If you’re like me, you’ve experienced Imposter Syndrome in your lifetime– that sense that you should know more than you do, that you’re not really as good as you’re pretending to be, that if other people only knew, they’d be shocked and would certainly denounce you for the fraud you truly are.
And, if you’re like me, you may also have experienced a sense of personal responsibility around this feeling. That somehow you should be doing BETTER than to have Imposter Syndrome. That if you were only a little more confident, savvy, emotionally strong, you would be able to own yourself for the incredible, capable human you are. Get yourself together already, jeez.
Imposter Syndrome is real. It’s a complex that tells us that we aren’t enough, that we’re faking it, and that we are to blame for our inferiority– but it’s a liar. It may be helpful to see it as a complex that’s not necessarily personal or individual to each of us, but as a cultural complex that clouds our collective thinking around who should feel empowered and able.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Our culture’s neoliberal lens for mental, physical and emotional healing says that it’s YOUR personal responsibility to be well– and that if something is amiss, surely it’s your fault (for more on this, check out this blog on healthism). This sense of ownership is so deep and so engrained that we experience shame around our own shame.
In her excellent book, “What Works: A Comprehensive Framework to the Change The Way We Approach Goal-Setting,” author Tara McMullin talks about how detrimental it is to see Imposter Syndrome as an individual problem:
“…seeing Imposter Syndrome as an individual condition belies the very real, very loud messages that women and underestimated groups receive, telling them that, if we were really good enough, we’d already be doing better than we are.”-Tara McMullin, What Works
There’s more at play here than just our own individual lack of confidence. There’s a baked-in cultural implication for many of us that we should be doing better than we are. That our struggles are our fault.
In fact, these messages are so deep that I often see people anticipating them before others can say it for them. “It’s my fault for not listening to the pharmacist.” “I should have double-checked that receipt.” Can you see how we do our own victim-blaming so that others don’t do it for us?
Imposter Syndrome is real. It’s a complex that tells us that we aren’t enough, that we’re faking it, and that we are to blame for our inferiority– but it’s a liar. While there may be things that you can do personally to combat your own sense of Imposter Syndrome, the deeper issue lies in the cultural complex which tells us that we are directly responsible for our own failures, despite the systemic inequality of our current socioeconomic reality.