Michelle Obama told an audience in London Monday that she has long felt “impostor syndrome” over her status as a “symbol of hope.”
The former first lady was speaking with author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at a sell-out event to promote her autobiography, Becoming , the BBC reported.
“I still have a little impostor syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me,” she told the audience at the Southbank Centre.
“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.
“If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable.”
The term “impostor phenomenon” was coined in a 1978 paper by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who noticed that successful women sometimes expressed fears that their achievements were down to luck.
“Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise,” the paper stated.
Subsequent research has shown impostor syndrome isn’t limited to women, and can affect people in all walks of life. Something like 70 percent of people may experience the phenomenon, according to a 2001 article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
It’s not an official psychiatric disorder, as listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, but the feelings of self-doubt impostor syndrome breeds can lead to stress, depression and anxiety, Psychology Today previously reported.
Clance went on to create a test which estimates how severely impostor phenomenon encroaches on an individual’s life.
Writing for Forbes in 2017, career coach Ashley Stahl recommended a number of steps to combat the phenomenon. She advised readers to acknowledge their self-doubting “impostor” thoughts and recognize they’re unfounded.
Accepting your imperfections as well as your achievements may help fight the syndrome. It’s important to remember, she added, that many other people also experience “impostor” thoughts.
Obama advised young women experiencing self-doubt to get “those demons out of your head.”
She also reassured audience members that people in positions of power weren’t as intelligent as they might appear. “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at non-profits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the UN: They are not that smart,” she said.