Wednesday 15 January 2020

Book Review: The Imposter Cure

Book Review: The Imposter Cure

Review by Casey Douglass

The Imposter Cure

I’m a sucker for the self-help genre. I sometimes fantasize that my tombstone could say “Self-help this!” in my darker moments. I think it comes from struggling with my mental and physical health, and always wanting to try to get some kind of fresh perspective on life that might help me feel better. Imposter Syndrome is a topic that has somehow passed me by. Until, that is, I flicked through Dr Jessamy Hibberd’s The Imposter Cure in Waterstones one day. I saw mention of the way that freelancers can be prone to it, because of the nature of how they have to “bid” or “win” jobs. With a rush of hope I thought it might help me to find out more, and a month later here I am, writing this review.

If you are anything like I was, you might know that imposter syndrome is a fear of being found out as not being as “good” or capable as others might think you to be. While that’s true, as with most things, there are far more layers to unpick than just this simple understanding. The Imposter Cure does this in a gentle, friendly way, the opening few sections paving the way for a self-compassionate look into something that our minds can still struggle to accept. We have all sorts of beliefs about how feeling like an imposter can keep us humble, safe or alert, and stay ignorant to the ways it’s actually harming our lives. Imposter syndrome is also more common than we might think, and a lot of people might be affected by it at different times in their lives.

The first section that clicked with me described the five competence types that someone might fall into. These are: the perfectionist, the natural genius, the soloist, the expert and the superwoman/man. Someone’s competence type dictates how they will experience failure-related shame and the mindset that they are likely to take into tackling tasks. This might be the Perfectionist’s approach of feeling strongly that there is the right or wrong way to do something, or the Expert’s desire to know everything about something before they start. I found it very helpful to see the categories I fell into, many of which I would have put down to a “simple” lack of self-confidence before reading this book.

I’m a fan of diagrams with labels showing how our thoughts, actions and emotions create spirals of mental health, whether it's feeling bad about something or feeling better. Maybe it’s from my days of having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for my OCD, or maybe I just like things being defined and laid bare. Either way, The Imposter Cure features a number of these diagrams, showing the cycles that reinforce or undermine our feelings of competence. This got a thumbs up from me. The book also looks at why we might be prone to feeling those imposter feelings, looking at our personality traits and past experiences and how they might have laid the foundation for feeling so conflicted about success. One example is someone who might be very gifted at school, always performing well, but only being given praise when they perform “above and beyond” their usual highest standards. It doesn’t take much thought to see why this might set that person up for not really appreciating their successes going forward.

This is one of the most important messages that The Imposter Cure carries, that people who suffer from imposter syndrome don’t internalize their successes in the way a non-sufferer might, their beliefs and mind-set minimising what they’ve done and laying their success at the door of luck, good timing or just working hard, which “anyone” can do. The Imposter Cure challenges these beliefs and mental filtering, picking apart the Luck Myth and the way that the coping strategies we use harm us more than help us.

Dr Hibberd calls these coping strategies the Imposter Twins, and they are Overworking and Avoidance. They are two sides of the same imposter coin, a coin that shouldn’t really be legal tender if you ask me. Each coping strategy is broken down into how it might manifest, what drives it and why it’s actually harmful. Tidbits that I found useful in this area were the explanation of why having success doesn’t end the cycle of overworking, and why the fantasizing about doing less creative, more menial work, is just an avoidance strategy rather than a deep seated belief that I’m not cut out for what I want to do. I also took solace in the notion that sometimes life requires a certain level of “bluffing”, something that I feel really averse to doing most of the time, even in the most minor of ways.

The Imposter Cure also covers other areas that interplay with the core issue. Besides working through ways to address your beliefs about what success means to you and your view about yourself, it gives advice about how to handle social media, anxiety and low mood, as well as to address confidence issues. These sections are brief and useful, but if it’s the first time a reader encounters some of the concepts, I’d recommend buying a book about them in their own right. That’s not a criticism, just a thought that occurred to me as the topics arose. A good starting point though.

Did reading The Imposter Cure help me? Yes. It emphasizes that you need to put time and effort into the techniques and information it provides, and I did. Ironically, part of my mind is saying “Did you put enough in? Did you really?” and that just goes to show what a pest imposter syndrome can be. By reading the book, I gleaned some nice insights into something that previously, I had little awareness of. I think it will take time, thought and another reading to really dive into the stuff that is going on in my head. The book is certainly no magic cure and it doesn't claim to be one. It feels promising though, and sometimes a bit of hope is a rare thing to find.

Book Title: The Imposter Cure
Book Author: Dr Jessamy Hibberd
Publisher: Octopus
ISBN-13: 9781783253326
Published: 13th June 2019
RRP: Paperback £12.99