top of page

The Curse of the Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever experienced feelings of doubt or felt that you were an intellectual or professional fraud? If your answer is yes, you may be suffering from the imposter syndrome. The imposter syndrome is a widespread yet rarely discussed phenomenon. It is centred around the feelings of shame and fear that one does not deserve their personal achievements.

Imposter Syndrome

In any given population, the imposter syndrome is often found among high achievers. This may be attributed to the fact that they are surrounded by other high achievers, and competition amongst them is often extreme. People suffering from imposter syndrome, despite clearly having the skill, competence, and even accomplishments to attest to their success, are unable to internalise their competence and achievements.

It is common for people with imposter syndrome to attribute their success to mere luck or chance and not their own effort and skill. In addition, they agonise over the notion that they will finally be ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds. While it is common for many people to experience self-doubt especially when facing new challenges, those with an imposter syndrome have a dreadful fear of being exposed that they don’t have what it takes. This is despite being successful in their field. Persons with imposter syndrome, despite their worldly success, ironically struggle with feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem.

My personal experience and exorcism of the imposter syndrome curse

To be clear and sensitivity, l am using curses and exorcisms here as merely metaphors. Too numerous, unfortunately, to mention here. However, my most recent feeling of being an imposter happened soon after graduating from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I successfully completed my clinical supervision training  there, and during the course l felt, for the most part, safe and supported, but not always. 

I imagined getting that pass certificate, and then quickly opening my wings to receive new baby starlings to nurture and guide. Oh no! Once l flew the nest l couldn’t believe it. I didn’t fly at all. I didn’t want to open my wings. I stayed trapped. Fear crept in at first without me being fully aware as l merrily continued to support just one Supervisee for a whole year. One. 

Any other enquiry seeking a clinical supervisor that l received, l gently rejected. I was at the time unaware that l was worried about not being adequate in my abilities or knowledge of my craft as a dramatherapist, to assist and guide those with even more letters after their name. 

I spoke to both my amazing therapist and my own longstanding and, equally, wonderful clinical supervisor and they helped me to see that l am not a fraud but human, with flaws like everybody else, including those high achieving professionals l may be supervising. 

Exploring through this particular difficulty released so many other feelings, too many to mention here - but l did fly after about another year or so and slowly began to open my wings to embrace more and more brilliant supervisees.

I managed to exorcise the voices in me telling myself l am a load of rubbish, but even today, I still need to regularly check in with those weeds of self doubting, from time to time. 

Perils of the Possession of an Imposter Syndrome

It is interesting to note that imposter syndrome and perfectionism often go hand in hand. Consequently, a person with imposter syndrome endeavours to do every task perfectly and rarely asks for help from others. One can then clearly project where such an approach to doing things leads to. 

It is not only draining but can also lead to procrastination and putting off assignments out of fear that they won’t attain the requisite standards. One can also needlessly spend additional time on a single task. In addition to self-doubt, the curse of the imposter syndrome can result in turning down opportunities that one is qualified and competent to undertake. How sad is that! 

Releasing the Imposter Syndrome

Do you suffer from the imposter syndrome? Some tell-tale signs that you may have imposter syndrome include generally feeling that you are not good enough in your profession or occupation, doubting your achievements, experiencing overwhelming feelings of anxiety that you may be exposed as a fraud, repetitive negative self-talk, struggling to accept praise, compliments or recognition and obsessing over past failures or mistakes.

In the long term, these feelings and thoughts can impact one’s mental health and ability to execute tasks. You may opt to pursue high standards that are sometimes unattainable, dismiss praise or compliments, be a perfectionist, and internalise criticisms and mistakes. On the other hand, the burgeoning feeling of being a fraud may manifest itself in various extremes including overworking, procrastination, self-sabotage, and holding back. I know l have felt all of these over the years at various times.

If you are reading this, and it speaks to you, please don’t panic or feel helpless! The first and most crucial step is acknowledgment. Own it. Now you know what you have been worried about. Many people experience the feeling of being a fraud or not capable when they really are fully so. 

There are others that are completely unaware and don’t know about it or can’t precisely frame it for others to understand. Of course, there are those who will chuckle at the idea of a high achiever being overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. It is truly perplexing, to say the very least.

Once you realise that you may be experiencing imposter syndrome, recognise these feelings rather than repressing them. You can take several actions to help yourself, including  talking to friends, family or a professional therapist or counsellor to help you discern what is perhaps real and imagined. 

Celebrate your achievements too rather than trying to fill the void by moving from one goal or achievement to the next. Furthermore, go easy on yourself when negative thoughts arise. This is easier said than done but you can relieve yourself of these feelings by engaging in either mindfulness or meditation.

It is also vital that you don’t compare yourself with others. That’s a whole subject in itself and perhaps one l may return to explore in the near future. 

Everybody is unique in their own way, with their distinct strengths and weaknesses. Accept that you are not perfect and give yourself a break. Admit that you can’t be an expert in everything, and from time to time, you will make mistakes. Try to take regular short breaks at your work and consistently engage in leisure activities. Downtime is so important and will allow you to rest, reenergise, and re-strategise.

Christian Dixon. June. 2024.


bottom of page