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What is ‘imposter syndrome’?

Jodie Comer reacts as she wins the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for 'Killing Eve'. REUTERS/Mike Blake

What is ‘imposter syndrome’?

Killing Eve star Jodie Comer has confessed she has suffered from ‘imposter syndrome’ during her rise to fame.

What is ‘imposter syndrome’?

Entering a British acting community that’s dominated by Oxbridge graduates, Comer confessed her Liverpool upbringing made her feel as though she didn’t belong.

Speaking to Glamour magazine, Comer said she thinks feelings of inadequacy are “ingrained in you without you even knowing”.

“I always talk about this imposter syndrome because of where you’re from,” she said.

“It’s like, ‘Well, actually, no. You have as much right to be there as anybody else with any other kind of background. But I think it is a subconscious thing.”

So what exactly is imposter syndrome?

Also known as ‘imposter phenomenon’, imposter syndrome is the feeling that you’re a fraud, and despite how much you succeed, there is always a nagging feeling you are inadequate.

It was first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in 1978. Originally thought to occur more in women, a study by Kumar and Jagacinski (2006) found that both men and women experience imposter syndrome, but they express it differently. Men avoid tasks where they think their inadequacies will be highlighted, women work harder to prove themselves.

It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one struggling to accept your success, but it’s more common than you might think. According to a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70 per cent of people feel this way.

Comer isn’t the only celebrity to feel like an imposter either. Academy Award-winner Kate Winslet has confided that “I’d wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud”.

Emma Watson suffered from imposter syndrome as her star continued to rise. “It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, ‘Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved,’” she told Rookie magazine in 2013.

And Natalie Portman said she felt like a fraud when she was a freshman studying at Harvard. “I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress,” she said.

Imposter syndrome is correlated with high achievers. Despite performing well, the results are never good enough to dampen the fears.

According to Dr Valerie Young, a leading expert on imposter syndrome, if you’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy, you need to work to change your thinking.

“People who don’t feel like imposters are no more qualified than the rest of us,” Young said. “The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like one.”

You can read Dr Young’s tips for overcoming imposter syndrome here

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