Fraudulent Feelings

In a desire for perfection, some high achieving people feel as though they don’t deserve their accomplishments, a phenomenon known as imposter syndrome.
Junior Keturah Flokstra is enrolled in advanced placement research class and has been studying the topic for more than three months. She discovered that imposter syndrome is more than what meets the eye.
“The way a lot of professionals describe [imposter syndrome] is the psychological experience of intellectual fraudulence,” Flokstra said. “Where you just feel like you will never be as good as your peers. Whether that be peers at work [or] the peers of the field you’re going into. You get in a mindset [and] you think no matter what you do, you will never be as good as them, even if you are better than them [in reality].”
Flokstra gained interest in this topic after noticing the impact that AP courses have on students, including herself.
“[Taking] a lot of advanced courses, [I’ve noticed that] people around me tend to think they aren’t intelligent or feel like they don’t have the skills to be in that class, even though they are performing ‘advanced’ on all of their tests,” Flokstra said.
English III, dual credit (DC) college composition and AP/DC literature and composition teacher Shane Lawless has noticed how his students react to their positive grades.
“I gave grades back and one student came up to me and told me they didn’t think they deserve the grade that they got,” Lawless said. “They said they knew people who worked harder than them on the project and I had to tell the student, ‘Maybe you didn’t work harder — that doesn’t mean they didn’t follow the directions as well.’ They didn’t focus on what was most important.”
Senior Nora Bare is enrolled in DC College Composition and other AP classes and has felt the pressure of imposter syndrome during college admissions season.
“I have applied to a lot of schools, but I’m worried I won’t get into them, which has caused a lot of stress and became a distraction [instead of] me getting my actual work done,” Bare said.
Bare said she believes that teachers and administration create academic stress especially for those in more difficult classes.
“I think the school system [creates] a lot of unnecessary anxiety because there is so much pressure on us to succeed,” Bare said. “I think because it’s a competitive environment with the grading scale, awards and the ACT wall, [these things] can make people feel like they aren’t good enough.”
As an AP/DC teacher, Lawless said he believes that the stress of teachers may reflect in their teaching, which could put unintended pressure on the students.
“Teachers ourselves are under pressure to make sure our students are learning,” Lawless said. “ … We are pressured to get test scores up because that makes the school look good and gets us more funding. I think it is very easy for teachers to pass it along. When we are pressured, we are more likely to say things in a way that adds pressure to others.”
Flokstra realizes the pressure administration and teachers put on students.
“I think at [Nixa High School] it does affect AP and honor students disproportionately more than it does regular education students just because of the amount of stress we put on ourselves and what teachers and administration puts on us.”
Bare admits she is stressed, but has felt less pressured with the support system she has within the school.
“A lot of teachers are really encouraging and are kind of counteractive and tell me I’m capable of achieving good things,” Bare said. “My cabinet class has been a very uplifting environment.”
Lawless agrees that talking through feelings with friends might help.
“I think anybody who is experiencing imposter syndrome can find ways to break it,” Lawless said. “Finding other people and sharing those feelings, what you may discover and learn is that other people feel that same imposter syndrome and with that you realize other people feel the same way you do it becomes a more normal thing. When it becomes more normalized, then it takes away some of the biggest problems with it.”
Flokstra said imposter syndrome can make some people without support feel alone.
“It can make people feel like it’s them against the world and that nothing they do will make up for their lack of ability or lack of resources,” Flokstra said.
Lawless noticed how imposter syndrome affects his AP/DC students more than his regular English class.
“I read something a while ago that about 70 percent of everybody in the world will feel imposter syndrome sometime in their life,” Lawless said. “It may be more common now in high school that those students who are excelling or those students who are challenging themselves more kind of get to that point that they feel like they are hitting their limit.”
They feel like they can’t be successful, which means they might question past successes. If those students in regular classes don’t feel it now, they will feel it in the future.”
Bare said one thing that has helped her push through her feelings of imposter syndrome was her support system within her classes such as cabinet.
“[My teachers] let me know my stats don’t define me and I can just focus on materialistic success,” Bare said. “It’s important to remind yourself that your grades don’t define you and how you succeed compared to others isn’t what makes you a valuable human being.”
During Flokstra’s research, she focused on high school students who are placed in the same situations as college students.
“Going through … my research, people who are taking more than four advanced classes tend to have higher scores on the Clance [imposter phenomenon] IP scale,” Flokstra said. “Which it kind of looks over how you feel about situations you’re put in and day to day life and how you view your own success and it ranks you on a scale. I have noticed people who take one or two AP classes have a lower score (40-50) and people who take about three to four plus [classes] typically have a score of about 70-80, which is the very high end of the scale.”
Throughout Flokstra’s research, she has noticed the effect of social media.
“Just looking at all these people being successful and being productive and living the best version of themselves while you’re still in high school and you don’t have the resources to earn six figures and work out seven times a day can make people feel like they aren’t working hard enough,” Flokstra said. “People have to remember that those people only post what they want other people to see.”
Flokstra hopes that everyone in either regular or AP classes will be conscious of what they say to people when sharing grades.
“I’ve noticed with my friends saying ‘Oh you did so well on that assignment — do you ever get anything wrong,’ and that can hurt people,” Flokstra said. “I think being conscious of what people are saying can reduce that.”
Bare hopes her feeling of imposter syndrome goes away when she graduates from college, but she still has worries.
“… Me going to a competitive university could definitely increase how I feel,” Bare said. “It could cause a lot of issues, whereas I am surrounded by a lot of people who are smart, even smarter than me. It could put a lot of pressure on me and make me feel inadequate to my peers.”