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Many of us have been here before. You were contacted by a company that you've had your eyes set on for a long time to interview for an open position. You made it through several rounds of interviews and were offered the position. You happily accept the offer. Not long after you begin your new role, you start to doubt yourself. You begin telling yourself that you only were offered the position because you got lucky, that you are incompetent, are undeserving of your success, and that everyone will soon find out that you are a fraud. These thoughts begin to do a number on your self-esteem and cause much stress. If this sounds familiar, you may have experienced "Imposter Syndrome."
Although it is not a diagnosis that you can find within the DSM5, Imposter Syndrome is something that so many experience. Imposter Syndrome refers to a pattern of doubting your own successes and experiencing fear of being exposed as a fraud because you think that you aren't as competent as you appear. Characteristics of this experience can include overachieving, attributing your success to outside factors, self-doubt, sabotaging your own success, heavily scrutinizing your performance, fear of not living up to expectations, and setting unrealistic goals but beating yourself up for falling short of them. Imposter syndrome can cause feelings of shame, depression, low self-esteem, and increased stress.
Self-doubt and imposter syndrome can affect women at a higher rate than our male counterparts. Women of color are especially more likely to experience it. Women of color are more likely to experience Imposter Syndrome when they don't see others who look like them or share a common background succeeding in their work field. Groups that have experienced systematic oppression are more at risk for experiencing this phenomenon. Experiencing sexist and racist stereotypes can cause marginalized groups to experience increased self-doubt within the workplace.
According to annual data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, women earned 82 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2020. Women's annual earnings were 82.3% of men's, and the gap is even wider for women of color. Women of color are paid even less, with black women being paid overall 21% less than white women. In 2020, women accounted for just 6% of CEOs at the 500 largest American companies based on revenue. With these statistics, it is no wonder why women and especially women of color experience Imposter Syndrome at higher rates. This is exactly why representation is important.
In our society, women are valued for their looks and sexual appeal. The traditional focus on female beauty can exacerbate feelings of self-doubt, especially when women have grown up with and experienced messages of only being valued for their physical appearance, not by their intelligence or skills. Some women may even wonder if they truly deserve their success in the workplace or if it was because they were only valued for their looks.
There are many different ways that you can cope with Imposter Syndrome, but it is important to deconstruct the societal messages and systemic factors that are contributing to it. It is important that we as a society recognize and acknowledge systemic issues that are harmful to our mental health. If you are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, here are ways that you can cope:
Recognize when your thoughts and self-critiques are driven by Imposter Syndrome
Know that your feelings are normal. MANY people experience this!
Reflect and explore why you might be experiencing these feelings
Acknowledge the systemic factors at play
Remind yourself of all of your accomplishments
Remember that it is ok to not have the answers to everything
Seek out a mentor in your field
Share how you are feeling with someone you feel emotionally safe with
Process your experiences and emotions with a therapist
Annual Data. U.S. Department of Labor Seal. (n.d.). https://www.dol.gov/agencies/wb/data/latest-annual-data#Labor-Force-Participation-Rates.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Gender and Stress. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2010/gender-stress
DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog does not substitute for mental health services. These are my personal thoughts gained from my experiences and education as a psychotherapist. If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911.