I have been reading more about impostor syndrome among students, ever since I posted about the syndrome on this blog in October. I took an interest in the topic, and researched a few resources online to explore it further.
Pauline Rose Clance offers a 20-question online test for Impostor Syndrome with a helpful summary for responses. Do you feel like an impostor? What is an impostor?
Weir (2013) describes it as “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. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” First ascribed to women, feelings of impostorship apply also to high-achieving men.
Weir continues: “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: 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.”
What does this mean? CalTech’s Counseling Center defines Impostor Syndrome as follows:
“Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart student, that you are only imposing as such.
Some common feelings and thoughts that might characterize the impostor syndrome are: “I feel like a fake” “My classmates/professors etc. are going to find out I don’t really belong here,” “Admissions made a mistake,” etc.”
Jeffrey Shoemaker defines Impostor Syndrome among students as:
Feeling like a Fake
Students who have this feeling are in the company of those students who feel like they are living a lie. They are afraid of trying something because they are afraid they will be found out how much they don’t know. Some students feel like they shouldn’t have success because they are deceiving others of their ability. They hide because they don’t want to be “found out.”
Success by Luck
Some students feel they only had success because they had good luck. They didn’t earn it. They don’t have the confidence in their own abilities, and they probably couldn’t have that kind of success again. Its based something that happened externally that caused them to have the success.
Students who discount their success play down their abilities, and their success. They claim it “wasn’t hard”, or “not that important.” The problem is they don’t see how much they had to do to get to the point they are.
What can students do? Weir (2013) offers the following steps to overcome the belief that you do not measure up:
- Talk to your mentors to recognize that the impostor feelings are both normal and irrational.
- Recognize your expertise – tutor or work with younger students to realize how far you have come and how much knowledge you can impart
- Remember what you do well by assessing your abilities and writing down what you are truly good at, and what areas might still need work.
- Realize no one is perfect – so stop focusing on perfection. Do a task ‘well enough’ and then take time to appreciate the fruits of your hard work. Celebrate achievements!
- Change your thinking – reframe how you think about achievements. Let go of superstitions, spend less time perfecting that already-great assignment.
- Talk to someone who can help – consider individual therapy to break the cycle of imposter thinking.
What can we teachers (and parents) do about this? Ian Byrd offers the following advice:
“Teachers, stay close to your students. Don’t let the brightest kids just work on their own. This increases the feelings of being an impostor. Give caring, honest feedback of how your best students can improve. Never give the impression that you think they’ve perfectly mastered a topic. They know they haven’t, and then they’ll stop trusting your praise.
Parents, connect your students with experts in their interests so they can get feedback and guidance from a master (whether that’s guitar playing, LEGO building, or acting). And don’t feel bad that your kids don’t trust your opinions! Encourage risk and accept mistakes. Don’t let the expectations of perfection cloud your students’ judgements.
Most of all, make your students aware of Impostor Syndrome, especially as they move along in their educational careers.”
Good advice indeed – I have a few students who have reached out to me about this, and I look forward to encouraging them to stay the course, and to sharing stories from my own journey.
Bahn, K. (2014). Faking It: Women, Academia, and Impostor Syndrome. Retrieved from https://chroniclevitae.com/news/412-faking-it-women-academia-and-impostor-syndrome
Byrd, I. (2016). The Curious Case of Impostor Syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.byrdseed.com/the-curious-case-of-impostor-syndrome/
Clance, P.R. (2013). Impostor Phenomenon. Retrieved from http://paulineroseclance.com/impostor_phenomenon.html
Clance, P.R. (2013). Impostor Phenomenon Scale. Retrieved from http://paulineroseclance.com/pdf/IPTestandscoring.pdf
Shoemaker, J. (2014). The Impostor Syndrome and Gifted Children. Retrieved from https://ramblingsofagiftedteacher.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/the-imposter-syndrome-and-gifted-children/
Weir, K. (2013). Feel Like a Fraud? Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx