Lack of Achievement and the Mental Health Anomaly of ’Imposter Syndrome’

Joel Eisenberg

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Author’s Note

The words that follow are written in part from the perspective of a former mental health professional with dual training in Abnormal Psychology and Special Education. Though I left the field to become a full-time writer, I have continued my studies in the mental health realm. Attributions for this article are included and linked below.

Introduction

Have you ever thought you were not good enough? Perhaps you have attained a goal or milestone that has been recognized or even lauded by others, though you believe your achievement was fraudulent?

You may be suffering from the mental health anomaly known as Imposter Syndrome.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA): First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

See here for APA article, “Feel Like a Fraud?”

The second large issue with Imposter Syndrome, however, is that is not a diagnosed disorder per the mental health standard, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

The above APA article further states: Though the impostor phenomenon isn't an official diagnosis listed in the DSM, psychologists and others acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Impostor feelings are generally accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression.

The issue is indeed real to those who suffer from such feelings of self-doubt, which often leads to an abject inability to conceptualize self-achievement and, subsequently, feelings of worthlessness and defeatism.

The ‘Imposter Syndrome’ Anomaly

Imposter Syndrome is described here and in psychology circles in general as an anomaly precisely because it is not a DSM-5 diagnosed disorder.

Decades since its original description by Imes and Clance, the imposter phenomenon as they described it has morphed to Imposter Syndrome. See here for Wikipedia entry on Imposter Syndrome, which also makes the following important note: Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve all they have achieved.

It is important to emphasize the beginning of that sentence — Despite external evidence of their competence — which emphasizes the truth of the matter is likely different than the perspective of the sufferer.

As also discussed in the Wikipedia article, in the passage of time since the original description, Imposter Syndrome has since widened its net to include those who were not necessarily high achievers, but anyone who felt inadequate in their abilities.

On Perceptions of Achievement and Failure

The concept of perception, according to Psychology, a 2011 book by Daniel Schacter widely considered an industry standard, is the following: Perception is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the presented information or environment. All perception involves signals that go through the nervous system, which in turn result from physical or chemical stimulation of the sensory system.

Another issue for those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome becomes one of self-perception, specifically, what if one’s senses are somehow disadvantaged? What if one is not receiving the entirety of information necessary to make a proper or prudent judgement?

When these questions are extended to matters of self-achievement and self-worth, it may become clear to the sufferer that perhaps their perceptions are, somehow, off. Though logic itself tends to hold little sway when one suffers from Imposter Syndrome, upon understanding therapies can help in this regard, a sense of hope can return.

See here for Psychology Today article, “Nine Ways to Fight Imposter Syndrome.“ Among the methods listed are to seek a mentor and to teach, both of which are discussed as tools to increase feelings of self-worth.

Conclusion

Though not listed in the DSM-5 as a diagnosed mental health disorder, Imposter Syndrome is largely agreed, in psychology circles, to be a common scourge that impacts both the sufferer, as well as the sufferer’s friends, family, and associates. The phenomenon is frequently accompanied by a lack of self-worth and inability to achieve, and often leads to alienation due to a chronic sense of negativity.

Further aid for Imposter Syndrome is available if self-help fails. As ever, crisis hotlines are available 24 hours, seven days weekly. Note: The below national hotline is also available for those who are not suicidal, but who suffer from mental health-related disorders of any sort and need someone with whom to talk. There is no cost for this service.

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I hope this article has helped. Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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