Imposter Syndrome: How it may be limiting your happiness and success
By Sue Simmons
Loving Warrior Women Coaching
Have you ever felt that you’re not as smart as others perceive you to be? That you’re not really deserving of your success? That some day you’ll be discovered as an “intellectual phony,” and your world will come crumbling down around you? If so, you’re in the company of many other competent women!
Years ago, this was my experience. I felt alone, anxious, and suffered terribly. It was my “dirty little secret.” At the time, I was working in a male-dominated environment, as the lone female manager in the history of the organization. At home, my son had just been diagnosed with autism, and my daughter had just turned one. It wasn’t until I happened across an article on Imposter Syndrome that I realized that I wasn’t alone! I was flooded with relief, and grateful that there was a name for what I was experiencing.
Imposter Syndrome was first discovered by psychologists Dr. Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes, from Georgia State University, in 1978. Initially, it was thought to impact primarily those in academia, but has since been shown to affect women (and men) in the business world with equal prevalence. The statistics around Imposter Syndrome are staggering. 70% of people are affected, and the percentage in women is even higher. Imposter Syndrome is characterized by a persistent belief that:
- My success is a fluke, merely a result of luck or good timing, connections – or my charming personality
- I am considerably less intelligent than others think I am, and;
- I am an intellectual “fraud,” and at any time, I will be discovered if I fail.
Women who experience this devastating syndrome are primarily high-achieving, and highly-intelligent individuals, who put tremendous pressure on themselves. They accept nothing less than perfection in their personal and professional lives. Due to their severely limiting beliefs, and their perceived flaws and shortcomings, they wear a protective mask which prevents their genius, and authentic personality from shining through. Not surprisingly, it prevents them from experiencing happiness, and authentic relationships as well.
One of the most paradoxical aspects of this phenomenon shows up when she experiences a “win.” You would assume that her imposter feelings would be lessened, but the opposite is true. She can’t own her accomplishment (of course her success was a result of something other than her talent)! Subsequently, she puts additional pressure on herself to prove her worth. She raises the bar, creating more stress and anxiety in order to perform at an unprecedented level. It adds up to a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. Without being broken, this cycle can lead to, absenteeism or illness, burn-out, and certainly unhappiness.
Ironically, Imposter Syndrome doesn’t impact just the average woman. It plagues CEOs, and celebrities alike! In recent years, many individuals in the public eye have come forward, sharing their experiences with Imposter Syndrome. Of note is Jodie Foster, who in 2013 won an Oscar for her role in The Accused. She reportedly feared that the Oscar would be taken back due to error, and given to Meryl Streep – who ironically, suffers from Imposter Syndrome as well! Mike Myers, creator of the Austin Powers franchise, has said he still worries about being “taken away from the no talent police!”
For professional women, Imposter Syndrome is an obstacle to both happiness, and success. Imagine this for a moment… how would you protect yourself if you were terrified of being unmasked as an intellectual phony? Of course, you’d “hide out,” over-work and over-deliver to remain safe. You’d burn yourself out trying to achieve perfection. You would avoid opportunities which could propel you forward, to avoid failing. Or you may subconsciously procrastinate, to avoid completing a project that you’re fearful will not be acceptable.
What can be done to combat Imposter Syndrome? Many things, all of which relate to awareness and mindset.
- Share your feelings with trusted friends. Our female “sisters” are critical to our happiness and sense of belonging. Women who suffer from Imposter Syndrome typically do so in silence. Being able to openly express your feelings will open the door to both understanding and compassion. Based on statistics, chances are you’ll have friends who have their own similar secret! Anyone with a pulse has insecurities. As the Late Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
- Stop comparing yourself to others! Our internal experience is just that – OUR internal experience. We mistakenly feel that others who look perfectly together on the outside, feel perfectly together on the inside. This just isn’t so.
- List your accomplishments objectively. Take a good, long look at what you’ve managed to accomplish throughout your life and career. Imagine you were sharing your list with a friend. How would she acknowledge you?
- Seek the help of compassionate professional coaches who have experienced Imposter Syndrome, and developed specific programs to help. This is the most effective route to permanent, sustainable, beneficial change.
In our work, my partner and I use a unique blend of coaching and energy healing, specifically EFT or tapping, to help women move through Imposter Syndrome. This powerful combination allows women to gradually begin to see their Imposter Syndrome symptoms and how it’s holding them back. Then they learn to own their success to create more of it, and to “safely” remove their Imposter Syndrome mask. This work allows them to naturally achieve greater happiness and success. They show their talents and capabilities and achieve a state that we refer to as “authentic success”. No more hiding or playing small. These women now feel as successful on the inside as they have always appeared to others on the outside.
Looking for support to feel authentically successful? We have an 8-week online IMPOSTER program beginning in mid-January. What a great way to start the year! Visit our facebook page where you can take our instant online Imposter Syndrome Quiz! To contact me directly, call 705-875-4605, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.