Imposter syndrome is not your fault

How many times have you been told that ‘imposter syndrome’ is an internal problem? That it’s your responsibility to make it go away from your mind? That it’s entirely a figment of your own imagination? Well I don’t think so, but the journey to this conclusion has been painful.

Let’s start with the definition of imposter syndrome: it’s basically those feelings of inadequacy and doubt in your abilities to do the things that you’ve proved successful in doing by virtue of your achievements and qualifications. This in turn affects your confidence to do them and try other new things.

We’re told that women, particularly those from minoritised backgrounds, have this more intensely though it can affect anyone. I’ve certainly felt it throughout my life intensifying at times of stress and overload. But is it entirely internally triggered? Well, this is the dominant narrative.

You go to courses, you read articles, you speak to mentors and what they usually tell you is that it’s all in your mind. Perhaps triggered by your social upbringing and cultural background. So you must work on it. But I’ve realised recently that it’s not just that.

Some people in your surroundings trigger this, to be fair to them perhaps unconsciously. They may have in their minds a stereotype of you that is inadequate and incapable of achieving what you’ve achieved in reality. So they do or say things that trigger the feeling in you.

They do so by words or actions. Some are very skilled at it. Others are more blunt. This works to divert you into doubting yourself. Then you’re busy dealing with the doubt rather than progressing and achieving more. I can’t say what their motives are, but I certainly see it happening frequently.

Sadly there’s not much ‘evidence’ to characterise such behaviour, understand why people do it and who it happens to more, so this is all anecdotal. However I felt the need to say this to validate the experience of those of you who keep blaming yourselves for your imposter syndrome.

It seems the more you feel it, the more others feel that you have it, and some of them may unfortunately exploit that. When I feel it in reaction to someone’s words or actions, it helps when I remind myself that this could be a way of distracting me from what I’m doing or saying.

This of course doesn’t mean we don’t take others’ feedback into consideration. Of course we should. You learn with time amd experience to distinguish useful critical pieces of feedback from passive aggressive triggering ones. Find a trusted person you can reflect with on this.

Remember everyone makes mistakes. There’s a middle ground between denying mistakes and believing everything else you do is inadequate. Imposter syndrome is more than a torturing voice in your head. It’s a manifestation of an unequal society and of others’ stereotypes and expectations of you. Realising this may help you through it.

Original Twitter thread here.

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