Feeling like an impostor

Ella Schuellerman, Arts & Life Editor

This week in E’s Editorial, I cover a psychological phenomenon many people endure that is rooted in baseless self-doubt. Why is it when we grab at those little joys or reach big accomplishments, we poke tiny holes in our own success? (Ella Schuellerman)

I have always been perplexed by the human mind and how each individual is intrinsically different from the next. Recently, I read up on the Enneagram personality test, a model of the human psyche that systematically discovers people’s unique personality types. The test results categorize people on a nine-pointed map. 

After taking a detailed Enneagram test, my results were winged between type one and type three: the perfectionist and the achiever. These two types describe a person who has high expectations for herself and takes on each day with great drive and intensity. While this test told me something I already knew about myself, it proved a psychological dilemma I have been facing this year: impostor syndrome. 

The term was first coined in scientific literature in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. It means that despite your talent, qualifications, intelligence or mere presence, you feel like an impostor. People who experience impostor syndrome are unable to internalize their own proven success. 

In 2011, author Valerie Young wrote a book on impostor women and the secret thoughts that saturate their minds. Her book, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” taught me that taking ownership of my own success, though sometimes a difficult task, helps banish internal doubts, overpreparation and crippling perfectionism. 

“The co-discoverers of the impostor phenomenon, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, along with various collaborators, point to four coping and protecting mechanisms: diligence and hard work, holding back, charm and procrastination. In my own work, I’ve observed three more: maintaining a low or ever-changing profile, never finishing, and self-sabotage,” said Young. 

Could my impostor syndrome result from holding back my truest self? Could it be from the countless changes I’ve overcome? Could it be from acting like accomplishments I’ve achieved are no big deal?

My favorite quote from Young’s award-winning novel states, “The important thing is not to take the discomfort of feeling out of your element to mean you are somehow less intelligent, capable or worthy than others. You are where you are because you deserve to be. Period.”

I have been called strong-willed because they felt my reliance was not something to be proud of. When women are assertive in the workplace, they are perceived as “bitchy,” but when men are assertive, they are not questioned. I am not inferring a man-versus-woman complex in impostor syndrome, but I am simply suggesting that women are more prone to experience self-doubt.

I think everyone can learn from the concept of impostor syndrome. We all feel like an impostor at one time or another. It could be from comparing yourself to your best friend, feeling like a less worthy parent, self-doubt in the workplace not having as many scholarships as a peer or being wired differently than your family members. 

What we need to remember is that commending ourselves for the big milestones, and the little ones in between, builds resiliency and confidence as we turn away from the impostor syndrome that once held us back.