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What is imposter syndrome and how do we break the stigma? You Are Not Alone mental health series with 3News' Hollie Strano

The term was actually coined here in Northeast Ohio.

OBERLIN, Ohio — The idea of our "You Are Not Alone" series is to break the stigma of mental health. We're trying to do just that with a social experiment exploring the concept of imposter syndrome.

"You can think about imposter syndrome not as one person, but as two people," explains counselor Adam Qin of Mind Trek Counseling LLC.

The definition of imposter syndrome actually originated in Northeast Ohio. Dr. Pauline Rose Clance coined it at Oberlin College in 1985 while in grad school. She wrote a paper on the concept after feeling overwhelmed by tests and student teaching and defined it as the idea that:

Our accomplishments came about not through genuine ability, but as a result of having been lucky.

"So imagine those two people are dating and one person constantly feels they don't match, or they don't deserve the other person," explains Qin.

We asked four people from all walks of life to define imposter syndrome.

  • Ryan: A senior fraud analyst
  • Chardonnay: A public relations manager
  • Andrew: A key holder for Homage clothing
  • Abby: A licensed counselor

"I'd like to think it's probably in the professional workplace, and you're just playing a part, you're not actually adequate," Abby said.

"To me, it's you can have confidence in something but still be a little shaky as far as if you're doing it correctly," Ryan said.

"I'm not doing something as good as someone else might be doing it," Andrew said.

Then, we asked them to define it within themselves. 

Imposter syndrome can show up more or less in people due to social constructs, but many studies find it doesn't discriminate overall, which is something we found to be true.

"I'm from East Cleveland, which is listed as the fourth poorest city in the entire country," Chardonnay explained. "And so therefore, I think people automatically assume I'm less educated or that I am all the other stereotypes of someone who comes from that area."

"I feel like I have everything correct but then something might not connect to me in my own head, and that forces me sometimes to take on too many tasks or take on as much overtime as I can," Ryan shared.

"We are helpers, and unfortunately us being humans and us being therapists, there's only so much we can do before another person has to help themselves. That's probably where it is within myself," Abby said.

Lastly, we asked how each person copes, to give anyone watching this story and relating ways to heal.

"I went through about a three and a half month period of non-stop binge drinking to the point where I would drink as much as I could to not feel anything," Andrew told us. "I kind of realized at that point that I needed to get some help. And that's what I did. I reached out to my family and they set me up, and I haven't had a drop of alcohol since."

"Now that I'm in my 30s I have different definitions of success and things that I enjoy. Just to do things that bring me genuine happiness more than things that bring me anxiety," Ryan says.

"It's really just a part of life. So having something that helps you, your North Star, will kind of help you create that tunnel vision and block out the haters," Chardonnay advised.

Some more advice from Qin is to stop looking for evidence. That is what you use to compare yourself to others, or even to your last great accomplishment, and that is what is exhausting you. And as it shows with each of these interview responses, it turns out we're all going through the same thing anyways, so all that evidence really means nothing.

If you're unsure if you suffer from imposter syndrome, Dr. Clance actually made a test, known as the Clance IP Test that you can take. You can find that here.

To reach out to Adam Qin, click here.


Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in an unrelated story on April 27, 2022.

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