Sunday, 17 October 2010

Impostor syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is not  a recognised psychological disorder but is well documented and very common, especially among women. Many 'impostors' are perfectionists who struggle to meet their own high standards. There is a common link between perfectionist thinking and anxiety and stress because no-one ever attains absolute perfection.

The 'syndrome' (I hesitate to use the word as it's a term that is much over-used these days)  is one suffered by many teachers.  Teachers are constantly expected to self-evaluate in order to improve. If unchecked, this can slip into self-doubt.

When 'imposter syndrome' becomes so debilitating that you can no longer function normally, there are things you can do to cope. Every person's 'imposter syndrome' is unique, so there is no single one-size-fits-all antidote for it. Here are just a few strategies: 

1. Remember A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.
2. Learn to be OK with the feeling.  It is the nature of high-level work that you do not always feel completely on top of it. Whether it is the sheer volume of work you are managing, the sheer weight of the responsibility, or the sheer complexity of the challenges you keep in your head, if you are working to capacity, you will sometimes feel overwhelmed and "in over your head." Learn to be OK with that feeling.

3. Take a good look at what your imposter syndrome is protecting you from. Is it that you no longer want to continue doing what you have done for years? Stressing about your perceived competence may be more bearable than the underlying truth. For me, the 'truth' was accepting the fact that teaching was no longer the profession I had entered so enthusiastically 20 years earlier. Coping with what I perceived as a steep decline in standards in the delivery of the curriculum and discipline in my school became increasingly unpleasant. Imagining an unknown future outside teaching was absolutely terrifying. (Luckily, chronic ill-health provided me with the perfect 'escape route')

4. Understand that you always have choice. You may not like the choices on offer but, if the stress of being in your particular field at this level is not sustainable for you at this time in your life, work out what needs to change, and change it.

5. Seek support. Everyone needs help: recognise that you can seek assistance and that you don’t have to do everything alone.