I have a new colleague whose PhD examines Imposter Syndrome in teachers. My twitter feed has been linking me to Imposter Syndrome resources. 2018 seems to have begun on a wave of Imposter Syndrome awareness raising.
So what is it?
Imposter Syndrome is the constant feeling that wherever you are and whatever you do – you’re inadequate. Not good enough, not clever enough, you don’t deserve to be there and sooner or later someone’s going to expose you as the fundamental fake you really are.
Imposter Syndrome is a voice in your head constantly putting you down.
It’s particularly prevalent in higher education research where expectations of expertise don’t always match how you’re feeling inside.
Too easy to feel you’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before others find out too. Sound familiar?
Imposter Syndrome is a mentally destructive condition. If instances are increasing, what’s triggering this explosion of self-doubt and hatred. Why have we fallen out of love with ourselves?
The web is full of suggestions and tools for coping. The affordances of a self-help Internet is one of its benefits but sometimes it feels there’s more bad than good and it’s Internet fuelled social media which is making IS worse.
The social in social media has become all about the image. The social user creates online presence which shows how they want to be seen rather than the reality. Photographs are no longer about the person. Instead, crafted images have become representations of desire, used to project something socially constructed as perfection.
It’s a simulation where the ‘like-ing’ game of hearts and arrows takes on a significance far beyond their red lines and circles. They, like the images they’re attached to, have become what Baudrillard would have recognised as empty signs. The meaning has shifted from the appearance of the sign to what the sign has come to represent.
The idea of presenting ourselves as how we want to be seen is not new. Over 50 years ago Goffman wrote about people as performers. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life he likened us to actors on the stage, dressing up in whatever costumes are appropriate for the different roles we play. Althusser claimed we all have a set of identities which feel comfortable. When we find them it’s like someone hailing us in a busy street; a familiar face and voice, which stands out from the crowd and is comfortable because we know them.
Social media has become the perfect psychological storm.
There are too many stories about young people bullied and suicidal over online behaviour. Living in a heightened state of awareness, mobile devices have become carriers of extreme joy when digital popularity soars or the depths of despair when they’re unliked, arrowed down, or subject to unpleasant status text which spreads like wildfire so it seems the whole world of people you know and those you’ve never met are all against you.
Or the image of you.
Who are you anyway?
Which brings us back to Imposter Syndrome and the feeling you’re not good enough.
In a world of digital image and false representation, we should rename imposter syndrome as Instagram Symptom.
Social media creates loops where signs are no longer symbolic of the real. Instead, they are exchanged for other signs which are empty and self-referential. The social media image shows an untruth, a falsity. It’s a simulation which has moved from being a copy to being a replacement. When Baudrillard wrote about representation in a postmodern world, he claimed simulations are dangerous.
The danger lies here. An obvious falsity such as a famous face dressing up or acting a role still contains a truth. We know it’s pretend. The intention to deceive is apparent. A simulacrum, as Baudrillard described the postmodern world of media simulations, was more than a deception, it signified the destruction of the original which it replaced. The risk we face with digital images is when they become more real than the person arranging, adapting and adjusting them.
Baudrillard died in 2007. Facebook was new (2004) and Twitter still a baby (2006). Many of his ideas were controversial (Gulf War, Twin Towers etc) but his conception of hyper-reality, where fiction is indistinguishable from fact, is scarily true for the phone-talking-while-walking millions for whom social media is the first thing in the morning, the last thing at night and most of the hours in between. Hyper has become the reality of choice.
Just as education doesn’t teach critical digital literacies in the way it teaches text and numbers, we don’t teach visual digital literacy – but we should. Either Imposter Syndrome is increasing or more people are talking about it. Either way, it seems symptomatic of 21st century desires for digital perfection.
We need to remind ourselves we are real people and the real matters more than the fantasy. No matter how beguiling it might appear – it’s a lie!
If you’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome these links might help.
Sakulku1, J. and Alexander, J. (2011) The Impostor Phenomenon International Journal of Behavioral Science 2011, Vol. 6, No.1, 73-92 http://bsris.swu.ac.th/journal/i6/6-6_Jaruwan_73-92.pdf
- Imposter Syndrome
- 7 Coping Strategies to Overcome Impostor Syndrome
- Overcome Impostor Syndrome: What to Do When You Feel Like a Fraud
- Feeling like an impostor? You can escape this confidence-sapping syndrome
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