Have you ever sat in a roomful of people and thought ‘Why was I invited, what can I add to this?’ or had lingering feelings of doubt around your own capabilities even when people were saying otherwise. Have you thought that people will ‘finally catch on and realise you aren’t even good at this’ or sabotaged yourself to avoid being in a situation where others will ‘figure it all out’.
Well, you are like so many other women!
Many women experience what professor Pauline Clance and psychologist Suzanne Imes coined as the imposter syndrome (Bell, 1990). They studied high-achieving women and found that although many of these women were functioning and achieving at a high level they felt as though this was not due to their own capabilities, it was due to external factors. They have a disabling belief that they are imposters.
Imposter syndrome is where you are unable to internalise your achievements, even when evidence indicates this is the case. Ironically, this often occurs after a positive milestone; a promotion, a new business, acceptance into a scholarship programme of area of study, the invitation to an event or group or winning an award. They often downplay their success, dismiss their abilities and this leads one to feel as though they don’t really deserve to be where they are at, and that at some point everyone is going to figure out they are not actually capable of the space they occupy.
Although imposter syndrome occurs across the board, women have been found to suffer from it at a much higher rate. In her research, Bell (1990) found that men were more likely to attribute their success to their own capabilities, while women were more likely to attribute it to external factors. Bell (1990) commented that the socialised gender role expectations in society create conflicting messages to women about their achievements, which consequently make it difficult to internalise success. These social constructs suggest that women should be secretaries and nurses etc, and not in leadership positions. This can lead to women who are ‘breaking the mould’, to have feelings of not fitting where they should, they feel they are imposters simply because of their gender. The socialisation of gender also means many women hide their capabilities to avoid being targeted, to avoid jealousy and envy, to not appear ambitious or bossy or career focused etc.
If you find yourself feeling like a fraud and struggling to internalise your success here are a few things to help:
– Not setting excessively high standards. I am not talking about having goals and striving to achieve these. It is the excessively high standards, the chase for the myth of ‘perfect’, having to be the best at everything you do. It also means not setting these ridiculous standards for your children, employees, colleagues or loved ones. This often sets people, including yourself, up to fail which causes negative self-talk around your own capabilities. When you do achieve one of these items it becomes the exception and so it is difficult to internalise this.
– Stop with the comparison. I feel like I could put this bullet point in pretty much every blog I write, and with good reason. Comparison really is a killer. Comparing your own life and achievements to someone else is comparing roses to orchids, we all bloom in different seasons. If your baseline of success is based on what someone else has achieved, nothing will ever be good enough and someone will always ‘be better’ which leads to similar thought processes as having excessively high standards.
– Evaluate yourself. Really engage with yourself and evaluate you. What are your strengths, what are your capabilities, areas to improve on, blind-spots, areas for opportunity etc. Try and be specific with your evaluation; “I am good at presenting information to an audience in a way that is easy to understand. I am also an engaging presenter” rather than “Good presenter”. Ask other people what they think for the areas I have suggested too.
– Link your evaluation to examples. After you have done the in-depth self-evaluation, think of the times you have achieved something and use this evaluation to explain it e.g:
|I was asked by my manager to present to the whole staff.
||I am good at presenting information to an audience in a way that is easy to understand.
I am also an engaging presenter.
I am reliable.
I have a strong work ethic.
I have strong research skills.
I am good at developing presentations.
I am able to think on the spot.
I can articulate answers well.
I am a good learner.
I am thorough.
(you get my drift!)
||My manager asked me to present to the whole staff because she knew I was competent, and had the capabilities to do so.
– Be a good boss/friend etc. This means not micro-managing people. You are sending the message that you do not trust them or think they have the required capabilities by doing this. When they do succeed then, they will not take any internal credit as they will not feel they did it anyway. It means to give people the chance to show their capabilities, provide help and training where it is needed and let them achieve themselves. Be supportive and empower others in their success, think about how you acknowledge or praise others, does it allow them to internalise success or are you creating ‘imposters’ by saying they were lucky to be given the opportunity, were able to do so because of the structures in place, or without their team they would have struggled etc.
– Use specific affirmations. Use affirmations that highlight your capabilities “I am good at..” etc.
It really saddens me that so many of us women (I was definitely one), have these feelings of being an imposter. So, let’s change this! Own your capabilities, celebrate your success, walk with pride knowing all you have achieved, and it is ok to acknowledge external factors, but be sure to internalise it ladies, because you are awesome!
Mel H x
Bell, L. A. (1990). The gifted woman as imposter. Advanced Development Journal, 2, 55–64.
Mel you write the most amazing inspirational posts. I sit here and think I must start following some of these ideas but hello in my hast to get my ‘a’ into ‘g’ my mind wanders off into another space and I end up sitting in neutral again. In my job I am very good at inspiring mums and children to do new things and affirmations are the best, I use them all the time. Self care; I promote to all staff, colleagues, clients, friends and family. I also have a great manager who promotes and encourages self care I need to start taking her’s and my own advice. I am making a point of starting a journal ( I went and brought one today) I am going to do this one day at a time. Keep writing you are brilliant at it. Kathy
Thank you!! I tell all my clients to schedule time in heir calendars for themselves, and it’s a priority! I have some cool journal ideas too, which I will touch base with you about!
Practice what we preach huh? Hehe x
Yes please (: look forward to some great ideas haha
I agree with Kathy… another meaningful and honest blog. Keep it up just because you should. I don’t feel like an impostor and would like to add a couple of comments to your list if you don’t mind from a someone with a few more years under their belt….
1. Goal setting is important, but the goals need to be achievable. If that means that you have to set multiple goals in order to get to the end result then that’s better than just setting one that is too hard. When climbing Mt Everest, the first goal is to get to base camp, and further broken down, you just need to get around the next bend in the path. It makes you feel good when you achieve your goals no matter how grand or minute they may be. To keep yourself feeling good, set smaller goals that you can achieve and work your way up the mountain.
2. Definitely stop with the comparison thing as you have said. We are all different and different things make us happy. The “successful” people that you may compare yourself to might not be happy. Have you thought of that? Having money, wealth and 2.3 children is not the recipe for happiness…. do things that make YOU happy. What does success actually mean?
3. “What are you strengths and capabilities”… yes you need to know these and understand them, but don’t forget to ask yourself “what do I enjoy the most?”. Often this is a strength that you might not realise. Be comfortable in your own skin as if you aren’t, you won’t show the confidence that you should. Getting other people’s opinions is also great, but a place to be careful as some opinions will carry resentment for you success. Be sure to only listen to those that you have complete trust in.
4. Lead by example, then others around you can celebrate their successes alongside you, and empower them accordingly.
Nobody is an imposter unless they are not being honest with themselves. Understanding of self is important, but it can take time if you are pushing yourself too hard to be someone else. Don’t beat yourself up along the way…. the world is a forgiving place, but sometimes the forgiving needs to start with you. Be yourself and celebrate yourself because you are special. We all are….
Love these! So very true, it is about being our authentic selves!!
I read somewhere that 70% of women feel this at some stage which is really sad huh? Exactly as you said, if you are honest with yourself and not comparing, you are not an imposter!
Love your input x