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Imposter Syndrome in High Achieving Women

Over the years I have noticed an interesting phenomenon in the high achieving women I work with. As these smart and innovative women move up the ranks, they appear to be fueled by defiance, excitement, and oftentimes a certain level of anger. They have said things like "just watch me and see how high I go" when speaking about the condescending comments made by male peers or bosses. But, as they rise up these ranks the emotions appear to shift. The higher they go, the more cautious, self-aware, and anxious they become. A meeting that used to fill them with excitement now fills them with dread. And all too often, a small voice appears in their heads telling them that any minute now they will be found out; caught in a place they really don't belong. That small voice is what we refer to as imposter syndrome in the mental health field.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is the idea that you do not belong in a certain situation and that you will be found out. An imposter is someone who is pretending to be something or someone whom they are not. Imposter Syndrome usually accompanied with perfectionism, anxiety, and self- consciousness. Here's why these feelings are so interlinked:

1) Perfectionism - This one is easy to explain. People with Imposter Syndrome oftentimes feel that if they do things perfectly then they won't be found out. So if the project is done to perfection, the presentation goes perfectly, and you do things just right, then nobody will know that "I don't actually know what I'm doing".

2) Anxiety - Imagine living in a world where you think that at any moment they will find out that you are a fraud and you will be fired. OF COURSE, you're going to be anxious if that's the world you're living in.

3) Self-consciousness - When you live your life thinking that you don't belong, you will become self-conscious and very self-aware. You will look at what you are doing, wearing, your facial expressions, your skin turning red, etc... You are constantly looking for clues that could give away the idea that you actually do not belong.

Ways to Combat Imposter Syndrome

One of the first ways to combat Imposter Syndrome is to start to review your successes. Your brain is busy all day highlighting your failures and where you don't belong. So, you need to get into the habit of reminding yourself that you actually do belong and you actually do know what you're doing. A simple way to do this is through the use of a gratitude or success journal. At the end of each day spend a few minutes reviewing your successes. They can be as small as "I survived another day" but anything with detail and you in control of the outcomes will be best. Examples include "I really managed that meeting well", "We got the project I worked on", or "I did a good job supporting my co-worker with her project today". If you get into the habit of writing 3-5 accomplishments each day, and you do this Monday - Friday each week, at the end of the year you will have logged 780 - 1300 accomplishments. That's a LOT of accomplishments that you were responsible for. And those accomplishments will help you fight that little voice telling you that you don't belong. After all, how could you have so many successes if you didn't know what you were doing?

Another way to combat Imposter Syndrome is to do the one thing you are afraid of doing; tell your peers. Often times, the thing that makes Imposter Syndrome so effective is that we keep it to ourselves. We don't share with others that we feel like we are struggling, like we don't belong, like we are not good enough. Share your thoughts and feelings with other high achieving women you trust and you will be surprised by how many of them feel the same way as you. There is relief and power in knowing that you are not alone.

Of course these are only two ways to combat imposter syndrome. If you would like to read a book about Imposter Syndrome then I recommend reading "The Imposter Cure" by Dr. Jessamy Hibberd. She is a British Psychologist who has spent her career studying Imposter Syndrome and her book offers real-life, actionable steps you can take to combat Imposter Syndrome.

Finally, remember that you are not alone and that our therapists are here for you. Please feel free to reach out and schedule an appointment if you wish to discuss your personal relationship with Imposter Syndrome and how to combat it.

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