January 25, 2016

Impostor Syndrome: Do You Have It?

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

Last week, a Buzzfeed listicle made the social media rounds: 13 Charts That Will Make Total Sense to People With Imposter Syndrome. I lost track of how many writers and creative people I “know” (in the social media sense of “know”) who posted or reposted the link to this list, claiming one or more of the charts as hitting waaaaaaaay too close to home.

Impostor Syndrome is a disconnect between perceived and actual performance. People who suffer from it may have ample objective evidence of legitimate success, but somehow feel they’ve been faking it and it’s only a matter of time before someone figures that out.

Psychology Today reports that more than 70% of people studied suffer from Impostor Syndrome. Perhaps not surprisingly, the condition predominantly (but not exclusively) affects highly motivated and/or highly successful women.

“The telltale sign of impostor syndrome is a disconnect between perceived and actual performance. “Impostors” have ample objective evidence that they are doing well—good performance reports, promotion history, grades, etc. Yet they feel that somehow they’ve been faking it or skating along on thin ice. Any minute now, they are going to be ummasked and revealed to be a fraud.” (via Psychology Today)

So, basically, the more keen you are to succeed, the more likely you are to experience Impostor Syndrome along the way to and while enjoying that success.

imposter syndrome 1
via BuzzFeed


This may not be a “smexy” topic to explore this week, but it’s been weighing on my mind as I struggle to write a new project, one I’m very excited about, but for which I have a moment by moment struggle against the fear of failing to do it well. Against the conviction that pretty much anyone could do it better and everyone will likely figure that out pretty dang quick. I’ve dismissed my work and skill, I’ve decided other writers are better than I am, I excuse away my critique partner’s positive comments on completed chapters. I have a framed contest award on my wall from a prestigious contest, one I downplay when congratulated on my win because since I won, it must not be that great a contest, right? (It totally is.)

What I know
via FastCompany

It’s all complete bullshit and yet I believe it so much more than positive reinforcement because it’s been so ingrained in me to deflect or diminish my accomplishments. People who suffer from Impostor Syndrome are often hardest on themselves, consumed by never-ending self-criticism. Such feelings and reactions are fairly commonplace for successful women too. This article from The Hairpin in 2014 lists anecdote after anecdote of experts in their fields who struggle or have struggled with Impostor Syndrome. Two immediately jumped out at me:

“I couldn’t very well believe I was funny and smart and capable while being funny and smart and capable, could I? Especially as women, we’re constantly forced to doubt ourselves in our careers and love lives and everything in between.” –actress/writer Gabby Dunn

“One day I told him how I felt like a fraud much of the time. There I was, going about my business, absolutely faking it, and someone was going to find me out. How could I get on stage? How could I keep writing? How could I do anything in public, be any kind of expert or person in charge, when all it would take was one reasonable person who would stand up and say, ‘This girl doesn’t have an ounce of talent or a hint of a clue.’” –Writer Leah Reich

But Imposter Syndrome can also have tangible impact for a company–even if it’s only a company of you. “A lack of self-confidence in the workplace can hurt the bottom line,” wrote Jenny Dearborn, Chief Learning Officer and Senior Vice President at SAP, in her article for HuffPo Business “Don’t Fear Imposter Syndrome–Fight It”. “Employees who lack confidence may never put themselves up for jobs where they’d excel.”

So what do we do to combat this feeling of being an imposter in the thing we do best?

FastCompany has a few ideas about that.

  1. Recognize that [Imposter Syndrome] exists.
  2. When you receive positive feedback, embrace it with objectivity and internalize it. By denying it, you are hurting that person’s judgement.
  3. Don’t attribute your successes to luck.
  4. Don’t talk about your abilities or successes with words like “merely,” “only,” “simply,” etc.
  5. Keep a journal. Writing your successes and failures down gives you a retrospective insight about them, and re-reading them makes you remember equally both of them.
  6. Recognize that the perfect performer doesn’t exist, and that problems will pop up eventually. Take them as little fires under you that make you move forward.
  7. Be proud of being humble.
  8. Remember that it’s okay to seek help from others, and that even the best do it.

Psychology Today advises that we own our success to the point of internalizing it. It wasn’t luck that brought us these achievements, it was damn hard work. Own your own thoughts on the matter. Don’t allow that self-criticism to flourish fertilized by that internal hater. Instead, shift your focus to a time not when you failed, but when you succeed (like, say, a framed award on your wall). And understand that self-doubt, the underlying cause of Imposter Syndrome, is a natural emotion and one that, in moderate amounts, can motivate you forward to success so long as you don’t allow them the space to take root and grow.

It’s not vanity to say you’re damn good at what you do. It’s not ego to demand for that work to be acknowledged. It’s not a flaw to celebrate your professional worth. You’re not a bitch because you’re proud of your accomplishments and awards and aren’t ashamed to say it.

Claim it. Own it. Flaunt it.

And, if necessary, fake it till you make it.

Do you fear you have Impostor Syndrome? Take this handy test from PsychTests and find out!

Follow LadySmut. You’ll never know if we’re faking it, but we promise you won’t care.

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  • Post authormadeline iva

    The worst part of imposter syndrome, IMHO, is when you feel like you have to do five things for other people before you feel okay asking for one little thing yourself. I’ve tried very hard to break that habit. And I even feel guilty confessing this now — but I remind myself to do a little snoopy dance anytime I get something just for asking. Feels so wrong–feels so right.

    That said, life has taught me that the biggest prizes only come with sheer hard work over time, and you will feel it when you have been through it. How many times have I re-written my WIP? Ugh, and here I am doing it *again*. If people keep to their career path long enough, at some point during that rise of success will come the moment where it’s a slog. That’s when the real imposters give up.

    I also think part of this imposter syndrome comes — as your experts state — from not pausing to relish the successes as they come and even worse, worrying that we’ll get a smack down from other women/people around us if we do. Rushing on towards the next prize before celebrating the current one makes the last one feel a little more conceptual, a little less real. Having friends who only console you when things go wrong but are jealous when things go right doesn’t help either.

    Finally — if things are going well, it’s because you’re in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. But how did that happen? Usually there are mentors, teachers, and/or parents who steered you in the right direction or gave you a great foundation — something not everyone pauses to ponder. A big thank you to them might provide that moment of connection that helps reinforce this is all real.

    Reply to madeline iva
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