Imposter Syndrome – why we should stop calling it that


We’ve all heard – and no doubt used – the term ‘imposter syndrome’. Many of us, especially women, relate to its meaning. However (ironically) the word ‘syndrome’ is quite the imposter when used in this context. Here’s why…


The definition of syndrome is ‘a set of medical signs and symptoms which are correlated with each other and often associated with a particular disease or disorder.’


But when you think about the times in which you’ve related to the words ‘imposter syndrome’ does it conjure the idea of disease or disorder?


Think about it - you’ve started a new job and you feel a bit out of your depth. You start doubting your abilities and wondering if you’ve somehow blagged your way in by over-performing at interview. This is all part and parcel of feeling like an imposter. But it’s certainly not an illness.


The thing about imposter phenomenon (to use its more accurate wording) is that it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you if you experience it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and yes it can hold impact on your confidence and happiness. But alone, it is neither a disease nor a disorder. There is nothing that needs to be fixed. However, if we don’t understand what it is that is behind these uncomfortable feelings, it can impact on our mental health by contributing to problems such as anxiety disorders.

It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy really, self-diagnosing ourselves with a syndrome. You’re already worrying that you don’t quite live up to other people’s expectations of you, and then, to add to these fraudulent feelings, you believe you have a ‘syndrome’ as well. You believe you’re ‘broken’.


If we break it down, however, what we are dealing with is self-doubt. You do all these amazing things but you put it down to luck, rather than talent or experience. You manage to win a great business pitch but you decide it’s more to do with the fact that the new client liked what you were wearing that day. And perhaps you’ve done a tonne of work already, but you think, if you just pushed that bit harder, you could get more achieved in a day.


This really doesn’t sound like anything is ‘lacking’ does it? In fact, if anything, the problem is that there are lots of truly brilliant things about you, but because you are struggling with confidence, you’re failing to see just how brilliant you really are or how much you’re capable of. It can stop you from trying to achieve the things you want to achieve in life because you don’t believe you belong on the management team or to work for a high profile brand. So you don’t apply for such roles.


Conversely, imposter phenomenon can also have the opposite effect. Say you have secured that management position but you’re so convinced you’ve been appointed by mistake that you go out of your way to be the very best, most perfect person you can be. You become a ‘superwoman’ and, given the fact that none of us actually have superpowers, working at this lofty height will only result in one thing – burnout. At this point you may really be at risk of being diagnosed with a syndrome!


So it’s time to drop the word ‘syndrome’. Instead think of it as an experience or group of feelings – an ‘imposter phenomenon’. There is nothing wrong with you and you have every right to be in the job you’re in or accepting the award somebody has nominated you for. So you absolutely do not need to be fixed.


But you could do with reminding yourself how truly wonderful you are.


To sign-up for Ruth’s e-course on ‘imposter phenomenon’, a chapter of her online coaching programme ‘My Mental Wealth’ visit https://www.thisgirlisonfire.com/partner-directory/ruth-cooper-dickson-my-mental-wealth/

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