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Imposter Syndrome: Who Has all the Answers Anyway?

Updated: May 30, 2023


Just start writing, they say.


But what could I have to say that would matter to anyone?


As a therapist, I hold the stance that I am not the expert – my clients are the ones that know about their lived experiences. I am the one who – with the benefit of some distance from their pain – may have new perspectives to offer, new insight to present, new information to share. But I certainly would never approach therapy with a client assuming that I have the answers to their problems.


There is something about trying to put things in writing that makes it seem like I do think I have the answers though. So then here comes my good friend, Imposter Syndrome, sidling up to me like a drunk guy at a cocktail party, inviting me to question everything there is to question about why I came to this party in the first place!



But I do have some things to say... so this is the place where I will try to do that, at least a little. We’ll see how it goes.


For starters, this imposter syndrome thing. We all have these moments when we forget what we really have to offer the world. When we disregard all our years of training, education, and experience, and it feels like we’re 12-years-old again, trying to fit in with the older kids who KNOW. THINGS. ABOUT. STUFF.


The term “imposter phenomenon” was coined in 1978 by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes in their paper about high achieving women who felt like intellectual ‘phonies.’ In the past decade or so, the colloquial term imposter syndrome has been brought into popular culture, and there has some research to suggest that this experience is more common for women than men. Notably, most of these women were white and from Western cultures – there was no acknowledgement of the role of racism, classism, or xenophobia in the original research, or in most of the studies since that time.


Most recently, Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey wrote a fantastic piece in the Harvard Business Review about why we should stop telling women they have imposter syndrome and acknowledge that the biased systems of patriarchy and white supremacy are, in fact, set up to ensure that women feel less competent than they are. They argue that by labeling an experience ‘imposter syndrome,’ we are blaming the mental health of the individual for their experience rather than recognizing the systems of oppression that make women feel uncertain and fraudulent to begin with. It’s like blaming the receiver of a microaggression for being ‘too sensitive’ rather than acknowledging that microaggressions hurt.


So maybe that’s the trick. When I feel nervous or unsure about what I am putting out into the world, I will try to remember that I was raised in the patriarchy just like everyone else. That just because I have momentary doubts about what I have to offer does not mean that there is nothing of value there. That just as my clients’ lived experiences have value and bestow expertise on them, my own training, education, and experiences bestow that same expertise on me.


And then, I will just start writing.


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