Imposter syndrome: The hidden affliction of the high-achieving woman.
Think back to the last time you experienced a major accomplishment. Maybe you finally landed your first client or got hired into your ideal job. Maybe you earned a big promotion or award, or were chosen from a large group for an elite opportunity.
Most likely, it felt exhilarating, exciting, and incredible.
But did it feel almost unbelievable?
Did you start to question yourself and hear doubts creep into your head, saying things like “I don’t belong here,” “I’m not worthy,” or “I don’t deserve this?”
The definition of imposter syndrome
It’s all too common, especially as women entrepreneurs, that once we attain a certain goal, we experience a debilitating level of self-doubt or even panic that we don’t belong.
This is known as impostor syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a term coined by psychologists in the 70s that refers to high-achieving individuals who have an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Basically, when you experience imposter syndrome, you attribute your achievements to some external “fluke” instead of your own personal skills, talents, and efforts. You might also feel like you’re the odd one out, like you are the one who doesn’t belong.
Imposter syndrome affects women and high achievers at a disproportionate rate
Studies show that up to 70% of people have experienced imposter syndrome. It’s more common in women than men, and especially in those who are overachievers and perfectionists. (Sound familiar?)
If you grew up in an environment that was highly focused on rewards and recognition (and highly criticized if that that level of achievement wasn’t met), you are more likely to feel like an imposter.
And because of this, you’re most likely to be hit with a bout of imposter syndrome when you embark on new endeavors, such as starting a business.
How to know if you have imposter syndrome
How do you know if you have imposter syndrome? Start by paying attention to your own thoughts.
Your inner critic or imposter sounds like a loud voice inside you, criticizing you, tearing you down, and listing all the reasons why you “can’t” or “don’t” deserve something. This lovely beast also provides excuses for you not to try something at all.
Here are some questions to see if you might be experiencing imposter syndrome.
- Have difficulty accepting compliments or praise?
- Discount your success (i.e., “It wasn’t that big of a deal.”)?
- Fear failure so much it keeps you from trying new things?
- Fear success and being “exposed”?
- Constantly compare yourself to others and feel like you don’t measure up?
- Often feel like you don’t belong?
- Attribute your success to luck (and no part of your own)?
If your answer to these questions is “yes”, you have experienced imposter syndrome.
The brightside of imposter syndrome
Your inner critic may sound annoying, unimportant, and useless. But it actually has a purpose.
Think of imposter syndrome as a built-in self-protection system. It wants to protect you from failing. It does this by planting seeds of doubt in your mind, hoping that you will believe it.
Consider this: If you’ve always done only what you know you can, trying something new carries with it an inherent risk of failure. Your inner critic wants to avoid failing at all costs, so it sabotages you by putting scary messages in your head.
When your inner imposter is so strong that you actually avoid things — things you want to do, things you’ve dreamed of doing, things that would be amazing opportunities for you — in the name of “playing it safe,” you let it win.
Imposter syndrome can keep you in the wrong job, in the wrong place, with the wrong partner, living a life beneath your full potential. But you don’t have to let it.
Is there coaching for imposter syndrome?
Like most mindset blocks, imposter syndrome can be coached. But first, you must become aware of it and make a conscious choice of what to do about it.
Eventually, over time, you will start to notice the messages as they arise and learn to differentiate the voice of your intuition (i.e., the real you) from the voice of your inner imposter (i.e., the fearful one who wants to protect you.)
Even if you conquer it once, it’s possible that it will never go away entirely. Imposter syndrome is likely to rear its ugly head whenever you are faced with a new challenge. So you might as well make friends with it.
You can start by creating awareness. When you hear the voices of doubt and fear, acknowledge that it’s the voice of your imposter. Recognize that it shows up when you are on the verge of something big. Know that it is trying to protect you. But also know that it is your choice how you respond.
7 tips to overcome imposter syndrome
When your inner impostor shows up, be ready to manage it, so it doesn’t make your decisions for you.
Here are 7 ways to coach your imposter syndrome:
1. Notice. First, identify which areas of your life your impostor is showing up for you. Are you constantly looking for external validation that you “belong”? Procrastinating on something for fear of it not being perfect? Holding yourself back from new opportunities or challenges because you feel like a fraud? Choosing not to share your true feelings or beliefs out of fear? Recognize how it’s showing up for you, personally.
2. Be kind to yourself. Just because you notice the voice of your impostor doesn’t mean that you have to listen. Know that by virtue of having this affliction, you are most likely a high-achiever who has accomplished quite a lot! Instead of beating yourself up about it, know that it’s just trying to protect you. Recognize that your imposter syndrome is showing up because you are embarking on something that is important. The more important something is, the more likely we are to want to protect it and shield it from potential failures.
3. Question the voice. When you start to hear the critical messages spin in your mind, stop and observe them. Then start to question those messages. What is your inner imposter telling you? “I could never do that.” “I will fail at this.” “I’m not as good as so-and-so.” When you hear this kind of internal dialogue, start questioning it instead of automatically believing it. Ask yourself, “How true is this really?” and “What could be another way of looking at this?”
4. Change your inner dialogue. After you’ve started questioning the voices, the next step is to change the thought. Replace the impostery thoughts with thoughts that support you rather than drag you down. For example, when you hear “I’m a fraud,” you can reassure yourself, “I’m here because I belong.” When you think, “What if it doesn’t work?” replace it “What if it does?” Rephrase these into statements that you actually believe and that you feel good about.
5. Give yourself permission to do your best and let that be enough. Letting go of perfection is hard, but it is also freeing when you are able to let yourself off the hook and know you are enough. Instead of thinking of failure as the end-all-be-all, think of it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Give yourself permission to try new things, no matter how they might work out.
6. Be open about sharing your experiences with others. Each time someone shares her story of imposter syndrome, more stories are brought to the table. It’s not as rare as you think — especially within groups of high achieving women. When more people talk about their experiences, we not only normalize it, but we serve as sound boards, support resources, and reality checks for each other.
7. Think of imposter syndrome as an indicator of what you must do. Instead of thinking of the inner critic as a red flag or stop sign, think of it as green light showing you where to go. If you’re terrified of being found out or discovered, take the chance to show up, confront the fear, and prove to yourself you can handle it.
Marianne Williamson said,
We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
So make a commitment to shine your light, in spite of your inner imposter’s warning. Make a conscious choice to go in the direction of your dreams, despite the fear. Think of life as an experiment rather a win-lose game. You only learn and achieve new levels of success by expanding yourself. Each time we expand beyond our comfort zone, we’ll encounter the imposter, and must choose how we will deal with it.
How does coaching help impostor syndrome?
Working with a certified coach can help you overcome limiting beliefs, recognize where you’re holding yourself back, and create a plan to move forward with confidence. To learn more about coaching for impostor syndrome, sign up for a free consult.