By Freddie Cocker
You might see a few people on social media post about something called ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and not know what it means.
Here’s a brief definition for you: essentially, its the idea that you’ve only succeeded in life due to happenstance and not because of your talent or qualifications.
It’s also a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and have a persistent, internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Despite external evidence of their competence and ability, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with imposter syndrome incorrectly attribute their success to luck or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.
When I posted these musings on social media, I received a lot of positive feed-back from people who had similar experiences. As a result, I thought I’d give you an insight into how this syndrome affects my other mental health issues.
I live with a form of imposter syndrome because of being bullied at school. Whilst I wouldn’t say it is severe, it is strong enough to affect me a lot in my day-to-day life.
When I’d meet someone new in school who didn’t know me, I’d initially try and get to know them very quickly but I wouldn’t disclose certain details which I knew might make them pick on me or view me differently. I wouldn’t tell them my surname, my football team or which area I lived. However, in schools like the one I attended, you cannot keep rudimentary details like these secret for long. Once they would find out about my social status or how the rest of the year treated me, the result was usually the same – social ostracisation.
Imposter syndrome also quickly infected the rumination anxiety that bullying caused. Because of past mistakes that were spread around school or stupid things I had blurted out, if they were highlighted in social circles out loud, I would usually lose the friendships I had previously established.
As a result, I would try and detach myself from the unpopular kid I was when I would first meet new people and adopt a different, imposter persona instead, just to try and fit in. In many ways, the origins of this condition can probably be traced back to this behavioural tick.
Imposter syndrome doesn’t just affect you when you are a teenager though. In my adult life, it manifests itself in many different ways. For a start, it can exacerbate or worsen my low self-esteem by making it hard for me to accept compliments at face value. Whether it be about my physical appearance, my personality, achievements I’ve had or even the work I do for Vent, whenever someone offers me a compliment, my mind immediately thinks things like “if they knew the real you and all the secrets from your past, no one would be your friend” or “if everyone knew what a fraud you really are, you wouldn’t have a job”.
These fraudulent feelings and anxieties seep through into the deeper recesses and crevices’ of my psyche, infecting the other mental health issues I have and triggering mental after-shocks throughout my mind.
In my head, I begin to see visions of people I’ve hurt in the past tell newspapers about my mistakes and try and expose me for the perceived fraud that I am, turning my life into a crisis communications plan before it’s even begun.
All of this makes it very hard for me to be proud of the work I’ve done, the people I’ve helped and the lives I’ve tried to heal. My head tells me this is just the necessary work I have to do to make up for all that I’ve done wrong, in some distorted way of balancing the universe out.
In reality, the mistakes that we make should help us grow and become better human beings, not consign us to a life-time of metaphorical restorative justice.
If there is a part of your brain telling yourself to live in fear because of some hyperbolised, irrational thought where one day you’ll go on social media only to discover everyone acting shocked because a mistake you made when you were 15 has gone viral on the internet, then it’s hard for you to ever get to a good place about your own self-esteem and self-worth.
The most important thing to do if you know someone who lives with imposter syndrome and you want to help them is be as authentic as possible. You should demonstrate this authenticity when you praise them and if/when you need to give them constructive feed-back. Them knowing your words are genuine and your feelings are authentic is the best way of reassuring them that their place in this world is valued and they are loved.
It is very easy for someone with imposter syndrome to develop feelings of paranoia, distrust and worthlessness if they are not given the compassion and support they need or if they’re manipulated by other people.
As I write this, I am saddened by the fact that I can’t suggest some miracle cure to this mental condition or the symptoms it exhibits.
However, if more and more people are at least aware of how this can affect the lives of others, maybe we can create a more observant and kind society for our children to live in.
Freddie is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Vent.
You can follow him on Twitter @freddiec1994.
Read more articles like this in our Experiences section here.