Do you ever feel like a bit of a fraud? Like you’re not a real author? Like you don’t deserve the sales, likes or glowing reviews you get? Or are you, perhaps, comparing your work to that of others and feeling like something of a literary charlatan because you’re no Joyce, Morrison, Proust, Coetzee or whoever your favourite author is?
If the answer is yes, I have good and bad news for you. Let’s start with the bad news so we get that out of the way: You’re probably dealing with impostor syndrome. That’s it. End of bad news. The good news is that you’re in good company. According to an article in the International Journal of Behavioural Science, around 70% of the population struggle with this phenomenon.
And what’s so good about that, you may wonder?
Well, the good thing about having a common problem is that a lot of thought and research has been dedicated to finding cures, solutions, or, at the very least, ways to make living with it a little bit easier.
WHAT IS IMPOSTOR SYNDROME?
Are you feeling like a fraud? Like you don’t deserve the life, or success, you have?
The summer is coming to an end as I’m writing this, and I keep seeing the words ‘impostor syndrome’ crop up in my DMs, discord servers and twitter feeds. As people return to work, and life returns to business as usual, many have to wrestle those persistent inner demons who whisper cruel words in the back of their minds. Some people would tell you to fix up, to get a grip or to just snap out of it, but it’s not as simple as that.
Impostor syndrome is a real thing. Or a psychological occurrence if you want to be precise. It is sometimes referred to as impostorism, or impostor phenomenon (and sometimes spelt with an -er ending), but at the heart of it all, we have a singular problem: A person who doesn’t believe they are [good] enough, and/or is afraid of being exposed as a fraud.
For someone who struggles with impostor syndrome, evidence to the contrary doesn’t matter. They may be a renowned author, selling millions of books, or winning literary prizes and still feel like they don’t deserve any of it. They may find themselves amassing a big social media following and worry about what’s going to happen when the followers realise they’re not as smart, witty or cute as their public persona makes them out to be. And they may be concerned that they are taking up a space that rightfully should belong to someone else. Someone far more intelligent or worthy than they are.
Now, if you belong to the lucky (?) minority who’s never had to wrestle with feelings of inadequacy – or sneaking suspicions of not being good enough no matter what you do, or how hard you try – this may all sound trivial to you. It may sound as if it’s not a “real” problem. If that’s the case you may want to stop reading here, but I’d recommend that you stay for the ride. You may learn a thing or two, and it may even help you become a better ally or support system for someone you care about who does have this problem. Because it really is a problem.
In small doses, impostor syndrome can make you feel uneasy. It can stop you from enjoying and celebrating your success or good fortune. At its worst, it may lead to strained or ruined relationships. It can put barriers in your way and stop you from reaching your goals. Or achieving your full potential.
FIVE DIFFERENT IMPOSTOR TYPES
There are five different types of impostors. Or, more accurately, five main ways
in which impostor syndrome typically presents.
Impostor syndrome was first discovered, or conceptualised, by two American Psychologists, Dr Pauline Rose Clance and Dr Suzanne A. Imes, who introduced the term ‘impostor phenomenon’ for what they described as an internal experience of intellectual phoniness.
In their study, Clance and Imes surveyed more than 100 women, all of whom had been formally recognised for their professional excellence and academic achievement. And they all had one thing in common – they couldn’t see or acknowledge their own success and accomplishments despite consistent external validation and positive feedback. Instead, they would say that they had been lucky, or argue that people had simply overestimated their worth.
In 1978, the results of the study were presented in “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” The commonalities found in the women included factors such as “generalized anxiety, lack of self-confidence, depression, and frustration related to inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement.” This, in turn, the researchers suggested, stemmed from factors like gender stereotypes, familial problems, cultural norms etc.
Although Clance and Imes described it as a common phenomenon among high-achieving women, we have since learned that impostor syndrome affects all genders alike. In later years, impostor syndrome has also been linked to, or at least seen as a close relative of, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
It is not a mental disorder, but it can be treated with psychological interventions. There are also a number of strategies you can implement in your life to help you deal with this problem. However, they are not an alternative to professional help.
If you are struggling with something that has a negative effect on your ability to function in your daily life, please note:
I am a coach, not a licensed health professional, and what I
want for you is a chance to live and love Life to its fullest.
Sometimes that means picking up the phone, or going online,
to book an appointment. And there is no shame in that.
If you’ve read this far and started to feel relieved that you don’t have any of the symptoms hitherto described – hold your seahorses, mate, we’re not back in port yet. You see, in keeping with its name, impostor syndrome can appear in different guises. Most notably manifesting as one of the following five types:
The expert has a tendency to base their value, their worth, on how much they know and what they can do. They have a constant need to prove themselves by showing what a fountain of knowledge they are. One problem with that is that they have to wrestle feelings of shame or failure when they don’t actually have an answer. Another is that it makes their inner demon choir sing about how they’re not good enough. Which makes them scared of being exposed…
The natural genius is all about the how and when, but it’s the ease and speed of acquisition and/or delivery that matters to them. A writer with this type of impostor syndrome may feel like a massive failure if the first draft of their book isn’t the masterpiece they envisioned. It may cause them to give up on their WIP, or to withdraw from their writing buddies while they deal with the shame of not being good enough. The genius measures their self-worth in terms of how swift they are.
For the perfectionist, it’s all about the how. Everything has to be perfect, and as a result, they sometimes end up doing nothing at all. You can’t fail what you haven’t tried, or what you haven’t finished, right? This is a person who may hang their head in shame, and feel like a massive failure, if they score 99/100 on a test. As a writer, the perfectionist tends to sweat the details. Research more than they write. Look up the spelling of every word with more than two syllables etc.
The soloist focuses on the who in any equation. They don’t work in teams, and they don’t ask for help. Doing everything themselves is how they make sure it’s done right. As a writer, the soloist is the kind who won’t let anyone touch or see their precious WIP before it’s published. How could they? Accepting help or feedback would be tantamount to putting their competence into question, right? What do you mean it would be quicker, and better, if we did it together?
The superhero is an adorable over-achiever who measures their self-worth in terms of how many balls and roles they can juggle. With swag. Forever anxious about not being good enough, the writing superhero struggles to say no. They try their level best to fit kids, partner(s), colleagues, friends, parents, pets, house chores, etc., etc., etc. into their schedule, spreading themselves too thin in the process. And more often than not, their writing ends up unread in a drawer…
Right, that was all I had to say on this subject for today. But fret not, we’re making a series out of this one too. So, before I love you and leave you, here are the questions of the day:
– Do you struggle with impostor syndrome? If so,
– a, Can you see yourself in one of the five types?
– b; How does it affect you as a writer?
Slide into the comments below and let’s talk. Thank you very much for tuning in today. I hope you enjoyed your stay and look forward to seeing you soon again.
And hey, just so you know:
You are enough!
Evalena Styf is a knowsy roll model and prolific content creator who lives in a queen size bed in the outskirts of London, UK, with a doggo, two cats and a personal assistant.
In 2017, after 25+ years of anonymous blogging on a number of free platforms, she decided to go pro. Since then, Evalena has been working on getting all of her work edited and put on display all over the imaginary pirate ship she named after one of her most prominent character traits: The Resilience.
Evalena primarily writes non-fictional texts about writing, personal and professional development, and how to keep on living and loving Life when everything around you seems to be falling apart. Oh, and if you don’t watch it, she’ll drag you out on an adventure and have you jump off a cliff or two just to see what happens if…