Will the Real “Designer” with Impostor Syndrome Please Stand Up!

I’m an impostor.

Well at least that’s how I feel. It is a nagging feeling which rears its ugly head every time anyone complements me on my designs. It feels like a torch-wielding mob of designers shouting “That’s the impostor we’ve been looking for! Burn him to the ground!” will break down the door to the room and point out all the mistakes in my designs.

That will be the end of my design career.

Oh yes I’m the great pretender
I seem to be what I’m not you see
- Queen

Every time someone praises my skills, shares my posts, favs/retweets my tweets, pats me on the back and says “Great Job” , hires me, gives me a raise, gives me a promotion or complements me in front of others, the mob scene gets played in my head.

Yet I am not alone in this struggle. What I have just described to you is a psychological phenomenon known as the Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor Syndrome is the prevalent psychological experience of a person who believes that they are a self-perceived intellectual fraud and carry the fear of being exposed as a impostor.

Impostorism, as the syndrome is also called, was first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s. Even though it is not an official diagnosis listed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) it is identified by psychologists to be a real disorder affecting a large group of the population. 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this Impostor Phenomenon in their lives. (Gravois 2007). Initially this phenomena was thought to affect only professional women but with subsequent research it has been discovered to influence all genders in a wide range of professions.

Parenting and family dynamics are factors that have a direct affect on how we perceive ourselves. They shape who we are and who we believe ourselves to be. How we deal with situations such as success and failure are greatly influenced by the type of parenting we experience as children. Specifically overprotection by fathers has been identified as an influencing factor in feelings of impostorism. (Want and Kleitman, 2006)

  • Did your parents place a great importance on being naturally intelligent?
  • Did you have a strong need to please your parents so that you didn’t loose their affection which caused your to alter your behavior?
  • Did you struggle with conforming to family standards so you could gain positive feedback from your parents?

As a person from a culture that places achievements and accolades above everything else, my answers for all those questions are a resounding YES!

All is not lost though. Here are some ways to break free of all this negative thinking:

  • Share your knowledge
    By helping others you will realize the importance of your contributions and the depth and breadth of your knowledge.
  • Focus on your strengths
    Identify your strong points and areas you need to work on, we are all human after all.
  • Feck Perfuction!
    As the great James Victore said “Feck perfuction. Be authentic, with all your beautiful flaws and fears. It’s better to BE than to SEEM.”
  • Get help
    There is a way out. Talk to a mentor, therapist, or a psychologist. They can help you chip away at the cycle of doubts.

What a relief. I’m not an impostor after all!

The true test for me will be the next time I receive a complement. How will I respond? Will I discount the praise and write it off to luck or will I accept the complement and appreciate myself.

Now that I realize that I am not the only one who has these thoughts and that there are ways to break free of the cycle, I can confidently remove any doubts I have about my skills and my achievements.

Look out world. Here I come!

Think you might have the Impostor Syndrome?
Test yourself on Dr. Pauline Rose Clance’s Impostor Scale: http://bit.ly/ClanceIPScale

Ferrari, J. R., & Thompson, T. (2006). Impostor fears: Links with self-perfection concerns and self-handicapping behaviours. Personality and Individual Differences, 40(2), 341–352.

Want, J., & Kleitman, S. (2006). Feeling “Phony”: Adult achievement behaviour, parental rearing style and self-confidence. Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, 40(5), 961–971.