The Imposter!

A while ago I wrote about imposter syndrome. My main knowledge of his previously had come from blogs and other online commentators, all generally talking about imposterism in an informal and anecdotal way. Lately I’ve been looking into the academic literature about imposter syndrome, or imposter phenomenon (IP) as it is sometimes called. This has been really interesting for me, and makes for quite fun reading. I’m a big fan of qualitative work that talks about he lived experience in an engaging way, which a lot of this work does. There’s a big focus on IP amongst academics and students, it makes sense that of a group of professionals prone to introspection we’d be big on discussing our feelings of fraudulence. There seems to be less work on how IP affects professionals in applied fields, or how prevalent IP is amongst these groups.

When I say professions in applied fields, I’m referring to professions that have an application to or direct impact on other’s lives. Do surgeons feel like frauds? Would it stop them from doing their work? How about social workers? I’m interested in if the people who feel like imposters don’t go into certain fields, or if having a role where they need to be confident in the decisions they make stops them from feeling like imposters, or lessens these feelings. This essentially comes down to whether IP is a state or a trait, but understanding how this state or trait affects people’s life choices is interesting. Particularly as it’s impact on professionals means that it will affect the lives of others.

The ways that professionals make decisions is important, particularly when it has real impacts upon other people’s lives. I’m interested in how those decisions are made, what thought processes go into this, and how our professional and personal identities impact our decisions. I’m looking into doing some work around these issues within social work in the future. One of the hopes is that from this, strategies for those who experience IP can be developed to help them cope, or feel less like a fraud.

IP seems to be more common amongst women, or those who are atypical in their field, suggesting that not being able to see others like you makes individuals feel like they don’t belong. The part of me that really likes punk wants to shout that this is O.K., being atypical means that you bring a different perspective, and will be creating when doing work, all with a Bad Religion’s ‘You Don’t Belong’ as a theme song. And this might be true, but it doesn’t necessarily help those who are struggling with feeling like an imposter. So I’m hoping that some work around this can lead to strategies to allow people to feel a bit more at home in the things that they do.


About Jess Urwin

Lecturer in social work at De Montfort University, youth justice researcher, musician, crafter, constant reader.
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