Today I was reading through the lovely @tablet_girl's blog when I came across this post where she mentions the concept of "impostor syndrome". It isn't a term I've heard used before but as soon as I read it I knew what she meant. In fact, I feel like it summed up things so well that I decided to blog about it!
I should point out that by impostor syndrome I don't mean Capgras syndrome (a disorder where the sufferer believes that those around them have been replaced by impostors) but the feeling that one is an impostor and doesn't deserve their successes and achievements. There's a totally unscientific but quite useful page on Wikipedia which explains it nicely.
Like Tablet Girl I've had low self esteem since the year dot. In fact, I think I mentioned it in my first mental health related post, The Real Confession back in January. I don't recall any reason for my lack of self belief. I was bullied at secondary school and I have no doubt that this made the problem worse, but I recall feeling inadequate years before that. I remember as a fairly young child (maybe 6 or 7) watching some sort of Pride of Britain type programme and feeling that nothing I could ever achieve in life would really be worth much because I hadn't encountered enough adversity. Ever since then, I've been plagued by feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. I brush off any compliments because I don't feel like I deserve them. Any successes I have are either flukes or not "proper" achievements for whatever reason. At uni, I was terrified that someone would one day "discover" that I wasn't really good enough to be there and would kick me out. In relationships I'm constantly convinced that once my friends or boyfriends know what I'm "really like" they'll have no interest in me any more.
There is only one thing which perhaps contributed to my slipping into this way of thinking. I don't know if it really has anything to do with it, but it's the only thing I can think of at the moment. I've always been aware that both of my parents grew up in relatively "poor" families - single parent, financially insecure, struggling to make ends meet. In comparison, my parents are happily married, my Dad has always had a decent job and although we've had to be careful, there has never been a time that food was scarce or bills couldn't be paid. I've often felt guilty for this. I am no more deserving than either of my parents, or indeed the many millions of people globally who live in poverty. It was a stroke of luck (my Grandma would've said "by the grace of God") that I was born into a fairly financially secure family. I'm not sure how this translated in my head as my achievements being less worthy, but certainly a part of me has always felt that my degree would be more impressive if I'd come from a less well off background (or something else "bad" had happened - serious illness, losing a parent etc). It is not logical, I don't even really understand it, yet I feel it.
I suspect it is as a "side-effect" of this guilt that I do not value my own successes highly. Objectively, I know I've worked hard to get where I am, but I still feel undeserving. After all, it was only luck/chance that gave me the intellect to pursue this career. I'm sure there are lots of people who would love to go to university etc but no matter how hard they work will not succeed academically. It seems unfair that my hard work results in such praise just because it results in a qualification/publication/degree. Similarly, I recently found out I passed my final medical school exams. My parents, naturally, are very proud and feel that I ought to change all my accounts, credit cards etc to say "Dr" rather than "Miss". In their words, I "deserve it". To me, it's just a qualification. Yes, I worked hard, and yes, I passed, but did I do anything more than teachers or lawyers or accountants? Not really, and they don't get to parade around a fancy title.
As I feel that I don't deserve my successes and my achievements in life are purely down to luck, it follows fairly reasonably that I feel like I haven't really achieved anything of worth and therefore must not actually be good enough to do what I do. Having no worthy achievements means, of course, that I must have only got my jobs etc through luck or deception, and at some point someone is going to realise their mistake and tell me to go away.
I'm not sure that this makes an awful lot of sense, but I felt like it might be useful to try to work out where these feelings come from so that I can attempt to change them.