imposter syndrome

The phrase “Imposter Syndrome” gets tossed around a lot these days, but did you know it isn’t in any diagnostic manual? it’s just a name we’ve given to- apparently- a rather diverse range of experiences.

I originally posted this with a caption (included in this post, below the download) related to how hard it is to be a novice, and I was quickly corrected. It turns out (precisely because this term doesn’t have the set diagnostic criteria that mental health diagnoses do) it has been adopted by PTSD/CPTSD survivors, marginalized groups, people dealing with professional burnout, novice professionals, and apparently even the graphic design community, all with slightly different definitions.


You can read the original caption below. I’ve left both here as a prime example of just how co-opted undefined mental health terms can be. My original caption spoke to one definition- my own most familiar definition- for this term. But the Instagram comments proved people strongly identify with the term Imposter Syndrome- even though their assigned meanings vary.

Although it may be meaningful- and potentially even helpful- for many, imposter syndrome is not a syndrome recognized by diagnostic manuals. That means there’s no clear criteria for having it/not having it, there are no recognized best-practices for treatment, and treatment bills written in that way aren’t covered by insurance.  This isn’t a failing of the diagnostic manual, in my opinion, but an example of how this term lumps together experiences and feelings that come from diverse sources and require more nuanced assessment and treatment.    If you experience distress in this context, consider seeking out the help of a mental health professional to accurately assess symptoms, correctly diagnose (if appropriate), and plan a treatment that can help you cope with what you are experiencing and thrive.

If you identify with Imposter Syndrome as a marginalized person: I see you. You are not broken, you are in a broken system. In my own intersecting identities of both marginalization and privilege, it feels important to deliberately choose language that places responsibility where it belongs instead of pathologizing the marginalized. I invite you to do the same but respect the language you choose.


Imposter Syndrome


Original Caption for “Imposter Syndrome” Post:

Being a beginner at something isn’t pathology, it’s courage! The phrase “Imposter Syndrome” gets tossed around a lot these days, but did you know it isn’t in any diagnostic manual? it’s a (kinda mean, in my opinion) name we’ve given to performance anxiety- typically about being a novice.

Next time you feel overwhelmed by a sense of being an imposter, remind yourself that you have worked hard to get this far, and with practice and self-kindness the fear and insecurity will fade. …If the fear and insecurity feel overwhelming, it doesn’t mean we don’t belong- but it may mean that we could benefit from meeting with a therapist for support and help to investigate why those accusations find such fertile soil in our thinking patterns.


If you have time, check out the Instagram comments on this image. They’re rich with meaning about how this term is used, and how- because it *doesn’t* have a precise definition- it has distinctly different meanings for each community and individual who identify with it. 



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