Do you sometimes doubt your abilities and worry that you are not good enough? Do you feel inadequate even though what you have achieved suggests otherwise?
If so then you could well be suffering from Imposter Syndrome. It's something that has probably always been around but it was given a label in the 1970s to describe the phenomenon in which successful people cannot internalise, or 'own', their successes. It is experienced as a sense of inadequacy and 'not enough', even when information suggests this not to be true. And, interestingly, it is more likely to be experienced by women.
First the good news -- if you feel this is something you recognize in yourself then you are not alone. In fact over 70% of people studied report having experienced it at one time or another in their lives.
And a long list of high achievers have all talked about experiencing these feelings too. It would seem fame, success and prestigious accolades do not make you immune.
Imposter Syndrome is more than just doubting yourself and we have to unpick it further to be able to tackle it. I would argue that Imposter Syndrome is a function of perfectionism and shame with these being two sides of the same coin.
Putting a spotlight on perfectionism makes sense -- it's a self destructive belief system in which we think that if we just do everything perfectly we can minimise difficult feelings of unworthiness and shame. The cycle is addictive as perfect is an impossible standard to strive for. And, when we get things wrong, or when people judge or blame us, we decide to strive even harder rather than acknowledging the impossible standards that have been set.
But, why shame? Brené Brown defines shame as the intensely painful feeling that we are flawed and are therefore not worthy of love and belonging. Maybe you're surprised to see shame being discussed here. It isn't something that is often discussed but it is the driving emotion behind so many of our destructive behaviours in the workplace and, so, can't be ignored.
I believe Imposter Syndrome is rife in the workplace, particularly for women, due to the masculine workplace culture. If the workplace rewards 'masculine' traits of dominance, control, linear thinking and reason over 'feminine' ones such as group decision making, empathy, lateral thinking and intuition, then it's no wonder women doubt their worthiness.
The lack of senior female roles models who 'show up' as themselves does not help. In the past, and still today perhaps to a lesser extent, women felt that they have to take on masculine workplace characteristics to get ahead and therein lies the issue. If women continue to bend to that idea that they have to be more 'male' to get ahead then that just undermines the value that women can, and should be encouraged to, bring to the workplace.
It's easy to get caught in a vicious cycle -- you don't show up as yourself because what you bring isn't valued, and because you're not showing up as yourself you doubt yourself, and so it goes on.
Look out for our next newsletter in which we show you how to work through Imposter Syndrome.
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