It appears to be more common than the cold amongst creatives, especially women, but why? I know lots of creative people – writers, artists, potters, musicians and performers of all sorts and more. I reckon over half of them suffer with this, even though many of them are very successful in their field of expression.
So what is it this potentially crippling syndrome? The concept seems to have originally come from a 1978 study by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, which focused on high-achieving women. They asserted that “despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”
It’s come to be used across all areas where women feel like charlatans, despite their obvious skill and – often – success. I wonder why though? I can trace my own lack of confidence directly back to a lack of encouragement at home and a lack of demonstrative love. Nothing I did was EVER good enough, especially not for my dad, and no matter how hard I tried to win his approbation, I can never remember a time when it was forthcoming. So, I can see where my feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-esteem come from. Surely not every single person has had this experience though? I have friends who were encouraged and valued, loved and praised. Could it be a deeper malaise, where women in particular, are made to feel inadequate when competing in a man’s world? I suspect there’s definitely a classist element and snobbery in both art and literature in particular, is prevalent. There’s certainly enough prejudice to make a working class woman doubt she is ‘good enough’ to compete in those particular arenas and we know that there is certainly embedded racism. If you’re a black, working class, woman creative, the odds are even greater you might feel diminished baring your creative soul.
I’m hypothesising, of course. I’ve not researched the topic; I’ve not spoken to anyone about it. It’s an issue which has come up in both my art and my writing and I’m aware that many women suffer from it, so I think it might be worth exploring the causes when it is so commonplace among creative ladies. Could imposter syndrome be more to do with society’s sanctioning of our roles? Could it have a deeper more ingrained cause, or are we who suffer all cases for therapy? I’m not seriously suggesting that, but it’s not all that long ago that women were incarcerated in Victorian mental asylums for anything from ‘hard study’, ‘and ‘ obsession’ to non conformity, as well as so much else.
Do men suffer from imposter syndrome? I’d be very interested to know. It may be, as with so much else, that they simply don’t talk about it.
I have no answers here, only questions! My only ‘wisdom’ would be – if you can call it that – that we should seek positive role models in the genres we are creating in. Find those women designers, painters, writers and take inspiration from them. You don’t need anyone to validate what you do, but do seek out like-minded people who can encourage you and provide positive criticism if you want it.
You don’t need to sell a million books to be a writer or sell anything at all. If you are putting pen to paper you’re a writer. The same goes for painting or any other creative activity. We learn as we do. We increase our skills and knowledge with practice. Make sure you’re give yourself the permission and time to exercise your creative muscle. As women we often put other people and other tasks ahead of our own creativity and can be made to feel we’re failing in our ‘duties’ if we spend time on anything viewed as ‘non-essential’. We may even perpetuate this view ourselves, feeling guilty if we’re up to our elbows in paint or clay or words instead of dinner and dishes. Value your creative time. It is as essential to our well-being as exercise, fresh air and good food. As we grow in confidence, we will be more ourselves and, hopefully, less like an imposter in our own lives.
Photo by and orginal art work by Debbie Ross ‘Wave therapy‘