What is Imposter Syndrome
I never knew what Imposter Syndrome was! I had never heard of it until a few years ago. I can relate totally to Imposter Syndrome. I think I have it!
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is a psychological experience that makes a person believe that they are not as competent as other people think they are. People with Imposter Syndrome feel that despite being successful they feel that they are just ‘getting away’ with the success and are not successful at all. They sometimes cannot understand why others think they are good at what they do. This can be the case, no matter what they do. They put on an act – sometimes behaving really confident when inside they are feeling anything but! They may feel restless and nervous and will tend to put themselves down or make fun of themselves. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression for some people.
Imposter Syndrome is not a diagnosable mental illness. It is generally associated with achievement and intelligence and was first talked about in the 1970’s.
Why do I think I have it??
I like to think that I have been successful in my career, even though it has come about as a result of experiencing domestic violence and abuse myself. So why do I find it so difficult to be complimented on my work? It makes me feel really uncomfortable. I say “Oh, I don’t like to blow my own trumpet”! and I don’t. In the past, I have been called an expert. An expert at what? I think. Not that anyone, in my opinion, can ever be an expert in the work that I do. Just when I think I have heard everything and nothing can shock me anymore, I will hear a ‘story’ which shocks me to the core.
Why do I feel so uncomfortable when someone compliments me on a job well done? Why do I feel like I am a fraud and am just winging it most of the time! Surely, at some point soon, after nearly 25 years, someone is going to catch me out and realise that I am everything my abusive husband said I was – useless, stupid, thick as s**t!
And there we have it! That is why I feel I may have Imposter Syndrome. And I feel that many victims and survivors of domestic abuse may suffer from Imposter Syndrome, but not recognise it as such or understand what it is?
When someone is in a domestically abusive relationship, they are told day after day that they are stupid, no good, thick, rubbish, mad. It doesn’t matter if the abuse is not physical. In every abusive relationship, whatever form the abuse takes, there is always coercive control. Domestic abuse is, at its core, a misuse of power and control by one person over another. Therefore, to be able to wield that power and control, the abuser must ‘wear down’ the victim and make them believe they are weak. They must take away the victim’s identity and make them feel they have little worth. As a result of this, the victim will have little confidence and low self-esteem and as a result will question their own intelligence and competence.
Many years ago, I worked with a woman who was a corporate lawyer in the city. She was a partner in the law firm where she worked and commanded a salary of over £200,000 a year. When she answered her phone, she was the confident, empowered leading lawyer in her field of work. Except when I called her! She would answer her phone in that way but as soon as she heard my voice, she would start stuttering and not be able to form a sentence. Because behind the confident, power suited, wealthy facade, was a woman who was experiencing coercive control and domestic abuse on a daily basis by her husband. After years of this, she was almost brainwashed to the point where she actually believed that she was a fraud. That she couldn’t do her job. That she was stupid and useless. No one but me knew that most days, when she was representing clients in court, she was actually wearing her pyjamas under her tailored suit because she had such low self-esteem, she couldn’t be bothered to get dressed properly. Eventually, she lost her job. She couldn’t keep up the facade anymore. I remember her saying to me, “he was right, I must be stupid”!
How can we get past these feelings of inadequacy?
When I realised that I probably had Imposter Syndrome, it didn’t really take me very long to work out why! I work on myself constantly to overcome the feelings of being a fraud, being useless, stupid. The first thing I started doing, was, whenever someone complimented me on my work, whether that be as an IDVA, as Head of Partnerships & Development at NCDV, as a writer – I forced myself to say, “Thank You”! A simple thing yet mortifyingly embarrassing for me. But the more I said it, the more I started to believe in myself. When I do a particular piece of work, when I advise someone on their legal options or support them through their distress, I tell myself that I have worked hard for a long, long time to be able to do this. I tell myself that I am good at my job. It isn’t easy. Nothing about moving on from domestic abuse is easy! For those of you who read a lot of my blogs, you will know that I suffered badly from OCD. Another condition that can be triggered by experiencing domestic abuse. There are many conditions that are a consequence of experiencing domestic abuse. Many people do not understand this.
So, if you have experienced domestic abuse and are reading this and you are thinking “I think this is me! I think I have Imposter Syndrome”! start tomorrow morning by saying to yourself – out loud or in your head – I am not stupid. I am good at what I do. I deserve to be happy. I am fine just the way I am.
I promise you – if you say it often enough, eventually, the damage that your abuser caused, will begin to repair itself.