Today I started my first internship at a company called Nordic raystation AB. It is a huge enterprise with a presence in all Nordic capitals, over a hundred active offices, and around fifteen laboratories. I am placed at the so-called raysearch laboratories center, which is the main office for the laboratories focusing on tomotherapy treatment planning. Exciting, to say the least- but also totally terrifying…
Anyone who knows the term “imposter syndrome” knows the exact feeling I am describing. To anyone who is not familiar with this syndrome- this text is for you.
The concept is also called the imposter phenomenon, and it is sometimes referred to as impostorism. Basically, it is a psychological state in which a person unwarrantedly fears being exposed as a fraud. They have an unjust doubt of not being good enough or not qualified enough to be in a particular context or position. People with grave impostorism won’t be convinced that they have sufficient talent, enough skill, intelligence or whatever the person believes they lack. The external validation does not match their internal validation of their accomplishments and themselves.
The imposter phenomenon is known to be common in high-achievers, particularly women. Often in male-dominated fields in STEM and politics, as well as in academia.
It is not something to take lightly upon. It is definitely not an extreme version of humbleness that some critics have argued. On the other hand, it is not a recognized mental disorder or illness either. Although, the extreme low esteem and self-confidence, often combined with anxiety, are symptoms associated with the imposter syndrome that are recognized symptoms of depression.
What causes impostorisms? No one really knows, but psychologists and anthropologists have argued that it is likely caused by a combination of cultural standards, stereotypes, and perhaps personal tendencies towards neuroticism. One hypothesis argues that there is a higher prevalence of women experience imposter syndrome partly as a result of a culture that views men’s entitlement as natural. When men are confident and believe in their abilities it is looked upon as leadership qualities. When women have the same attributes, they are more likely to be perceived as “bitchy” or self-righteous.
Even though I knew all this when I walked into my internship this morning, I still could not help but feel like a fraud. Did I really deserve to get this opportunity? Do I really belong here? The ghost of imposter syndrome is hard to chase out. But I try, and I will keep trying. I do deserve to get this internship. I am enough- and if you also struggle with impostorism, I want to tell you; so are you. You are enough.
Have you ever felt imposter syndrome or like you do not deserve the external validation given to you? Let me know in the comments.