What is (and Do You Have) Imposter Syndrome?
Do you have a constant feeling of self doubt or fraudulence despite evidence to the contrary? You may have a very common condition: Imposter syndrome. In today’s Not Crazy podcast, we discuss what this syndrome is and why so many people feel like they are swindling others with their personal success.
What is the difference between imposter syndrome and negative self-talk? And how can we start thinking more positively about ourselves? Join us for a great discussion. Click on the player below to listen now!
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About The Not Crazy podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Lisa is the producer of the Psych Central podcast, Not Crazy. She is the recipient of The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Above and Beyond” award, has worked extensively with the Ohio Peer Supporter Certification program, and is a workplace suicide prevention trainer. Lisa has battled depression her entire life and has worked alongside Gabe in mental health advocacy for over a decade. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband; enjoys international travel; and orders 12 pairs of shoes online, picks the best one, and sends the other 11 back.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Imposter Syndrome” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Lisa: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast hosted by my ex-husband, who has bipolar disorder. Together, we created the mental health podcast for people who hate mental health podcasts.
Gabe: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this episode of the Not Crazy podcast. I am your host, Gabe Howard, and with me is always is Lisa Kiner.
Lisa: Hey, everyone, today’s quote is The exaggerated esteem in which my life work is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler. And that was said by Albert Einstein.
Gabe: Can you believe that Albert Einstein apparently had confidence issues?
Lisa: I was pretty shocked by that, yeah, his name is literally a synonym for genius, and yet he still had insecurity. We’re all doomed.
Lisa: If this dude is insecure, we’re all doomed. We’re doomed. There’s no way.
Gabe: Lisa, what we want to talk about is imposter syndrome and what that quote kinda says to me is a little bit of maybe insecurity or maybe even humility. Do you think that Albert Einstein suffered from imposter syndrome or is he just, like, shocked at his success? Or is it one in the same?
Lisa: I don’t know that you can diagnose neuroses or psychological problems to people you don’t know, especially people that are long dead, but no, based on the quote and the
quote alone definite impostor syndrome,
Lisa: Because he said the part about he feels like he’s swindling people. He’s conning people.
Gabe: Perhaps we should establish exactly what impostor syndrome is and how it differs from humility or even lack of confidence or.
Lisa: Well, we have a definition from the APA. Imposter syndrome or imposter phenomenon is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity or fraudulence, despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. So basically, you’re good, but you don’t think you are.
Gabe: I have imposter syndrome.
Lisa: So, do I. Wow, like big time.
Gabe: I don’t know that you have imposter syndrome. Lisa, not.
Lisa: Well, but see, that’s the point, right? Kind of like how you think I’m a bad liar. Am I?
Gabe: I just I don’t know what to say to that, it’s one of the things that you say to me all the time is why are you worried?
Lisa: Yeah. Going back to our definition, the imposter phenomena is often accompanied by mood disorders like anxiety or depression, and some studies have found it can actually be a predictor of anxiety or depression.
Gabe: Well, so which is it? Do you have anxiety, do you have depression? Do you have imposter syndrome? Do you have all three?
Lisa: Impostor syndrome isn’t a DSM thing.
Gabe: Really? It’s not? So, you can’t be diagnosed with imposter syndrome?
Lisa: No, it’s just something we all talk about.
Gabe: But it has syndrome in it, it sounds scary.
Lisa: Use phenomenon then. Maybe that’ll make you feel better.
Gabe: Fine, it has phenomenon in it, it sounds scary, I think this is my opinion that most people think that impostor syndrome is like a real thing that you can get from your doctor and that there’s a treatment for it or therapy. But you’re saying it’s really just more of a discussion point or a concept.
Lisa: Yes, it’s more of a colloquialism,
Lisa: And most people think that? I don’t think most people think that. Have you ever heard of someone being diagnosed with imposter syndrome?
Gabe: But it’s a well understood concept that people feel that they’re frauds. Maybe that’s a better term. Like, I often feel like I’m a fraud. For example, when people come up to me and they say, Gabe, you’re an expert in my brain, I think, no, I’m not. I’m not an expert in anything. What are you talking about? I’m nothing. I’m nobody. Why are you talking to me? And yet here we are. We have this show. I’m the host of The Psych Central Podcast. People pay me to do stuff, which is the definition, I guess, of professional or I guess people think I’m an expert. But even as I’m talking about this, I’m trying to talk people out of it. Hey, hey. I’m nobody. And all of those people that have hired me throughout the years are probably really wishing they could get those checks
Lisa: Yeah, thank you for telling them that, Gabe, that’s certainly going to help business.
Gabe: I understand that that’s not good marketing. But at the same time, I’m like, I don’t know what makes me any better than anybody else, but there has to be something.
Lisa: Why? Why does there have to be something? Maybe you’re not better than anybody else? Whoa, gotcha.
Gabe: No, you don’t get me, I agree with you, but at the same time, I’m here and other people aren’t, there’s only one host.
Lisa: Everyone is going to need to go back and listen to the negative self-talk episode and yes, this is something I already knew about you, that you very much feel this way and it seems to go with a self-esteem thing. I don’t know that you truly have an imposter syndrome as you just have a lack of confidence. And we talked in that episode about how that doesn’t really make sense because it goes so against your public persona of having all this confidence. People would say you’re on stage or in front of people. You’re talking to groups. How could you lack self-confidence? You’re projecting all of this confidence. You look like you’re comfortable. You look like you belong there.
Gabe: You know, it sucks, I just realized that impostor syndrome and negative self-talk are the exact same episode.
Lisa: See, I have to disagree. I think it’s totally a different thing.
Gabe: Why do you think it’s a different thing? So, I’m not even sold on the episode that we are currently recording. Lisa, convince me that impostor syndrome and negative self-talk are separate. I don’t understand the difference.
Lisa: The thing that makes it different is the fraud aspect of it, the part where you’re sitting there and you’re doing it and yet you feel like you’re conning all of the people around you, you feel like you don’t belong. You don’t actually feel that way when you’re
on stage. You may think to yourself, I’m not good at this. This sucks. I don’t deserve to be paid for this, etc. But you feel like you belong. You feel like this is your place. When you’re talking to other people in the industry or whatever, you don’t feel like you’re the odd one out. You feel like you can go toe to toe with these people and talk intelligently.
Gabe: That’s true, I feel that I’m very qualified because I’ve worked exceptionally hard. I think there’s somebody better.
Lisa: Well, there’s always somebody better. You don’t need to think that I’m sure there’s somebody better.
Gabe: I do not feel that I’m a fraud. People get excellent value for their money, I mean, I can see it in the audience. I hear people laughing. I hear people responding.
Gabe: I can read my own emails. I even when we talk about, like podcasting, et cetera, I know that people are getting good value for their listening time because, well, they could just turn us off and the podcast is free. We don’t charge for it so.
Lisa: I really identified with this, the more I read about it, I thought, oh my, I have this.
Gabe: Let’s talk about that, why do you think that you have this? It’s confusing, right?
Lisa: No, it’s not confusing at all.
Gabe: No, it’s confusing to me because, like, you’re my rock, you’re the one that gives me confidence. So how can you lack confidence?
Lisa: Maybe because I’m really good at giving you confidence, and yet you suck at giving me confidence. Have we looked into that? Maybe the real problem is that I’m very encouraging and supportive. And you’re not
Gabe: Maybe the real problem is that Lisa Kiner is the Gabe Howard sidekick, so therefore Gabe Howard cannot be the Lisa Kiner sidekick. I mean, Robin backs up Batman. Batman doesn’t back up Robin. It’s not Robin and Batman.
Lisa: He does in Young Justice.
Gabe: I don’t even know what you’re talking about.
Lisa: I just got DC Universe, you should really get it, it’s awesome, although again, Marvel so much better than DC. Not the point. The point is I really very much identified with this. And it was interesting to me that they’re also talking about this was first described by psychologists in the 1970s, specifically surrounding women, saying that their female clients seemed unable to internalize and accept their achievements instead, in spite of consistent objective data to the contrary, they attribute their success to serendipity, luck, contacts, timing, perseverance, charm, or even the ability to act more capable than they felt themselves to be. I am all the time sitting in like a meeting or something and thinking, Wow, I don’t belong here. I am different from all of these people. All of these people are in the group, they’re in the club, and I’m not in the club. And I am unable to permeate the club. I am unable to get into the club.
Gabe: But you are in the club because you’re at the table.
Lisa: No, I don’t even understand the membership requirements for the club, I got no idea what I’m doing there. And I think the other thing that makes it is this idea that you’re waiting to be found out. You’re waiting for other people to point out that you don’t belong. And how do you get beyond that? You have to go way over the top, overachieve like there’s no tomorrow.
Gabe: It’s interesting to me that you tabled it as being a woman, a woman in the workplace. The phrase that you hear is you have to work twice as hard to get half as much.
Lisa: Exactly, yes.
Gabe: Is that part of all of this in your mind and does it correlate over to people with depression, anxiety and mental health issues, feeling that they too have to work twice as hard to get any iota of respect out of their friends and families, et cetera?
Lisa: Yes, yes.
Gabe: So, aren’t we right back to this is just negative self-talk?
Lisa: No, it’s different. Research on this has shown that it’s most pervasive across minorities and women, and it’s about you’re different in some way from the majority of your peers, you’re a different race, a different gender, a different age, different sexual identity. Some characteristic makes you feel like you don’t belong. You don’t fit in with the group. And it’s not that much to jump to I’m a fraud. The thing that I thought was really interesting is that this is common in individuals who are not expected to succeed, for example, disadvantaged groups.
Gabe: Or like people living with mental illness or suffering from a mental health challenge.
Lisa: Right, yeah, that’s what I’m saying, you have all of society telling you that you can’t do it, you’re not going to make it, you don’t belong. It’s not really shocking that people start to believe it. You’re going to like this example. All right, people with a blue-collar background. Parents may withhold encouragement because their children’s ambitions are inconsistent with family expectations.
Gabe: Oh, my God, I get to blame my parents? This is my parents’ fault.
Lisa: No, if you’re sitting around at your blue-collar table saying, I’m going to be a doctor, I’m going to be a university professor, I’m going to be the president. No, you’re not. No, you’re not. You’re going to be a fill in the blank waitress, truck driver, something more I don’t want to say attainable, but maybe more mainstream, something more obvious. So
then let’s say you are in fact, the one who does it. You are the one who becomes a doctor. Well, you don’t feel like you fit in because after all doctors, they come from this whole other stratosphere. They come from this whole other world. You know what? I think a lot of this is for me, actually, I grew up in a rural area. Right. And I often feel like I just don’t fit in with city folk.
Gabe: You actually say stuff like that.
Lisa: Well, I can’t help that you all act weird.
Gabe: You also say things like, I like to eat yuppie food.
Lisa: I do. I love yuppie food. As a people, they’re annoying, but their food is amazing.
Gabe: But you’re a yuppie, you live in a yuppie neighborhood, you even
Lisa: I know. I don’t belong.
Gabe: You even do yuppie things like eat at yuppie restaurants and like everything about you screams yuppie. But you say, well, I’m not them.
Lisa: Exactly, because I don’t feel like I am.
Gabe: How do you figure? What about you makes you not a stereotypical yuppie? Which, by the way, I think is hipster now.
Lisa: I think I might be too old to be a hipster. I think you have to be under 30 to be a hipster.
Gabe: So, what is a middle-aged woman?
Lisa: I’m not middle aged, I’m just
Lisa: Not young.
Gabe: You think you’re going to live to be 90?
Lisa: That’s my goal.
Gabe: No, over 90, I guess, because if you’re not middle aged, you’re going to have to be over 90, you’re going to have to die at 95, I guess.
Lisa: Really? You’re of the opinion that I’m 47, really?
Lisa: F you, Gabe. F you.
Gabe: Sorry, how old are you?
Lisa: You’re killing me.
Gabe: We’re the same age.
Lisa: How old do you think you are?
Gabe: I thought I was 45.
Lisa: No. Oh, my God, do math, you are not 45.
Lisa: Oh, for God’s sakes.
Gabe: Am I? How?
Lisa: This is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.
Gabe: I, see I can’t even get my age right, and you want me to have reasonable expectations of those around me? I understand what you’re saying because I, too, am much more comfortable in, like, jeans and a T-shirt with loud music than I am wearing a suit. There’s no reason I can’t wear a suit. I can afford a suit. I live in a neighborhood where people wear suits. My wife, she wears nice clothes. I understand what you’re saying about how things are incongruent. I grew up in this culture, so therefore I need to stay in this culture,
Lisa: Right, well, it’s not that you need to stay, it’s that that’s where you belong and that’s where you feel comfortable.
Gabe: But there’s a difference between feeling comfortable around something and feeling like you don’t belong somewhere. That’s the part that’s interesting to me because what you’re saying is, is that because you don’t feel comfortable in a room with a bunch of people wearing suits and gowns, that that must mean you don’t belong there.
Lisa: Sometimes, yeah.
Gabe: I don’t feel comfortable rolling around in the mud, but I don’t think that I don’t belong there. I just I just choose not to roll around in mud.
Lisa: That’s a very odd analogy.
Gabe: I’m just trying to give us an example of something that’s easy to do. Some people like to do things that are dirty, you know, gardening, or sports, you know, where you get all sweaty and messy or, you know, my grandfather, he enjoys construction work. Like it’s fun for him building things. And I mean, like building big things, rooms on to houses, digging giant holes. That is filthy and disgusting work as far as I’m concerned. But I don’t
think that I don’t belong. I’m capable of doing it. I just don’t want to. So why is the reverse true? That because I don’t like to be clean and wear a suit and be in a room full of, like, snotty piano music that I feel that I’m faking or that I don’t belong.
Lisa: Because you feel like the people around you are having a different thought process, that the people around you don’t feel the same way that you do. They all feel like they belong. They all feel like this is their environment. They don’t feel out of place.
Gabe: It just seems like you’re saying that people with mental health issues have imposter syndrome because after all, everybody else is normal and they’re different, so therefore they don’t belong. But why don’t all the people with cancer have imposter syndrome? If you are a person who has cancer, the majority of the people you know don’t have cancer. So, do they all have imposter syndrome when they’re around a bunch of healthy people?
Lisa: Why do you keep dragging this back to people with mental illness? You have this very narrow focus on, oh, people with mental illness feel like impostors. This is its own psychological phenomenon. This is applying to lots of groups. It’s not just people with mental illness. You can expand outwards from there.
Gabe: I mean, we are a mental health podcast.
Lisa: Well, but this is in and of itself a psychological thing, so it fits with the rubric of the show.
Gabe: I think what you’re saying is, is that everybody feels this way and that if you are a person living with a mental illness and you’re feeling this way, that there’s better than average odds that you may have felt this way no matter what,
Lisa: Yeah, actually.
Gabe: Even if you have no mental health issues, if you don’t have depression, if you don’t have anxiety, there’s better than average odds that your best friend, your mom, your sister, your brother, all of these other people are experiencing imposter syndrome as
well, just about something different, maybe because of their gender, their race, their job, their socioeconomic status, culture, where they came from.
Lisa: We’re all actually sitting around feeling the same thing and assuming the wrong thing about the people around us. That’s what impostor syndrome is. It’s this assumption that other people are thinking differently than you, which is to be fair, probably not true. If you look up all these stats about imposter syndrome, it’s ridiculously high. I mean, if like 70 percent of the room feels like, oh, I don’t belong here, then clearly you personally are not the imposter. No one is the impostor. We all belong.
Gabe: But how do we figure that out? I mean, should we just wander around telling people, hey, I don’t think I belong here, can you prove to me that I do?
Lisa: Well, maybe. I mean, is there someone whose opinion you would trust?
Lisa: A mentor or someone whose expertise you rely on? You could ask them,
Gabe: I mean, I.
Lisa: You could make a list of your accomplishments, I guess.
Gabe: But why doesn’t that work? I think we all got hired, isn’t that an accomplishment?
Lisa: Yeah, good point.
Gabe: You gave the example of the job, 70 percent of the workforce. That was your exact thing, 70 percent of the workforce can’t not belong.
Lisa: One random study I read.
Gabe: No, I think that’s a great example and you’re saying, hey, look at the facts that you do belong. Isn’t the very fact that somebody hired you and giving you money enough?
What more proof do you need that you belong than the very fact that somebody chose you and paid you to be there?
Lisa: But you tricked them. That’s the point, you are an imposter, the word imposter in and of itself implies malice. It implies fraud. It implies that you did it on purpose. So, there’s this feeling that you are inherently bad in some way because you’ve tricked the people around you.
Gabe: In general, I feel very highly of the people around me, I want to be at their table, I want them to listen to me. And quite frankly, I think that much of mental health advocacy would be in a much better position if they listened to me, because I work so very, very, very, very, very, very hard to make sure that everything I want is backed up by something external, largely because nobody should trust Gabe’s opinion, because Gabe is worthless. So, you should trust this other opinion, which is generally based on studies, on fact. It’s why I get so angry at the anti-psychiatry movement, for example, that just make stuff up. They just make stuff up. It’s why I get angry at the pharmaceutical companies when they’re just like, hey, we believe this is the mechanism. No, no, this is my life. You have to do more than I just believe. How come those industries don’t have imposter syndrome?
Lisa: They do. What makes you think they don’t?
Gabe: Really? You think the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry is sitting around saying, hey, we’re faking it?
Lisa: No, the individuals in the room are saying that to themselves, it’s not about a grouping, it’s about an individual sitting among others, feeling that they don’t belong. I don’t think you understand this at all. You are just not getting this.
Gabe: I don’t.
Lisa: I don’t know that I can even explain it.
Gabe: Try it again, explain it to me like I’m a five-year-old. Lisa, what is impostor
Lisa: I think that maybe you don’t actually have imposter syndrome because like you were talking just now, oh, I’m at the table and I want to talk and I feel like people should listen to my ideas because they’re better than the other ideas that are floating around there. No, if you actually had imposter syndrome, you’re afraid to speak out of fear that your ideas will be revealed to be frauds, that you will be revealed to be fake, to not belong. You can’t open your mouth because then everyone will know that you’re an idiot, that you don’t have the expertise to be there.
Gabe: Well, here’s the good news, then, you do not have impostor syndrome,
Gabe: You once got thrown out of a meeting because you wouldn’t stop talking, you literally yelled at an old lady.
Lisa: That was a mistake.
Gabe: Well, then, I mean, but.
Lisa: I do feel badly about that. That was an error.
Gabe: Do you have imposter syndrome or not?
Lisa: Not on that day, and incidentally, I was right, I. We don’t need to go down that road, OK? I was right. She was wrong. Admittedly, I shouldn’t have done it in exactly that way. But I was still right.
Gabe: She literally said, can I have a moment to explain my point of view, and you said no, because it is stupid.
Lisa: No, I said no and kept talking, but what I told you later is you said, look, you really need to calm and listen to what she has to say. And I said I didn’t need to listen to what
she had to say because I knew what she was going to say and it was going to be stupid so we could just skip the whole thing. On that particular day, I was not feeling like an imposter.
Gabe: Yeah, the problem is you were sitting in a room with 20 people, the other 18 people didn’t know what she was going to say.
Lisa: Well, I saved them from that. That was not an example of this, but I have examples. I made a list.
Lisa: OK, do you remember years ago we went to that convention for a prominent mental health charity and they were having a thing about fundraising. And I thought, I want to hear that. I want to see that. I want to learn. I’m just going to be as inconspicuous as possible. I’m going to go in, I’m going to sit in the back of the room. I’m not going to say anything. I’m going to write down as much as I can and get as much out of this as I can because I desperately need this knowledge.
Gabe: I remember this.
Lisa: Because I need to fundraise and I am way in over my head, I don’t know what I’m doing, I desperately need someone to give me fundraising information. And the longer I sat there, I thought, oh, my God, I could teach this class. It was really illuminating. I thought, wow, I walked in here thinking, wow, I am way over my head. I cannot handle this fundraiser. This is going to be awful. Everything is going to go terrible. And the longer I sat there, the more I thought, wow, I am super qualified. I am so ready for this.
Gabe: But is this an example of imposter syndrome or just not realizing that you’ve leveled up?
Lisa: That’s the same thing.
Gabe: Is it?
Lisa: Yeah, because the whole idea is that there’s evidence to the contrary, there’s evidence that you belong there, that you are sitting among a group of your peers, but you don’t believe it. You don’t accept it. You don’t see it.
Gabe: But in that example that you gave, what evidence did you reject? Did you say, hey, I want to take this introductory to fundraising class? And I said, oh, no, Lisa, you are much higher level than that. And you said, oh, no, no, no, no, I’m not. No, you just you read the description and you thought, oh, hey, excellent, I need this information. And then you went in and realized you already had it. That doesn’t sound like impostor syndrome to me. Just a mistake.
Lisa: No, because back home we were working on the fundraiser and I always felt overwhelmed, I always felt like I didn’t know what to do next. I was at a complete loss. The fundraiser was doomed. I didn’t belong. They needed someone else to do this job. They needed someone who would, in fact, be able to accomplish the task, who was more qualified than me. I didn’t know what I was doing. There were other people out there who would have been a better choice. Yet here I was with all this potential to let everyone down. And then I realized, huh, I am a good choice. And the fundraiser went great. Record high numbers, still haven’t been beat. Yea us.
Gabe: But this is an example of where I’m great. I mean, I was in charge of the fundraiser, you just followed me and did what I said. Your knowledge all came for me. So, are you still the imposter? Would you be able to do that without me?
Lisa: Not then, I would be able to now, yeah. You don’t think I could run a fundraiser now without you? Really? Really? I’m not saying that you wouldn’t do a better job. You’re much better at getting people all roused up. But really, you don’t think I could run a fundraiser right this second?
Gabe: I mean.
Lisa: Wow. Thanks, Gabe, thanks.
Gabe: You, you have, what’s the word I’m looking for?
Lisa: I’m an excellent fundraiser.
Gabe: An abrasive personality.
Lisa: That’s not what it takes, it’s about persistence.
Gabe: It is about persistence, you are right, and that is an excellent skill set that you do have. The reality is, and I’ve said this a million times, if we’re looking at the fundraising example that you gave my personality and your follow up, they’re invaluable. Your follow up without my personality, there’s not much to follow up on. My personality without your follow up, I’m leaving money on the table. I’m literally I always say to people, when people are like, hey, what’s Lisa do? I’m like, you know, all those promises that I make to everybody as I’m walking through the conferences, I’m on stage, as I’m Lisa fulfills all of those promises, 100 percent of them,
Gabe: Because I forget.
Lisa: That’s why I have a notebook.
Gabe: But it’s understandable. How on earth can I stand in a room full of a thousand people, promise 50 of them I’m going to do something and take zero notes, walk off that stage and then do it all. It’s literally impossible.
Lisa: I know. It’s almost like you should be taking notes of some kind.
Gabe: But could you imagine that presentation, you know, just oh, yes. Lisa, thank you. All right, hang on a second. Scribble, scribble, scribble, scribble, scribbles, scribble. All right, next question.
Lisa: Ok, well, I would ask them to save all questions until the end, because I might
cover the information later, not the point. Focus. Imposter syndrome. I don’t think you’re getting it. The idea is that you feel, you, the individual, feel overwhelmed, feel like you don’t belong, and you think that everyone around you does not feel that way. Everyone around you feels perfectly comfortable. They know what they’re doing. You’re the only one who doesn’t.
Gabe: I guess I’m confused by that, too, so what you’re saying is that you’re in a room with 10 people and you think you suck, but you think that the other nine people have the perfect amount of confidence.
Lisa: It’s not about confidence, they literally have something to back it up, they have the perfect amount of skills or ability.
Gabe: But don’t they?
Lisa: Probably, yeah, that’s the point, imposter syndrome, I feel like I don’t have it, but all the people around me do.
Gabe: But how do they feel?
Lisa: Well, according to various research, they feel the same way as me, they also feel like they don’t belong and don’t have the skills, but in my mind, they feel fine. In the mind of the person with imposter syndrome everybody else doesn’t have it. Everybody else feels like they belong. And it’s not unreasonable to think that everybody else feels like they belong because some people do, in fact, belong in this world. The example you gave earlier about maybe being upper class or the suits or something. There are plenty of people who grew up like that. There are plenty of people who grow up in an upper-class environment and who are comfortable in that world.
Gabe: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Lisa: And we’re back trying to get Gabe to understand that low self-esteem and imposter syndrome are not the same thing.
Gabe: But isn’t imposter syndrome sort of a superpower because doesn’t it kind of drive you to work harder and to learn more and to be better? Isn’t it kind of a back door positive? Like, isn’t that good?
Lisa: Some people think so, the whole idea of, oh, you need to work twice as hard to be considered, half as good. Well, that inspires you to work really hard.
Gabe: Right, yeah, but that’s you’re saying something completely different, working twice as hard to be considered half as good is a different problem. I’m saying if you work twice as hard and the people around you are perceiving you as knowing twice as much, isn’t that a net positive?
Lisa: But you don’t think that.
Gabe: Yeah, but who cares what you think?
Lisa: The imposter syndrome cares. You said the people around you think the following thing about you, you don’t think that. You think the people around you don’t think that about you.
Gabe: Right, you’re missing my point. Pay attention to my words. I understand that if you
work twice as hard and the people around you think that you’re worth half as much, that’s a problem. But what if you work twice as hard, you think you’re worth half as much, but the people around you give you the exact amount of credit that you’re due? Which is twice as much because you work twice as hard. Isn’t that a net gain?
Lisa: Well, how do you define gain? Is that a gain to your performance or your pay or how?
Lisa: You’re doing in the real world? Yeah, sure, yes.
Gabe: All the people around you think that you’re the best.
Lisa: Yes, but you don’t think that.
Gabe: But who cares,
Lisa: You care.
Gabe: Let’s say that LeBron James thinks that he’s the worst basketball player in the world, so he works really, really, really, really hard and he breaks all these records. Now, he still thinks that he’s the worst basketball player in the world, but because he worked so hard, he now owns all the records and wins the title.
Gabe: Well, that isn’t that a superpower? Isn’t then the secret of LeBron James’ success the fact that he has imposter syndrome? Because that’s what let him beat all the records. And I’d like to point out that everybody unanimously agrees all around him that he is, in fact, the best. That’s why he won the basket Super Bowl.
Lisa: I believe that is what it’s called,
Gabe: Yeah, I’m positive that’s the name.
Lisa: Ok, you are not LeBron James, but apply this to your own life. You’re saying, well, isn’t it a superpower? Isn’t this a good thing? Because look at all these accomplishments he has. Yeah, but he doesn’t feel good about them. Look at all the accomplishments you have. You don’t feel good about it.
Gabe: Yeah, I don’t feel good about it. I’m never going to feel good about it, I have mental illness,
Lisa: Right, exactly.
Gabe: But let’s put that aside for a moment, you recognize that I’ve made it further in the mental health advocacy industry as a patient than almost anybody. In fact, the only people that you can name that beat me were famous when they started out. Patrick Kennedy, he’s ahead of me. But, you know, he’s a Kennedy. So, yeah, I.
Lisa: Ok, and so when you say, isn’t that good, isn’t that a good thing? Is it a good thing in your life? Has it brought you happiness? Has it brought you joy?
Gabe: Yeah, but nothing brings me happiness, nothing brings me joy, so I might as well be successful, at least to other people.
Lisa: Well, I’m just saying, why are you all like, oh, well, doesn’t this work out great for LeBron James? I don’t know. I don’t know LeBron James, but it hasn’t worked out great for you.
Gabe: But hasn’t it? I mean, I do, in fact, have resources that give me access to medical care and housing and it would you be my friend if I had zero money, zero accomplishment, zero jobs and I was homeless? I mean, I’m being serious. You say that.
Well, Gabe, it hasn’t worked out for you. But the very reason that we’re friends is because I can pay my own way. I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t shower for six months and I lived under a bridge, we’d stop hanging out. So, my success has worked out for me in some ways in that it has kept you as my friend.
Lisa: One, you’re really making me sound horrible here. Really? That’s the example, the road you went down? But ignoring that
Gabe: Nobody else is on the show. I mean, who else am I going to ask?
Lisa: It depends on how you define success. Does LeBron James define success as beating all the records or does he define success as being happy with himself? How do you define success?
Gabe: Well, we have a real problem in society on how to define success. For example, if you’re homeless and happy, we don’t consider you successful. But if you work 80 hours a week for minimum wage and you live in an apartment with 27 roommates and the corporation that you work for is OK with you breaking every bone in your body and not providing you health insurance, we think that you are successful because after all, you’re working.
Lisa: Ok, no.
Gabe: We think you’re beating the guy with the homeless.
Lisa: Well, yes, I suppose we could set up a hierarchy of success, but in general, we do not feel that that person is a successful.
Gabe: Well, we’re not giving health insurance to either one of them.
Lisa: You are totally not getting this.
Gabe: I’m not. I don’t understand it,
Lisa: I don’t know how to explain this.
Gabe: It just seems like a fancy word for low self-esteem.
Lisa: It is. That’s certainly part of it, but it’s more complicated, there’s more to it, it’s not just having a low opinion of yourself, it’s having a false belief in what other people are thinking about anything, but specifically about you.
Gabe: Isn’t that what low self-esteem is? The reason my self-esteem is so low is because everybody hates me. Now, I haven’t polled everybody. I have no proof that everybody hates me. It’s kind of nonsense to think that anybody gives a shit about me at all, let alone just devolve into hate. But I believe it. I believe it. People ask me like Gabe, why do you think that people listen to your show? And I was like, so they can hate me.
Gabe: Like really
Gabe: Like what nonsense.
Lisa: Do you ever, do you ever go someplace and feel like you don’t belong? Ever?
Gabe: Yeah, constantly, any place I have to wear a suit.
Lisa: You’re sitting at the metaphorical table with everyone, you have ideas, you want to share them, you are frustrated that other people aren’t listening because you think your ideas are good and will be well received.
Gabe: I do feel that I belong at those tables, but for example, I went to a restaurant with my wife for our anniversary. It was one of those fancy restaurants where when you get up, they fold your napkin. I didn’t feel like I belonged there at all. And in fact, I was so paranoid that the waiter was going to judge me. Keep in mind, I could afford to eat there.
I was wearing my tailored suit. I valeted my Lexus. I was there with my wife on our eighth anniversary, and I was afraid that the waiter would look down on me because I couldn’t pronounce the name of one of the foods. The waiter was a good guy. As soon as I pointed at it and I said, Sir, I can’t pronounce this. He said, Oh, I couldn’t pronounce it until I worked here either. We had a great time, but why did I feel so shitty?
Lisa: Well, that is impostor syndrome, apply that outwards,
Gabe: I think it’s low self-esteem.
Lisa: You don’t have to have it 100 percent of the time, it’s situational.
Gabe: I have situational imposter syndrome?
Lisa: Everybody has situational imposter syndrome. There has to be somewhere where you feel like you belong and fit in it, even it’s the gutter.
Gabe: If everybody has imposter syndrome, doesn’t that mean that nobody has imposter syndrome?
Lisa: No, because we’re describing a psychological phenomenon. Not everybody has imposter syndrome. The point is that a lot of people do, and again, the majority of the world are not, in fact, perpetuating a fraud, 70 percent of the American workplace is not tricking the people around them. Otherwise, every business would collapse. Therefore, many of us are having a cognitive distortion. Therefore, you are, in fact, just as good as your boss is telling you. And you do belong.
Gabe: What is it, if you know that you’re fraud, you’re not qualified for the job, but you were elected for it? What’s it called then?
Lisa: You honestly don’t seem to get this at all.
Gabe: I don’t not at all.
Lisa: Is there something I’m not saying something I could be saying that would help?
Gabe: I just think it’s exactly the same as low self-esteem.
Lisa: It’s not the same as low self-esteem. OK, how about this? Do you think I have low self-esteem?
Lisa: Right, right, and the answer, incidentally, is no, I do not, I think very well of myself.
Gabe: Yeah, you think way too highly of yourself, but then then how do you have imposter syndrome?
Gabe: Because you honestly believe that you are better than everybody in the room.
Lisa: But how are we defining better, right? I do not have a problem with looking at people in power and or so-called authorities and thinking, yea you’re wrong. That is true.
Gabe: But what qualifies you to declare that they’re wrong?
Lisa: Well, look at it this way. You don’t have that problem when it comes to mental illness.
Gabe: Right, that’s my area of expertise.
Lisa: Ok, but most of America, because obviously when there’s some sort of blatant societal problem, clearly most people are OK with it or it wouldn’t exist. Clearly, most Americans are OK with homelessness existing or else it wouldn’t exist.
Gabe: That’s fair.
Lisa: Well, yeah, because otherwise we’d do something about it and fix it. If people really were bothered by it, it wouldn’t be there. So, are you OK with looking at, I don’t know, the governor or senator or something and saying, hey, you’re wrong, you are wrong about this issue? Your morals on this are poor. You are wrong. You don’t have this problem with anything related to mental health or mental illness. You think the way that society treats people with mental illness is terrible. And it is.
Gabe: But I’m an expert in this, I have a lot of information, this is a decade of my life.
Lisa: But that means you’re going against the, quote, authorities. Right?
Gabe: No, no, no, I don’t have a problem with you going against authority, I have a problem with you going against an expert. You’re not an expert. They are. That’s what I have the problem with. You think it’s about authority. It’s not about authority.
Lisa: Ok, so let’s talk about homelessness is a good example, should I listen to, I don’t know, the speaker of the Ohio House or should I listen to you?
Gabe: Did the speaker of the Ohio House ever say that homelessness was not a problem?
Lisa: He didn’t do anything about it.
Gabe: That’s not what I asked. If the speaker of the Ohio House releases a statement that says, in my expert opinion, as a politician, homelessness is not a problem, then you should listen to me because he’s a politician. I’m an expert on mental illness, mental health, homelessness, et cetera. But let’s say that an expert on homelessness releases such a statement. Well, but.
Lisa: How would we figure that out, how do we define expertise?
Gabe: Now we’re in a battle of experts.
Lisa: Exactly, yes.
Gabe: Ok, so now you’ve got to read both things. What does this have to do with impostor syndrome, Lisa?
Lisa: That’s my point, you’re hijacking the show. Again, you said that impostor syndrome is the same as low self-esteem. You do not think that I have low self-esteem because I don’t. You definitely have low self-esteem, 100 percent for sure. And you know this about yourself.
Lisa: I know,
Gabe: Fascinating life.
Lisa: But this imposter syndrome thing really resonates with me. When you say that’s not true, you walk into a room and you think you’re better than everyone. How are we defining better? Do I walk into a room and think, well, depending on the room and think, huh, I’m smarter than you all, you all are a bunch of morons? Do I think, huh, you all have poor morals? I’m more moral than you people. I have better political beliefs? But we’re talking about something specific and usually something fact based. Do I walk into the room and think, huh, I’m a better fundraiser than all of you? No, no, I don’t. I may be smarter than all of you. I may have better morals. I might be less annoying or more fun to talk to or have a better sense of humor, but I do not know more about fill in the blank, fundraising, public relations, podcasting, computers, graphic design. I never think that.
Gabe: So, what do you do about it? I am probably not going to understand this concept if.
Lisa: I don’t get why you don’t understand this concept, it seems really obvious to me.
Gabe: If I haven’t understood it up until now, it’s probably not going to happen, but here’s the good news. Gabe Howard doesn’t need to understand it. Only people who are trying to do something about it and recognize it in themselves, they need to understand it. So, Lisa, Gabe is a lost cause. I don’t get it. I have I have no problem.
Lisa: Oh, I have other examples.
Gabe: With this. No, no, no. Don’t try to convince me anymore. Here’s what I need you to do. You have already convinced the listeners who are still listening that this is a thing and they’re the most important group. Help them move forward.
Lisa: Well, if you want to get over your own imposter syndrome, there’s a thousand articles online that will help you on this, but they all are basically saying the same thing. Try to make a realistic evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses and talk to other people, specifically your mentors, people with more experience, people you trust.
Gabe: That’s it, that’s all you got to do?
Lisa: Well, what else? OK, what do you want to do?
Gabe: I don’t know, I just this is real, this is serious, and it can be solved by having a heart to heart with your boss.
Lisa: The other thing that was really interesting is to think about your own upbringing and see how maybe this influenced your feelings. I thought that was fascinating.
Gabe: That seems very, very, very, very, very close to blame your mom and dad.
Lisa: No, it’s not about that, it’s about where does this come from? This is probably like a deep-seated childhood thing, right? Like, where did you come up with these ideas? How did you come to feel like you don’t belong? And I’ve got another example. Do you remember a little while ago we attended that conference with other podcasters?
Gabe: I do, yes.
Lisa: All right. And I hung back, didn’t really want to get into it. Felt like, you know, I didn’t really have anything to contribute to the conversation. There wasn’t really anything that I could add. We should just listen. Do you remember that?
Gabe: I do.
Lisa: And you said, what is wrong with you? We have one of the top podcasts
Gabe: We do.
Lisa: We’re in the very high percentage point here, what like.
Gabe: We are not Joe Rogan.
Lisa: The OK, the vast majority of podcasts do not last and the vast majority of podcasts lose money,
Gabe: That’s true.
Lisa: Right? We have lasted and are
Lisa: Solvent. Good one. Yeah, and we’re doing OK. So that actually makes us at the top tier of podcasts. But I didn’t feel like we were and I said we’re not at the top tier of podcasts. What are you talking about? And you said, what would it take? What would it take for you to think that we were there? Do we have to be Joe Rogan? Is that the only thing that you will accept to feel like you’re at a high level here? Is that the only thing that
will do it for you? What more is there? What higher level do you wish to achieve that will show you that you belong among these people? Remember that?
Gabe: But isn’t that the self-esteem problem or in.
Lisa: Once again, as we were sitting in that room, did you think to yourself, oh, Lisa, did you feel at that point that I had low self-esteem?
Gabe: Really, what I thought more than anything is that you are devaluing our work.
Lisa: Yes, yes, devaluing your work. Yes, like remember when Kendall’s mom thanked me for everything after her dad died?
Gabe: I do.
Lisa: Right. And I said, oh, I’m a little uncomfortable with her thanking me. I didn’t do that much. And you said, look, you did this. You did this. You did this. You did this. What more would you have done to be a good friend? And I thought, well, that wasn’t that big of a deal. That was, that didn’t count. That wasn’t anything.
Gabe: See, I really saw that as an example of how little everybody else did. I know that sounds kind of funny, but I was I really saw that in an example, sort of the reverse.
Lisa: Well, they don’t know what to do, so they do nothing. Yeah.
Gabe: Exactly. And it’s not a direct slam at anybody who did nothing. This very much, unfortunately, is our culture. We send flowers and we avoid the topic until we feel enough time has passed that we can pretend that it didn’t exist and you did not do that. So, I didn’t see that as an example of imposter syndrome. I saw that as an example of. Lisa, you have so much confidence and security and you are such a good person that you did something and you forget that the average person lacks confidence, lacks security and does nothing in the face of a crisis.
Lisa: So, you forget that the average person lacks this knowledge, lacks this skill, lacks
the abilities that you have in whatever field you are in.
Gabe: All right, I can see that.
Lisa: No, you can’t. Oh, you’re just saying that.
Gabe: I’m trying I’m really trying I.
Lisa: I think the podcaster example, is an excellent one. I kept saying, we don’t belong here, these people aren’t like us, they’re at this other blah, blah, blah, and you kept saying, what are you talking about? We belong here. We are among our peers here. And I kept saying, no, we’re not. These people are all better than us. Remember that?
Gabe: I do.
Lisa: Ok, does that help you get it? That’s impostor syndrome. See?
Gabe: I just felt that it was an example of you, again, devaluing our work.
Lisa: Well, but that’s what it is, you’re devaluing your own work, your own accomplishments, your own abilities in comparison to others, and you don’t think that they’re doing the same thing.
Lisa: Oh, for God, you are such oh, you are such a faker, you are not. No, he doesn’t get it everyone. He doesn’t get it. He’s just ready to be done with the show now.
Gabe: Thank you, everybody, for listening to the not crazy podcast, we appreciate all of you tuning in for Gabe to learn absolutely nothing. Hopefully you got more out of the show than I did. I tried, Lisa. I sincerely tried.
Lisa: I know, I know you’re trying.
Gabe: I’m not trying to be a smart aleck. I just I think it’s important to understand that not every single concept, especially a psychological concept.
Lisa: I get it, I just don’t know why you’re struggling with this.
Gabe: I don’t know either. I am glad that I feel safe with you to tell you that I don’t get it and this doesn’t make any sense to me and
Lisa: Ok, OK, I got another
Lisa: Example, I got
Lisa: An example, how many times have we been in a meeting? And I have a question and I do not ask, like, remember when we were at our previous job and I did not understand the plan? Well, I think it might have been a fundraiser, actually. I did not understand the plan. Right? I was not willing to ask a question about it because I didn’t want to display to everyone in the room that I didn’t understand the plan.
Gabe: In fairness,
Gabe: Certain places that we worked
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Gabe: Did not treat people who asked follow up questions in the kindest manner.
Lisa: All right, that’s fair, that’s fair
Gabe: So, I did not see that as impostor syndrome, as much as I saw it as a culture problem with where we worked. That if somebody was confused, they didn’t feel empowered to ask a follow up question for fear of punishment or ridicule or whatever.
Lisa: But the reason specifically I didn’t want to ask is because I didn’t want people to know that I couldn’t figure it out, I didn’t want anyone to know that I didn’t know the answer. I wanted them to think that I had it all together. I knew everything. I didn’t need to ask questions because I knew what was happening. I did not know what was happening. I needed so much more information, but I wasn’t willing to tell anyone that because then they would think that I wasn’t good at this, I wasn’t adequate. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a bad choice for the job. Someone else should have the job. It wasn’t because I thought they would be jerks and wouldn’t respond well to it. It was because I didn’t want them to have a negative opinion of me for asking because I felt my own expertise would be devalued. They would think to themselves, oh, that woman doesn’t know anything if I asked a question, thereby revealing that I didn’t know. I really don’t know where I’m losing you on this.
Gabe: Lisa, I think it’s fair to say that if you could explain things to me in a way that I could understand not only would our friendship be better, but our marriage might have worked out.
Lisa: Hey, I taught you math that time,
Gabe: Did you?
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, you were very poorly educated.
Lisa: I blame the public schools.
Gabe: And you wonder why I have imposter syndrome.
Lisa: You don’t have imposter syndrome. That’s the point. Oh, you’re killing me, you’re
Gabe: Lisa, thank you so much for hanging out with me. Do you have any final words on imposter syndrome for our listeners and most importantly, how to move forward?
Lisa: The only way to move forward is to try to make a realistic evaluation of yourself and perhaps you can do that by talking to the people around you and really getting a sense of their accomplishments versus your accomplishments and where they are versus where you are. And I did think it was interesting that it was so common that probably when you’re sitting at that table, there’s a whole bunch of other people that are feeling the exact same way. You’re not the only one.
Gabe: All right, Lisa, this one was I like it better when I know everything, I, I like it when I choose the topics. I guess that’s what I’m saying. But excellent show.
Lisa: That’s a good topic.
Gabe: I’m not saying that it was a bad topic. I’m giving you full
Lisa: It was an excellent topic. This is one of the best topics we’ve ever had because it’s the most interesting.
Gabe: I appreciate your ability to leave me confused for the past half hour.
Lisa: Ok, how about this, it’s almost a fear of success, right,
Lisa: Because if you become successful, then people will have higher expectations of you in the future. You’ll draw too much attention to yourself if you succeed at something, you’re afraid of being discovered to be a fraud. So, you have to just go over the top to do something at this ridiculously high level. But then you start to think, oh, it was only because I went over the top and did this, that it worked. And so, then it becomes this cycle, the more success you get, the more of an imposter you are. Whoa, mind blown.
Your mind does not appear to be blown. Why is your mind not blown?
Gabe: Right now, I’m just confused.
Lisa: Oh, God, I try so hard.
Gabe: You’re not wrong, though. A significant number of people, we have trending stats, we have keyword stats. We know what people are Googling and searching for. As much as I don’t understand this concept, one, it’s been around for decades. It’s well understood. And many people really resonate with it. And that’s really all that matters. Right? Perhaps I have imposter syndrome. Perhaps I don’t.
Lisa: You do not.
Gabe: It really doesn’t matter.
Lisa: You do not.
Gabe: It’s sort of irrelevant. Right. And perhaps you do. And perhaps you do not. It doesn’t matter. It’s really irrelevant.
Lisa: I do.
Gabe: What matters is, is that you can define what’s going on in your life, get a name or a label or a wrap around to it and find it using that name and label, find like people to help move forward in the way that you want to. This might be the most important thing ever. I don’t care if you call it bundle of sticks, if a whole bunch of people have a bundle of sticks and they can help each other lead their best life, it doesn’t matter that people like Gabe are like, hey, bundle of sticks is not a thing. The bundle of sticks people are like, you know what? It is to us. We understand it and we’re glad people are talking about it, because now we don’t feel alone. And that’s probably the biggest takeaway that I have on this, is that it doesn’t really matter if I like it, understand it, agree with it or not. It’s a real thing to many people, including you, Lisa, and you are extremely valuable to me. I do want to understand it. I did everything I could,
Lisa: You did, you tried.
Gabe: But this has really, really resonated with you.
Lisa: Yeah, it really has.
Gabe: And I think that has an extreme amount of power.
Lisa: Thank you, Gabe.
Gabe: Thank you, everybody, for listening to the Not Crazy podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and I wrote the book, Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations. You can get it signed over at gabehoward.com and we will throw in stickers with the show logo on it. If you play your cards right, Lisa might even sign something for you. But I cannot guarantee that because it’s Lisa’s signature and I don’t speak for her.
Lisa: I would be happy to sign your stickers in part because I’ll be the one mailing the stickers, you sign the books and then you just hand them off to me. I do all the packaging and mailing. Do you even know where the post office is or how many of those little things you could fit in the box?
Gabe: I mean, I know where the post office is, it’s next to Little Caesar’s.
Lisa: Oh, good point, good point.
Gabe: Wherever you download his podcast, please, please rank and review, use your words, tell people why they like it, those things really, really matter. Share us on social media and use your words there too. Have any show topics, ideas, want to tell us we suck, want to tell us we’re awesome? Emails us at show@PsychCentral.com.
Lisa: And if people send us a lot of reviews and such, it will help with our impostor syndrome,
Lisa: Right? Because the more accolades, the more kudos you could use that to like.
Gabe: Bringing it around.
Lisa: Exactly. Talking yourself out of it. Right? A realistic evaluation of your achievements. I can use your rankings and reviews to evaluate my own achievements. Boom.
Gabe: And suddenly Gabe is on board with imposter syndrome.
Lisa: It took a while, but I got him there. Thank you so much, everyone. We’ll see you next week.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Not Crazy Podcast from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit PsychCentral.com. Not Crazy’s official website is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. To work with Gabe, go to gabehoward.com. Want to see Gabe and me in person? Not Crazy travels well. Have us record an episode live at your next event. E-mail email@example.com for details.
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