Impostor Syndrome By Violet Dhu

Have you ever felt that maybe you were not good enough? That you were a fraud or a fake? Or that you did not really belong here? It could be that you are suffering from Impostor Syndrome. And it seems that women suffer from Impostor Syndrome more so than men.

Sheryl Sandberg in her book ‘Lean In’ talks about how women hold themselves back more than men do. She also talks about her own feelings of being an impostor. Impostor syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. The self-doubt persists even though you are successful and good at what you do.

According to Sheryl Sandberg, women often experience chronic self-doubt and feelings of being intellectual frauds. They feel like they are not successful, competent, and smart. Some common feelings and thoughts that might characterise the impostor syndrome are: “I feel like a fake.” and “My boss is going to find out I don’t really belong here.”

Impostor Syndrome feelings can be divided into three sub categories:

  1. Feeling like a fake. The belief that they don’t deserve their success or professional position. There is this constant fear of being found out.
  2. Crediting success to luck or externalised events. It was just luck that I got selected for the scholarship. There is genuine fear that they won’t succeed next time.
  3. They minimise their success. For example, saying, “it is not a big deal,” “it was not important”. Again, you will see women, more so than men, finding it difficult to accept compliments and praise.

Impostor syndrome is often associated with highly successful people and their inability to internalise and acknowledge their success. It creates this never-ending feeling of inadequacy. They become fearful of success as they are uncomfortable with the responsibility and the importance that comes with it. There is this never-ending pressure of not wanting to fail. They find it difficult to internalise the success and miss the enjoyment of their success.

Talented women often work hard to avoid being discovered as an “impostor”. This in turn leads to more praise and success, which perpetuates the impostor feelings and fears of being “found out.” A woman with impostor syndrome will often try to give managers and supervisors the answers that they believe they want, which leads to an increase in feeling like they are “being a fake”. These women will avoid showing any confidence in their abilities.

How to deal with Impostor Feelings

There are several steps that you can take to reduce those feelings and to cope with them when they do come up.

  1. Talk with others in order to understand that you are not alone and to get a reality check.
  2. Become self-aware. Start by noticing the automatic thoughts about a situation. Automatic thoughts can be defined as random unquestioned thoughts, which affect how you perceive an event or situation. These thoughts are often so fast that you may not even notice them. But they do affect our perception. A typical example of an automatic thought associated with Imposter Syndrome is, “I do not have enough experience.”
  3. Do your own reality check. Question the automatic impostor thoughts and feelings and try to come up with more balanced thoughts.
  4. Gain an understanding of the difference between feelings and reality. Some people tend to believe that if they feel something strongly it must be right. “If I feel so stupid, it must be that I am stupid.” When you catch yourself thinking in this way change it to a coping statement of “the fact that I feel stupid does not mean that I really am.”
  5. Fake it until you make it. When you want to psych yourself up before a big meeting, do what Amy Cuddy from Harvard University recommends adopting a power pose before the meeting.

Imposter Syndrome is common in successful women and often holds them back from achieving their full potential. You can learn to recognise if Imposter Syndrome is playing a part in your career, life and the decisions you make. We can learn to manage Imposter Syndrome and succeed.

If you are a woman living in the Pilbara and wanting to grow your leadership skills and potential, the 2 day Pilbara Women In Leadership Masterclass is on again in 19-20 February in Karratha and 25-26 February in Port Hedland.

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