recognition for what you are doing, deep down inside you “know” that you have no idea what you are doing, any success is a fluke and in any moment people will see you for what you really are and strip you of your professional registration, expose your ignorance and put you back in the employment you truly deserve (squeezing orange juice or something).

It is kind of a professional version of niggling low self esteem. It tends to come and go.

I have noticed it rearing its head on several occasions in my own work, and it is often a discourse I detect in my peers.

I remember my relief when I found a name for it somewhere. It helped me to identify my moments of vulnerability and to find my own way to deal with it.

Counselling, particularly in the humanistic traditions of therapy is a field which teaches therapists to encourage the self-determinism and the dignity of the clients we work with. Rather than presenting ourselves as the expert, we encourage and support clients to discover their own authority and to place credence on their own understanding of healing and engage their own natural manner of moving forward in their lives.

It has often been said that if we do our jobs right, any positive changes in the life of the client will be understood by them to be their own doing – not the counsellor’s.

I feel in synch with this understanding, but still every now and then I find myself raising the issue of validation in sessions with my supervisor. Where does the validation for my work best come from?

I work for an organisation, so often I will look to my work community for some kind of sign that I am doing well. Sometimes a client will express gratitude or even joy at having found a counsellor they feel compatible with. Sometimes I can kind of be gliding along, feeling balanced and in touch with what I am doing. At such times, the validation comes mostly from within myself. But on the days where the work is challenging for the client and therefore not inspiring any feedback; if the workplace does not value its counsellors; if just one more person says that “anyone could do that work”; if you are tired or stressed or not taking good care of yourself – then the feeling of being a fraud can sneak in again. Just to kick you when you’re down. I have noticed that when there are sudden changes in administrative requirements and I get knotted up in the confusion of keeping statistics in some new computer program, or meeting some health organisation requirements, feelings of incompetence sneak into other aspects of my work too.

There is always a way forward. In fact maybe this is just a negative spin on the more  positive zen buddhist notion of ‘beginners mind’. For me, if I find myself in the ‘fraudian’ state of mind, it is often nothing more than a sign that I am tired and in need of some good old fashioned self care. I have my ways to get back to the gliding feeling.

What is your way I wonder?


8 thoughts on “The Imposter Syndrome

  1. Hello Ups,
    this syndrome is maybe more common than rare. In many professions there is hardly any direct positive feed back. If you work for a large corporate you often don’t get to know the customer that bought a product or service that is offered by your company. People are often just a peace in the machinery not knowing whether it really matters whether they or someone else does the job and how the customer benefits from our efforts. I often wondered why I made my way in the company a worked for about 20 years. I kept thinking that they will soon find out that I am actually a fraud. What was really the value of my work? Working out marketing plans, budgets that never really become reality. Why did they they pay so much? I like to believe that I made a difference for the people that worked under me, that I saved their jobs; encouraged their careers. But….
    Guess it depends how happy one can be with feed back that mainly comes from inside. They look in the mirror that replies ” you’re doing OK mate”.

  2. My way to move on is- to SMILE , move to where its calm and beautiful(either in your mind or just move!) sing out loud ,be kind , go for long walks to nowhere,look at the butterflies flowers and look at the world as children do,read,listen to classical music , eat lots of mangoes drink the best coffee and wine you can dont worry about the dust too much it just comes back and care deeply for another, forgive and laugh loudly .
    Say thank you to those around you at the supermarket, post office ,schools to health carers to all those who dont always get the thanks and kindness they should as they go about their day- I love doing this & make a huge effort to try & do it .I think we as humans dont express our gratitude enough, a small thanks can make a huge difference to anothers day and also their well being.
    But v importantly before you go to sleep think about your problems one last time and then say to yourself I wont worry about these til morning I DESERVE THIS even if the load is so heavy and you are suffocating or feel all alone just be kind to yourself and promise I deserve this I will not worry til morning – this does take practice but it works or I write them down and put that list in a drawer til morning.
    Almost forgot -ask for help !!! its a delight when you realize how much care,compassion and kindness other humans have for you.
    Peace and happiness and thank you always Upasana

      • Thought about this on my walk just now a wise person said to me “a busy person is always busy”I have spent the last few weeks trying to prove them wrong! At times I feel the whole world watching me do nothing they might see as productive but its so liberating, mind changing to do for yourself prior to caring for those around you- its a win win x

  3. Hello again lovely one. I have been pondering this one too. I feel that the best work, most creative work I can do comes from the space of being unbusy, spacious, un troubled. I sense so much ridicule, jealousy and so on when I take on my own relaxed pace and touch base with the playful, unhurried part of me. But I know that the judgement is mostly in myself. Thanks for this reflection. I would love to write more on this one xxx

  4. Hello Upasana
    As I went about my world today I was thinking about playful,relaxed and friends.
    Yes the playful side the fun,laughter and the freedom this brings to our life -our friends.
    We don’t need a Facebook page full of “friends”only a hand full to tell you- your funny, a hoot your ok and special.
    Friends are our leveller our sounding board our validation all will be right in our world.We need to cherish and care and give back this validation because when they are no longer beside us the day is longer and heavier.
    We need to surround ourselves with the people that bring us joy and honesty not ridicule and judgement this give us back that gliding feeling.
    Much love and happiness xo

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