Doyou feel your promotion atworkwasdownto pure luck, or you’re winging motherhood – or even that you’re just a phoney in general? Christine Fieldhouse says you’re not alone
Do you often feel like a phoney?
Verity is in her first year of studying medicine at a top university but she shuffles along the corridors with her head down because she doesn’t feel as if she belongs in such a prestigious institution.
Despite having the highest grades in her exams at school and being in the top five on her course, 19-year-old Verity feels like a fraud and fears that any day now, someone will knock on her door and tell her they’ve found out she isn’t bright enough to become a doctor. She pictures herself having to pack up her things and head home, destined for a 9-to-5 job, her hopes of a career in medicine dashed.
“When I got accepted into med school, I thought maybe they needed an extra girl on the course, because all the other interviewees I saw that day were boys,” says Verity. “When my exam results came through, I thought there must have been a mistake. I half expected to get a phone call or a letter saying there had been a re-mark, and my grades were considerably lower than I’d been told and I’d have to resit them if I wanted to carry on studying.
“I constantly have this fear that I’ll be exposed as a con, as someone who’s pretending to be someone she isn’t. My mum and grandma are always telling me how clever I am – they’ve done this since the day I started school – but I just can’t see it. I think I’ve been lucky in every exam I’ve ever sat, or the questions have been in my favour, and one day I’ll come unstuck and be revealed for the fake that I am.”
Verity is a perfect example of someone suffering from Imposter Syndrome, a phenomenon first described in the 1970s by American psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, who wrote a paper on people who feel like phoneys, when in reality they are usually just the opposite.
People with Imposter Syndrome think they get a job because the success down to good luck or being in the right place at the right time, or other people performing badly. Dr Rose Logan, a clinical psychologist at LightHouse Arabia (www. lighthousearabia.com) in Dubai, says Verity is typical of people with Imposter Syndrome and they often put their accomplishments down to luck rather than ability.
“It isn’t a clinically diagnosed syndrome but it is often characterised by chronic low self-esteem and self-doubt, depression, anxiety and perfectionism,” explains Dr Logan.
“These people have their own belief systems in which their success or ability is attributable to luck, chance or error. Unfortunately many people suffer in silence, due to their fear of being found out. Anyone – from doctors and lawyers to psychologists – can be prone to developing this syndrome. It would be unusual to see it in younger children, but by no means impossible.
“It was initially thought that only women suffered from Imposter Syndrome but it’s now recognised that men do too. It can affect anyone in any walk of life, but it’s more likely to impact on someone embarking on something new, such as a graduate training programme or a new job
The syndrome is often characterised by low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and perfectionism
interview panel felt sorry for them, or they’re chosen to lead a charity committee because no one else wanted the job.
Other times, they think another person with the same surname was meant to get their university place and the letter went to the wrong address by mistake.
They disregard their qualifications and effort and instead put their