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Imposter Syndrome

We generally try to discourage people from self-diagnosing, we’d rather they trust our years of medical experience than Dr Google’s alarmist algorithm. There is however one condition I have successfully self-diagnosed – other than the time Covid left me bedbound for a fortnight and I declared myself to be suffering from Pyjama Paralysis – and that’s Imposter Syndrome.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor or nurse who has never experienced Imposter Syndrome, take the time to speak to a student, NQN, or F1 and they’re probably currently suffering. We’re constantly believe the lies that Imposter Syndrome tells us, making us believe that we don’t deserve to be what we are (when in fact we do).

But a question that my brain kept alarming inside my head was this, what if I actually am an imposter?

It's Time for a Breakdown

For the most part of my training, and sometimes even since my mind tries to convince itself I’m an impostor. The definition of impostor though has three distinctions:

(1)   A person who pretends to be someone else.. – ok, so denying this one may be difficult. I am constantly pretending to be someone else, it’s almost a core characteristic of Autistics right? But the someone else I am pretending to be is a good nurse, is it still pretending if I am a nurse pretending to be a good nurse? Surely that’s just ambition, not pretending. It’s mind bending, but if you strip all the adjectives away and leave the noun: good nurse. I’d argue it’s a struggle to pretend to be an adjective, for it depends on the perspective of the viewer as to whether that adjective can be ascribed to you. You can however pretend to be a thing, I can pretend to be a nurse, like at a Haloween party.. but actually I am a nurse, so is it pretending? Ultimately, pretending is a matter of perspective. I’d have to come to the conclusion that you can’t pretend to be something that you already are.

(2) order to deceive others.. – so here you need to figure out if you’re actually trying to deceive anyone (yourself included), in my experience of Imposter Syndrome I wasn’t going out of my way pretending to be a nurse in order to deceive anyone, the syndrome was simply telling me that people were deceived. But the thing is, they weren’t.. there was no deception.. because I was 'pretending' to be exactly what I was.

(3)   ..especially for fraudulent gain. – are you gaining anything fraudulently? Of course not. You deserve the ‘gain’ you get, whether it be salary, or knowledge, or experience, or a general sense of personal growth. You’re perfectly entitled to receive all that because that’s what you’ve worked towards.

By breaking it down I hope I’ve at least managed to establish that it’s very hard to ‘just be’ an imposter. By virtue of the definition itself, impostering takes a lot of effort and is not a passive state of being. Those of us who work hard to get to where we are yet suddenly attend class/work one morning and conclude that we are imposters - that’s not how it works at all.

Let's Get Philosophical

We are really two people. We are the person who we currently are, and we are the person who we wish to be. The former is flawed, there are always aspects of us that we’d prefer not to have. Maybe we want to be a stone lighter, or we want to be more confident, read more books, attend the gym more frequently. Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of our current selves that we like, that are good, but we focus more on the ideal version of ourselves. The person who we wish to be is somewhat less of a realistic aspiration, that skinny, active, well-read being who knows everything, is calm in a crisis, attends church every Sunday, and is a fabulous ice-skater. We focus so hard on hiding our insecurities, on wearing Spanx so we can create the illusion of a beautiful figure; on reading up ahead of that meeting so that we feel like we’re more intelligent. We mask. Quite often, by focusing on who we want to be rather than who we are, we create a disconnect between fantasy and reality. That disconnect is where Imposter Syndrome flourishes.

So how do we overcome Imposter Syndrome?

In essence, we stop diagnosing ourselves with it. We accept that it belongs in the same pile as the notion that MMR vaccines cause Autism, it’s just a myth*. We focus on the good in ourselves. There are always improvements that can be made, we never stop learning and we never stop growing, but for now we need to tell ourselves that we are enough.

*Keep reminding yourself that if you break down the definition of the word ‘imposter’, Imposter Syndrome is at its very core a totally nonsensical notion

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