Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Self-Doubt

Meeting    One of the most interesting dialogues about women today continues to be their pervasive self-doubt, known as Imposter Syndrome.  Many women who have achieved success in business, school, or life in general, still struggle with a belief that they are frauds, that they do not deserve their success, that they have somehow managed to dupe their way up the ladder.  They focus on their failures instead of their successes and internalize negative messages they may get from others.

From executives to actresses, from Supreme Court justices to entrepreneurs, from government officials to moms who head up non-profit boards, it is estimated that 70% of women will experience imposter syndrome at one point in their lives.  Here is what some of them have to say:

Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook executive)– “Every time I was called on is class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself.  And every time I didn’t embarrass myself…I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again.”

Emma Watson (Actress) – “It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases because I’m just going, Any moment, someone going to find out I’m a total fraud and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved.”

Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand) – “I am my own biggest hurdle, because no one will be a bigger critic of me than me.  Whether or not you …. overemphasize your confidence deficit, I do think many women are much harsher on themselves and on their abilities.  I am one of them.”

For heaven’s sake, Jacinda Ardern runs a country and is only the second woman in history to give birth while in office, yet she too struggles with imposter syndrome.  So it is no surprise that even us ordinary women have felt the same way.  I was one of only seven women out of 300 division managers in a company of 7,500, and while working full-time at that job I finished my Ph.D. Yet I too had some of those same doubting anxious thoughts.  I think Lena Dunham said it best when she said “I felt like I had to be the person who answered emails the fastest, stayed up the latest, worked the hardest.  I could have worked with a sense of joy and excitement, rather than guilt and anxiety of being ‘found out.”

How can we change this syndrome which has dogged us since more and more women entered the workforce?

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Women tend to compare themselves and find themselves wanting, while men compare and revel in how much better they are!  Measure yourself against yourself and focus on what you have improved or achieved.
  • Make a list of the things you have done well, have achieved, and have been celebrated for. Put the list in your underwear drawer where you will see it every day! And if you have to, put a copy in your wallet or on your cell phone so you can see it when you are doubting yourself.

Develop an accurate picture of your strengths and weaknesses and decide if you want to work on improving those weaknesses. With my clients in therapy, we call this a Self-Image Collage.  We don’t have to be good at everything, but we need to identify if there are weak spots that are holding us back from the goals we want to achieve.

  • Power through self-doubt. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “I have that initial insecurity but I’m capable of stepping outside of it and proving to myself that it’s wrong.”
  • Learn from any failures you experience instead of making that failure into a global picture of how incompetent you are. Each failure is preparation for future success and something to learn from.  Remember, even Oprah Winfrey was told that she wasn’t cut out for TV!

And speaking of Oprah, here is a quote from her that really touched me.  “The Disease to Please.  It happens when we are not raised to know our own value and our own worth.”  For those of you raising girls (and I mean dads as well as moms) please make sure that you help your girls to be resilient, and know that it is okay to think for themselves, set healthy boundaries and chart their own course.    It is one of the best ways I can think of to wipe out imposter syndrome.

If you need help conquering self-doubt please contact me at www.dralisonblock.com or call my office at 732-933-1333.