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When you feel like a fraud, but you’re not

Mental Health

How the imposter comes about depends on the growth of our negative views about ourselves. [Courtesy]

There are some constant comments I hear when people tell their stories across the table: “I am not good enough” and “everyone will think I am a fraud”. “It didn’t work out that one time, so why will this one work now?”

And with the pandemic with us, people have started to recognise that their cycle of self-negative talk is taking a toll on them. What they don’t know is that this pattern has a name. As a psychologist, this is where I come in. 

One thing people need to learn is that we each have an imposter. How the imposter comes about depends on the growth of our negative views about ourselves. Each of us needs to try discovering it. We need to stop it by challenging our views on achievements. In my practice, I have noticed that our social culture and educational backgrounds have played a role in producing what is known as an imposter phenomenon.

According to Dr Pauline Clane, an imposter phenomenon is when a person has an intense feeling that their achievement or success is undeserving. They are constantly worried that they will be uncovered, as a fraud causing the person stress. This also affects their ability to adapt to change.

The experiences that contribute to these intense feelings in society includes career choices. In Kenya, the ideal career is either doctor, lawyer or engineer. Parents from generation X constantly tell their millennial and Generation Z children that these are the careers that determine success and status. Anything outside that is seen as an unsuccessful option.

This view causes young people intense feelings of shame of their diverse career paths, leading them to develop an imposter syndrome.

The second example is education. For the longest time, our Kenyan students’ ability for success has been determined by their grades and the university courses that the government selects for them.

This selection process negatively affects high school graduates who didn’t get the grades befitting selected prestigious subjects. Such a situation affects how these students adapt or how they view their path to success. These opinions also shade a negative light on courses like music, art, singing, beauty and even vlogging.  The world is changing but we’re enablers in the creation of the imposter phenomenon which can expand to different types.

The first one is the real imposter, a person who falsely claims to have specific skills despite not having them or even the experiences.

The second one is the imposter feelings-you’re a fraud despite having the evidence you’re not. However, the feeling tends to pass.

The last one is the imposter syndrome, where a person feels like a fraud all the time despite having clear evidence that they are not. This feeling tends to carry a lot of weight and may consume a person’s thought. It usually will affect the way the person thinks, feels, and acts. Therefore, the common attribute of spotting your imposter is to reflect on how you feel about your achievements and to use the evidence to challenge the negative emotions at hand. It’s also important that we as a community should notice how we contribute to the imposter feelings and challenge our opinions by embracing change.  

 -The writer is a psychologist and founder, Africa Jipende Wellness

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