The Fraud Unmasked- “Impostor Syndrome”

My Dear Friends and Readers,
Have you ever had the feeling, that
“Oh my God what am I doing here?” I often have this feeling and many nights dream that I somehow  failed to graduate from law school, and that any day
now, someone will find out that I didn’t have enough credits to graduate or I
failed to do one small thing and I was never really admitted to any bar. These
feelings still plague me although I have been a practicing lawyer for almost
twenty years and despite the fact that I am admitted to practice in three
states. These feelings of inadequacy or feeling 
like a fake or that all that I have accomplished was accomplished by
luck or by some fortunate accident have plagued me my entire life. What I am
describing about myself is called the “impostor phenomena or syndrome”.
First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and
Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high
achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. People with
this syndrome are seen as successful by external measures, but
internally they feel themselves to be frauds, undeserving of their success and
in danger at any moment of being exposed.  
Those of us with impostor syndrome will often attribute our accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will
eventually unmask us as frauds. Much of the early literature
suggested that this syndrome applied mainly to women but since then, there have been
studies showing that many men are also affected. The impostor syndrome is most
obvious in situations where people are measured or evaluated in some way. It is
very common in education systems where people are regularly tested, graded and
often ranked. Those of us who have this syndrome try to hide it and to keep it
a secret.  Because, it’s a secret that we
fear being discovered and we can’t tell anybody our feelings. It’s like if you
admit that you are a fraud, as I did in the privacy of my therapist’s office
yesterday, there’s the possibility that someone will say “Ah yes, we were
wondering about that, could you please leave now.” So it’s safer to say
nothing. But then the doubts remain. This is why finding out about the impostor
syndrome is often a great relief. It normalizes the feelings.
Up to 70% of people report having these “impostor”
feelings. Most people experience some self-doubt when
facing new challenges, says Carole Lieberman, MD, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author. “But
someone with [impostor phenomenon] has an all-encompassing fear of being found
out to not have what it takes.” Even if they experience outward signs of
success — getting into a selective graduate program, say, or acing test after
test — they have trouble believing that they’re worthy. Instead, they may chalk
their success up to good luck.”
It doesn’t help that there’s tons
of external evidence that would belie our feelings of being impostors. With the
impostor syndrome we are impervious to evidence. In my case, living in the
beautiful home, driving a luxury car as well as my degrees and licenses, does
not prevent me from feeling as if I snuck into the court room the back way and
that I will be laughed out of the courthouse for some egregious first year law
student mistake. Even if I do recognize my own accomplishments I diminish them
by saying things like “It was just luck, it was easy, and someone helped. The
next time will be harder. I fooled them – they just haven’t found me out yet.”
Interestingly enough, this
experience of feeling like a fraud is more common among minorities, according
to Clance, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta.
A 2013 study by researchers at the University
of Texas at Austin surveyed ethnic-minority college
students and found that Asian-Americans were more likely than African-Americans
or Latino-Americans to experience impostor feelings. Interestingly, the
researchers also found that impostor feelings more strongly predicted mental
health problems than did stress related to one’s minority status (Journal of Multicultural Counseling
and Development
, 2013).
Differing in any way from
the majority of your peers — whether by race, gender, sexual orientation or
some other characteristic — can fuel the sense of being a fraud. The impostor
phenomenon seems to be more common among people who are embarking on a new
endeavor, says Imes. So, in my case, it would not be surprising for me to feel
that writing this blog- which is a new endeavor for me, is all a ridiculous
escapade and that someone will find me out- and ban me from the internet?
Nevertheless, the impostor phenomenon and perfectionism often go hand in hand.
So-called impostors think every task they tackle has to be done perfectly, and
they rarely ask for help. That perfectionism can lead to two typical responses,
according to Clance. An impostor may procrastinate, putting off an assignment
out of fear that he or she won’t be able to complete it to the necessary high
standards. Or, he or she may over prepare, spending much more time on a task
than is necessary. Ultimately, the impostor phenomenon becomes a cycle. Afraid
of being discovered as a fraud, people with impostor feelings go through
contortions to do a project perfectly. When they succeed, they begin to believe
all that anxiety and effort paid off. Eventually, they develop almost
superstitious beliefs. “Unconsciously, they think their successes must be
due to that self-torture,” Imes says.
What’s even worse is the more successful the impostor
actually becomes the more fearful of exposure because there’s more to be
exposed. The expectations have been raised even higher.  So, what can you do? Admitting that
I had felt like a fraud my whole life, was probably one of the most honest, but difficult things that I have ever done. By simply talking it out to a trusted friend, colleague or
mentor can create the space to begin to look objectively at one’s accomplishment
and own them.  Once the person with “impostor
syndrome” realizes that because they feel like a fake does not mean they are a fake. Feelings
and facts are not the same. 
Then there is the reality check list. Did you lie
on the test, interview or application? Did you attend the school, take the test
and pass it on your own? And how likely is it that you could have  possibly fooled everyone? My therapist and I are going to use
cognitive behavior therapy which is a common type of mental health counseling
(psychotherapy). With cognitive behavioral therapy, you work with a mental
health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way, attending
a limited number of sessions. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you become
aware of inaccurate or negative thinking, so you can view challenging
situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way. Cognitive behavioral
therapy can be a very helpful tool in treating mental disorders or illnesses,
such as anxiety or depression. However, you don’t have to have a mental illness
in order to benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. It can be an effective
tool to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations.
I look forward to transforming my automatic negative
thoughts. I am on my way to a happier life, everyday.
Special thanks to my kind super smart therapist, Beth.
Signed,
Brianna Clark,
The Addict Writes
P.S. Until further notice
due to my work schedule this blog will only be published on Mondays and Thursdays.
I hope to return to a daily publication as soon as possible.
Much Love,
BSC

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