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The Question: Is the term “Imposter Syndrome” Actually THE Imposter? Yes? No? Maybe?

Final Answer: From my perspective it is a resounding ‘Yes!” But . . . .hold on a bit. There are two words in that term... The word ‘imposter’ and its associated feelings are real for each person. No doubt about it!

Final, final answer: the word “syndrome” as used with this concept, is the imposter itself.

And here are my reasons why:

  1. The original terms used by Dr. Pauline Clance are phenomenon, experience, or feelings. No where does the word ‘syndrome’ show up in her original research paper, other than a passing reference to it being a colloquialism.

  2. Imposter Syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis or included in the American Psychological Association’s, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V,” the reference book mental health professionals use as an aid in their diagnoses.

  3. The term “Imposter Syndrome” has become a popularized faux (fake) medical term with no clinical diagnosis as either a syndrome or some type of mental illness.

Through the three posts and this article, I wanted to expose you to the emotional power of words, spoken and written. In this case, the word is ‘syndrome,’ as used in the context of imposter syndrome. I wanted you to experience the power this word has to create different emotions in you – primarily more negative emotions.

I have reviewed many articles, research papers, and books about the “imposter syndrome.” There are many words or phrases that show up fairly consistently in the titles of these different articles. Below is a sample of five such words or phrases. Read each word or phrase and then take a few seconds to think about what emotion(s) it conjured up before going to the next one.

  1. Flawed.

  2. Suffer from.

  3. Do battle with.

  4. Sabotage.

  5. Insidious effects.

How did you make out? Did any of them bring up a positive emotion or were they mostly negative? I don’t know about you, but that list can make me feel that something may be wrong in my mind. It almost makes me feel a bit helpless, like this will be a lifetime battle. There is something not right here. Why should I have to do battle with, overcome, or defeat any part of my body or mind?

The Emotional Power of Words

They have the power to inspire, encourage, appreciate, heal, and turn the impossible into the possible. Words can act as triggers for a wide variety of emotions. For example, here are some emotionally powerful words: sadness, phenomenon, awe, joy, fear, syndrome, surprise, disgust, anger, doubt, puppy, trust. Each one has no doubt created a certain emotion in your mind.

Our rational and emotional minds work together to help us respond in the most effective way to the words we hear and read. They help us react based on our perceptions of our world. But, sometimes, we are so ingrained in our own perceptions that they become the only way to understand our world. They can be a barrier to growth and change. Just like the more common thought is that the “imposter syndrome” is a negative thing.

In my ’Make Stress Your Ally” program, I help clients learn how to take counterintuitive looks at their situations, their challenges, their emotions. their way of thinking, and their way of acting or behaving. They learn how to use the process of counterintuitive thinking to get themselves into their optimal stress performance zone.

Here’s an example. We can become very ingrained in recognizing the challenges and barriers that imposter feelings can present. We forget or may not have even been aware, that there just might be another way to perceive those feelings. The result: our journey through life continues with the chronic grief of the imposter experience intact. It continues to be part of the load we think we must carry and it doesn’t occur to us to ask, “Why?”.

Thinking Counterintuitively

Here is a good place to practice counterintuitive thinking. One thought: are there any benefits that come with the imposter feelings? Do a quick Google search right now. Type in “benefits of the imposter syndrome” and hit Enter. You will certainly see that I am not the only individual who thinks this way! There are definitely some valuable nuggets to be found in the imposter experience.

Here are five examples. Read each one and take a few seconds to feel what emotion might arise.

  1. More empathetic, better listeners.

  2. More ambitious work ethic.

  3. Keeps ego in check (humility).

  4. Stronger decision-making skills.

  5. Curiosity and open-mindedness.

Notice any difference between the impact of the first list of five and the second list? I did – the second list makes me feel that I can use the energy associated with feeling like an imposter to help me move forward in my life and career.

Five Things You Can Do Every Day

  1. Remember the emotional power of words.

  2. Make a list of the emotions you would like to be feeling when you focus on the benefits of the imposter experience.

  3. STOP using the word “syndrome” related to imposter feelings.

  4. START replacing it with one of the following: experience, feelings, phenomenon, or any other word that does not have a negative connotation in this context.

  5. PRACTICE until your new thoughts and emotions associated with the imposter experience are a strong habit, a more natural response.

Your Challenge

Practice! Practice! Practice! Set reminders! Write down each time you do it! Build a streak!

These are all great action words used by James Clear in his book, “Atomic Habits.”

Remember that how you currently react is a learned behaviour and habit. The great news is that it can be unlearned and replaced with a more effective habit!

As always, it’s up to you to take action. So . . . . what’s it going to be?


For context leading up to this article, check the LinkedIn posts listed below. Each one is about a 2-minute read.


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