Women Experience Imposter Syndrome At Higher Rates Than Men, So Here Are 4 Tips To Overcome Self-Doubt

Even if you’ve earned your seat at the table, sometimes it’s difficult not to feel like a full-on fraud. But it’s high time you stop second-guessing yourself and learn to see your strengths shining through.

By Andrea Mew5 min read
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Shutterstock/Dmytro Kapitonenko

Do you ever find yourself waving praise aside? You may have accomplished something great, like you got a promotion at work or you earned high marks on an exam, but even the mere mention of your achievement feels forced and fake? You’ve demonstrated your competence, but you feel incompetent. You chalk up your successes to luck. You hesitate to take on a new project out of fear of not measuring up to expectations.

These deep-rooted feelings of self-doubt, that you’ve somehow deceived people into thinking you’re something you’re not, are called imposter syndrome. Interestingly enough, women have been found to experience these internalized beliefs at higher rates than men, so let’s take a look into why we’re constantly doubting our achievements and work through ways to break this negative cycle.

Why Do We Feel Like Frauds?

Though upwards of 82% of people wrongfully experience feeling like frauds from time to time, recent polling data conducted by OnePoll found that imposter syndrome affects more than half of women. Nearly three-quarters of the polled women said their negative feelings manifested at work, but 62% went so far as to say they’ve rarely felt confident throughout their lives in general. 

Imposter syndrome isn’t a diagnosable disorder, but consistently telling yourself false notions about being a “poser” can cause you to feel anxious, stressed, and insecure in your day-to-day life. You could be proving your worth on the daily, but despite how qualified you are, your intelligence, your measurable skills, and your innate talents, you begin a self-destructive spiral into downplaying your worth. If you don’t address it, imposter syndrome could cause you to take fewer risks, feel burnt out, and actually begin to underachieve. Sounds like a tricky, self-fulfilling prophecy to me!

Some psychologists believe that a certain amount of self-doubt can be healthy, and even push us to grow. After all, if we mistakenly inflate our egos, we miss out on a lot of introspective learning and personal growth. “Just as high achievement can fuel impostor phenomenon in self-doubting people, impostor feelings can fuel high achievement, which would enhance one’s beliefs in his or her abilities and achievement,” York University instructor of psychology Ami Rokach said in a cover story by the American Psychological Association. “Impostor phenomenon is a spectrum, not binary.”

Certain personality types like introverts are more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome. 

Typically, imposter syndrome hits us during new chapters in our lives, but you may just have that looming sense of fraudulency that developed in pivotal stages in your life. For example, if you grew up with parents who set the bar quite high for your achievements, you may have developed a consistent need to please your family. So, when your skills get challenged, you might get anxious and doubt yourself.

As the new polling data suggests, women tend to feel like imposters at higher rates than men. Some believe that this is because women are less frequently portrayed as competent leaders, but it’s also worth pointing out that imposter syndrome could also be a symptom of already-existing mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. Furthermore, certain personality types (hey there, fellow introverts!) are more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome. 

Imposter Syndrome Manifests in More Ways Than One

Author on imposter syndrome Valerie Young categorizes five different types of imposter syndrome: perfectionists, superheroes, experts, geniuses, and soloists, though each type could certainly experience elements of the others.

Do you work overtime, never take rest days, and use your negative self-talk to motivate achievement? You may be the perfectionist. Do you try to wear as many proverbial hats as possible and try to balance an unhealthy amount of expectations? You may be the superhero. Do you consider yourself a human Wikipedia on any given topic and are a treasure trove of facts? You may be the expert. Do you feel conditioned into thinking success should come easy for you, so you veer away from challenging tasks that could otherwise prove you wrong? You may be the genius. Do you avoid working in group settings and shy away from asking for help, lest you appear weak and needy? You may be the soloist.

No matter which “type” you may be, you’re certainly not doing yourself any favors if you let imposter syndrome rule your psyche. This phenomenon is entirely normal and actually quite common to experience, so you shouldn’t feel alone in your feelings. But, if you’re committed to breaking the cycle of self-doubt, then here are four simple steps to feeling less like an imposter.

4 Steps To Overcoming Feelings of Self-Doubt

1. ‘Fess Up About Your “Fraud” Feelings

There’s a good reason why the “first step” for many recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is to admit that you’ve got a problem. Now, I’m certainly not comparing you to an alcoholic, but think about it – if you can’t admit that there’s something wrong, how are you ever going to grow?

Admitting you’re giving in to self-destructive behaviors helps reduce any shameful feelings you may be bottling up! Acknowledge when your “imposter syndrome” feelings arise, and make a concerted effort to ask yourself why you feel this way.

Feeling inadequate in this moment doesn't mean you’re a fundamentally inadequate person.

Just because you’re feeling inadequate in this particular moment, it does not mean that you’re a fundamentally inadequate person. Self-doubt clouds our perception of reality, so you need to remind yourself that feelings are very different from facts.

It may help for you to journal this process out, but if you’re at work or otherwise don’t have access to dedicated time and mental headspace to journal, try writing these reflective feelings down on the notes app on your phone, on a pad of paper, or sticky-note. Additionally, opening up to a trusted friend or any other loved one can help get negative feelings off your chest and make them easier to come to terms with.

2. Take Note of Your Personal Weaknesses and Strengths

There are things you’re going to be great at that I’ll probably never master, and vice-versa. We’ve all got our strengths and weaknesses, but how many of us are willing to actually reflect on our skills, acknowledge where we excel, and admit where we might need to grow?

Career author Minda Zetlin wrote about how effective leaders can turn their weaknesses into strengths. First, she recommended that you recognize your weakness and then seek out guidance from someone who excels in this area. One example she gave was to hire for the skills you may lack. It could seem like admitting defeat, but let’s be honest – if you’re not good at something and don’t have any real need to get good at it, why not trust the professionals? 

If you can come to terms with the things you may genuinely struggle with, then I’d wager when it comes time for your actual strengths to be tested, you’ll be far less likely to think you’re an imposter. That said, you certainly shouldn’t over-accentuate your positive qualities and allow ego to take the reins.

3. Learn How To Cope with Failure

You’re bound to fail every now and then, so it’s critical you develop a healthy response to those times when you do make a mistake. Author Paul Coelho once said that “the secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times,” meaning that when you fail, you need to get back up instead of beating yourself up. Don’t look at failure as the end, look at it as the catalyst to grow and become a glowed-up version of yourself.

Coping with genuine failure – easier said than done, right? Young suggests that you should try to develop a new script when faced with situations that trigger your fraudulent feelings.

When you fail, you need to get back up instead of beating yourself up.

“Become consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head when you’re in a situation that triggers your impostor feelings. This is your internal script. Then instead of thinking, ‘Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,’ tell yourself, ‘Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers, but I’m smart enough to find them out.’ Instead of looking around the room and thinking, ‘Oh my God, everyone here is brilliant…and I’m not,’ go with ‘Wow, everyone here is brilliant – I’m really going to learn a lot!’”

Have you ever considered a “failure journal”? From sales to science, professionals analyze failures to determine what was the root cause and prevent future failures. Writer on entrepreneurship and skill development Danny Forest explained that, while he kept a “win journal,” he also found the self-awareness he developed from keeping a “failure journal” helped him remember his mistakes so he would be less likely to repeat them, disassociate with emotions around his failures to discover learnable lessons in each fail, and reframe his failures “as a necessary part of success.”

4. Say Au Revoir to Little Miss Perfect

Instead of constantly seeking perfection, it’s more realistic for you to seek progress. However, sometimes when you’re moving up in the food chain (whether that’s at work or making progress toward a fitness goal), your incremental progress or achievements may not be so obvious. Even if you’re making positive progress, your shortcomings could cause you to doubt your worth, but reframing your attitude away from rigid perfection will make confidence so much more accessible. Progress in the right direction, even if it’s slower than you want it to be, is still progress!

You may see some uphill battles in your new career, as a new mother, whatever it is, but you can certainly position yourself to make progress by “faking it ‘til you make it.” Propping up your confidence with this proverbial placebo effect can actually be scientifically effective. For example, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 183 scientific studies that showed that, even if you’re not happy at that moment, the simple act of smiling can actually make you feel happier. Faking it is sometimes all you need to convince yourself you can do what you’re already doing.

Closing Thoughts

Feelings of self-doubt are mindless moments that you have the power to correct through more productive, mindful behaviors. As you begin the process of working through your own imposter syndrome, know that you certainly won’t get rid of those pesky feelings forever. We all have low moments from time to time where our self-confidence is challenged by adversity. Be it a new internship, a new life project like planning your wedding, or a change in your career, you’ll always be faced with new experiences – that’s the beauty of life. 

But if you get to those spots and your imposter syndrome arises, you don’t have to let it control the situation. By arming yourself with mindfulness techniques to challenge self-doubt, you’ll be better equipped to process your feelings and move on to bigger and better things!

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