Yesterday’s early #gtchat covered a very interesting topic – The Imposter Syndrome (see the complete transcript here). I wasn’t able to participate as my Friday was spent writing a ton of reports, putting out too many fires to name, and sitting in one too many meetings. It was a busy day!
But, as typical, I read through the transcripts late last night.
Now that is a great topic. It made me recall a somewhat traumatic event from my early adulthood. A professor at my college – a wonderful, highly gifted woman – committed suicide during my senior year. My mentor professor was her BFF. When we heard about the news, we also heard that she had been struggling with feelings of inadequacy related to her job. She was a highly acclaimed economics professor working on some theories related to women and economics. Her students adored her. Her work was heralded as fresh and innovative….
But to her….
She was a failure.
The epitome of the Imposter Syndrome.
She believed that the accolades weren’t deserved. That her students had no reason to like her the way they did. That she couldn’t and didn’t live up to the “hype.”
Man, I so get those feelings. Not to the point of having suicidal ideations..but to the point of depression and anxiety.
Every successful gifted adult I’ve known – especially women – has felt that feeling at some point. Heck, if you ask my closest friends they’d tell you that I have that feeling more often than I’d care to admit.
Gifted kids experience it too.
Reading the transcript I was left with the same questions as the participants – Why does this happen? When does it start? Is it a self-esteem thing, a perfectionism thing, or something else entirely?
And like the participants, I initially had very few answers.
But, after stewing on it last night, and contemplating things this morning, I think I came up with a few ideas regarding the contributing factors of the Imposter Syndrome:
- Self Esteem - Many gifted individuals wrestle with esteem, or their overall picture of themselves and their ability to connect with peers and function in the world. Esteem is different from self-efficacy, which refers to a belief in one’s ability to be successful at a certain task. Gifted kids typically have great self-efficacy and lousy self-esteem. I think the esteem difficulties has a lot to do with what it means to be gifted, and goes back to what we talked about last week – the need of the child to develop an INTERNAL sense of self that is positive, and not dependent on outside feedback. All too often we allow our gifted kids to constantly seek approval outside of themselves. As parents, we over-help and maybe even over-protect – all in the name of advocating for our kids. Now, don’t get me wrong – it IS important to advocate for or kids…but he HAVE TO make sure we are teaching and guiding our children to find an INTERNAL positive high regard. That is the best way to develop a healthy self-esteem.
- Praise - Praise – or rather the type of praise that typically occurs at home and at school – is another factor that I think contributes to this imposter problem. Too often praise is given without being linked to a specific act. We say things like “You’re so smart, Johnny” or “Great job. You just do all of this so well.” These statements are generic and do not help the child. They provide feedback that is not specific and while it feels good to hear it, it sets up the problem of searching outside of ones self to find validation. If we connect the praise to specific actions - “Johnny, that is a great picture you drew. I love the detail in te landscape,” or “Becky, thank you for cleaning your room this morning without being reminded. That really helps all of us.” – the chid understands why the praise is given and links it to their actions – not use is as a means to validate their existence.
- The Nature of Giftedness – And finally, the biggest contributor to this imposter syndrome is the nature of giftedness itself. Having a brain that makes immediate connections between seemingly unrelated things is a blessing and a curse. Sometimes, our brains lie – making connections that are WRONG. Ha! Try convincing a gifted kid of that!!! But it is true. I think some of the Imposter Syndrome comes into play as a gifted child – or adult – begins to see the errors in connections that the brain has made and automatically forms a new connection…mistake = stupid which means I can not be gifted. Another lie from our brain. We have to teach our kids how to discern correct from incorrect information if we are going to help them correct their thought processes on this stuff.
So what do we do about this?
That I am saving for tomorrow – for a special Sunday post!
What do you think contributes to the Imposter Syndrome so many of us wrestle with?