Impostor Syndrome Series Pt. 1

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What is Impostor Syndrome?

Or - I’m so happy there’s a name for this!

What is this thing called “Impostor Syndrome”?

The term has gained traction as of late - and I for one am so glad! Impostor Syndrome is a persistent feeling of self doubt, incompetence, and inadequacy - despite evidence that suggests otherwise.

We all have periods of uncertainty and second guessing ourselves, but Impostor Syndrome takes it to a whole new level - it becomes a part of our identity.

Imposter Syndrome makes you feel as if you aren’t deserving of your accomplishments - whether its a degree, certification, title, promotion etc - because deep down you feel like a “fraud.” Day to day you might feel as if you are simply winging it and praying no one discovers how unqualified you really are. Does any of this sound familiar to you? If it does its no surprise, research indicates that 70% of people in the United States have suffered from Imposter Syndrome at least once in their lives. My own anecdotal experience leads me to believe that women are significantly more impacted by I.S. than are men - and that the more successful a woman is the higher the likelihood that she will experience these feelings.

So, is this a real thing?

The term “Impostor Syndrome” was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzzane Imes (women!) in the 70’s describing it as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness” and “a persistent feeling of being a fraud".

In their article “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention" Clance and Imes investigated the prevalence of this internal experience by interviewing a sample of 150 high-achieving women who had been formally recognized for their professional excellence by colleagues, and academic achievements by degrees earned, and top ranking scores on standardized testing. 

Despite the consistent evidence of being competent and well deserving of earned achievements, these women lacked the internal acknowledgement of their accomplishments. (Sound familiar?) The participants explained how their success was a result of luck, and other people simply overestimating their intelligence and abilities. Clance explained that impostor syndrome can be identified by the following six characteristics:

  • The impostor cycle begins with an achievement related task, often an assignment in school or work

  • The need to be special or the best

  • Characteristics of Superman/Superwoman

  • Fear of failure

  • Denial of ability and discounting praise (this is how I experience I.S.)

  • Feeling fear and guilt about success

We have likely all experienced the feelings listed here at some time or another - and certainly external conditions such as getting a big promotion or starting a new career can cause these feelings to arise temporarily. The distinguishing feature of Impostor Syndrome is that it does not go away when the newness of the achievement or responsibilities wear off, in fact it can increase over time causing you to experience job dissatisfaction, feelings of guilt, and an overall aversiveness to risk and new opportunities.

There is an abundance of research, most notably from Dr. Pauline Clance, regarding Impostor Syndrome, and it has recently gained traction with the number of female entrepreneurs coming onto the scene. It is not a new phenomena however, or limited to entrepreneurs - it can and does affect individuals from every walk of life. The good news is that it can be overcome - and I am proof of that!

You see, up until about a year ago I was deep in the Impostor Syndrome - and didn’t even know it was a real thing! I honestly just thought that although my degrees and job titles matched others in name, they didn’t match in importance or legitimacy. That doctorate degree? Wasn’t as “real” as everyone else’s - I probably picked an easier dissertation topic or got lucky with a lax committee. That Principal position - I’m just a good interviewee, they probably regret hiring me and are just counting the days until I leave or get fired.

These are really the things I believed! I used to cringe every time someone would call me “Dr. Bond” because I didn’t feel I was a real PhD. The hours I put into researching and writing my dissertation were certainly real! The frustration and tears each time it would come back from the committee with revisions needed were certainly real! But when I finally completed the requirements, donned the doctoral gown and walked across that stage I began to question the legitimacy of everything I had done. And the worst part is since I wasn’t aware of Impostor Syndrome I just believed the voice in my head telling me I was a fraud and spent years waiting to be found out……

Throughout the next few posts we will discuss how Impostor Syndrome manifests, personal stories of high achieving women and their experience with Impostor Syndrome, and how to finally ditch Impostor Syndrome for good!

Have you experienced Impostor Syndrome?

Comment below or email me - I would love to include your story in the upcoming blog post!