Behind the Mask

Venetian mask.  Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Venetian mask. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Impostor Syndrome…ever heard of it?  Let’s Google that…

The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now, reading about and talking about it to friends.  Yesterday, I decided to write a post about it, but now I am questioning my ability to do that and wondering why anyone would give two shits about what I think on the subject.  Who could have seen THAT coming??

Well, here’s a bullet list of things I find interesting about impostor syndrome:

  • It seems to occur more commonly in women, or perhaps they are more willing to talk about it.
  • It’s not a mental illness, just a phenomenon (a fancy word for a glitch)
  • Whereas people with this habit attribute success to timing, luck or charm, people without it attribute failure to those flukes.
  • The best remedy for it is talking about it.  And avoiding procrastination.  And writing.  (which leads us here)
  • (so far in this list, I have left off one period at the end of a bullet and begun two sentence fragments with conjunctions…didn’t want you to think I had let that slip)
  • The opposite of Impostor Syndrome is the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  That’s the person who says they can speak Spanish because they once took a 3-day cruise to Cancun.
  • It tends to flair up later in a career, because there’s a sense of “more to lose.”
  • My friend, Rachel, who teaches gifted students and is/was one herself, says that it is rampant among gifted students.  Maybe it’s because academic achievement comes more fluidly for them–they don’t feel like they worked hard enough?

Here’s the example I fell asleep thinking about.  A few years back, I ran my first half-marathon.  It took me a while to get a 13.1 sticker for my car because I felt like a fraud.  After all, I didn’t run it that fast.  Other people ran it so much better.  I got a blister.  How can an overweight person be taken seriously as a runner?  I walked a little bit.  What hit me last night is that the 13.1 is about the distance, not the speed.  I covered the same 13.1 miles that the Kenyan dude who ran it in an hour and change covered.

Ever felt like that?

If you are interested in Impostor Syndrome, here are some links to further reading:

25 thoughts on “Behind the Mask

  1. Michelle Chance-Sangthong

    Ashley, first 5’9″ is tall – to me – because I’m ONLY 5’7″ 🙂 Thank you for being willing to be so exposed. You’ve given me more courage with your brutal honesty in these last few months that I’ve been able to muster for myself in a while, so for that, I THANK YOU.

    I didn’t know it was a “glitch” but that does explain some things, I have often stood on stage at a conference as a public speaker and thought – why am I up here – don’t they know that I’m no smarter than they are. I was just lucky to be in the right place, at the right time, and willing to take a risk … and the meandering goes on in my head. Then I breathe – and walk on stage anyway. Yup we don’t have to be perfect, we just need to be courageous and embrace the very best parts of us. Besides those voices in our head telling us we’re not enough are just little kids who are scared that someone will pull back Oz’s curtain, right?

    THANK YOU my friend!

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Exactly! I read one article about how much nicer it is to work for a boss who comes out and says, “I don’t know everything. Let’s get this done together.” Talking about impostor phenomenon is often a big relief for everyone who thought it was just them!

  2. Heather Bradley

    I see this in my practice, working with children. Highly intelligent, high-achieving children who care more what others think of them than what they think of them selves tend to display these characteristics. Highly intelligent, high-achieving children who care more what they think of themselves than what others think of them tend to be narcissists, or at least display those tendencies. Thank you for sharing the links.

  3. Teresa Thomason

    I think women are more likely to fall victim to this kind of thinking because we are conditioned early on to be modest about our intelligence, courage, etc. On the flip side, we are taught to put more emphasis on looks, popularity, and our ability (or not) to snag a man. It tends to make us a bit crazy.

    Like Heather said, the far end of this spectrum is where the narcissists fall. I feel sorry for the person with imposter syndrome who hooks up with the narcissist who is able to use it to manipulate her (or him).

    Since I have now googled imposter syndrome because of this post, you must now google “poodle moth”. How did I not know until today that this creature existed?

      1. Teresa Thomason

        Really? I’m kind of afraid of anything with the potential to fly at my face, but I think this is cute. I think I could let it crawl on me without freaking out

  4. Tara

    I had a dream last night that I was sitting talking with you. I told you that I appreciated this post so much because I always felt like I might be the only one. I’ve pretty much felt this since I started school. You assured me I wasn’t alone. So yeah. That. Thank you. Dream you and real you.

  5. Heart To Harp

    I take my responsibilities seriously, oh tall person: You are a blogger, you are a writer, and you belong at the blogHer conference. It is good to name the process that tells us we don’t belong. Now, screw feeling like an impostor!

      1. Heart To Harp

        It’s like calling the boogeyman in the dark corner out of his hiding place, and telling him “I can see you, and you don’t scare me any more.”

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