The doctoral process can be one of the most motivating, but it is also true that in the vast majority of cases it is a challenge that involves effort and discipline.
Thus, there is no doubt that obtaining a doctorate is recognized as an achievement of remarkable merit; however, not everyone who has taken or completed this training and specialization program experiences it as a boost in their self-esteem. In fact, in some contexts the opposite may be the case. In this article, I will talk about one of these situations: doctoral impostor syndrome.
What is impostor syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is a psychological condition, or set of psychological predispositions, in which the person who develops it usually experiences the belief that it is a fraud that has not yet been discovered as such, But this could be exposed.
That is to say that in the daily life of the person who presents with the syndrome of the impostor appears frequent discomfort due to the feeling overcome by the circumstances, enjoying an authority or a good social image that is pure appearance and he could collapse at any time, revealing that he does not have the skills or knowledge that others attribute to him.
The fear that this moment when others discover “the truth” about youAlong with the idea that sooner or later you will have to face a challenge that cannot be resolved on your own, this psychological disorder usually goes hand in hand with anxiety, anxiety, and sometimes, low self-esteem. self-esteem and typical symptoms of depression.
On the other hand, it must be clear that despite its name, the impostor syndrome it is not a concept that belongs to the clinical worldIt therefore does not appear in diagnostic manuals for psychopathologies used in psychiatry or clinical psychology. However, as with other psychological phenomena other than illness, such as low self-esteem or a predisposition to argue with family, this does not mean that it is not a reason to act and try to handle the situation, whether by themselves. .means or by professional help during a psychological consultation.
Why does impostor syndrome appear in doctorates?
These are the main reasons why impostor syndrome is relatively common among doctoral students.
1. It is very specific knowledge
By their very nature, doctorates are programs in which very specific knowledge is acquired. In this way differ from university degrees and even secondary education, content can “appear” with relative frequency in everyday situations.
This mixture of being in search of something and, at the same time, of not seeing that it is expressed clearly in the knowledge applied beyond the context of the doctorate, creates the illusion that this knowledge is scarce or of no value. not much.
2. The added value of titles
Just doing a doctorate is a socially desirable quality, linked to intellectual and, indirectly, economic status. The fact that it is this “label” which brings the advantage of enjoying authority, and not the learning obtained in itself, makes that many people perceive that others see them with good eyes for factors external to them. them, that is to say who do not depend on their own merits.
3. A context of competitiveness
As I mentioned, the doctorate is associated with the learning of very specific knowledge which is not generally used in daily life on one’s own, beyond this academic or professional context. At the same time, doctorates are often compared to other doctorates and, in general, to people with specialized studies.
This means that while maintaining the conviction that one does not know too much, we have the impression that others know a lot, Since there is a predisposition to investigate the academic knowledge of this highly educated minority of people with whom we compare ourselves. In other words, comparisons of oneself with others are biased without the person with impostor syndrome realizing it.
4. Personality factors and low self-esteem
Do not forget about the individual variablesAmong which stand out personality traits such as the tendency to neuroticism (i.e. the propensity to react with high emotional intensity to unpleasant or discouraging experiences) or the predisposition to have a pessimistic attribution style ( that is, getting used to the idea that your own successes are due to luck and not to your own positive traits).
In many ways, being a challenge that, due to the effort invested, sometimes causes psychological wear and tear, taking a doctoral program can amplify problems with self-esteem and negative affectivity that we already had before starting these studies, if professional help is not available.
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- Clance, PR; Dingman, D .; Reviere, SL; Stober, DR (1995). Phenomenon of impostor in an interpersonal / social context. Women and therapy. 16 (4): 79-96 (87).
- Langford, J .; Clance, PR (1993). The Impostor Phenomenon: Recent Research Findings on Family Dynamics, Personality, and Patterns and Their Implications for Treatment. Psychotherapy: theory, research, practice, training. 30 (3): pages 495 to 501.
- Lowman, RL (1993). Fear of success and fear of failure. Counseling and Psychotherapy for Occupational Dysfunction, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, p. 74-82 (81).