Fraudy Feelings & Imposter Syndrome

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Did you know it’s now believed Imposter Syndrome affects up to 82% [1] of the entire adult population? Yes, it’s not just a “female” thing, and almost all of us have experienced it some time in our careers.

Imposter Syndrome, or Imposter Phenomenon, is that nagging voice inside you that tells you you’re not good enough, that you’ve made it this far because of fate, or sheer dumb luck, and any second you’ll be found out and exposed. You may prescribe any success to a mistake, short term luck, or a short burst of effort – all of which detracts from acknowledging your inherent long-term abilities. This is despite all evidence to the contrary, which is what makes it so insidious.

I had many times in my career where I felt I was flying by the seat of my pants, especially the higher up I climbed on the corporate ladder. There was so much new and complicated information to seek out and digest, and I felt I “had to sound like I knew what I was doing and had everything under control”, like a “good leader” would. This feeling of walking on a tightwire can be quite energising and exhilarating if you’re feeling empowered and confident, but absolutely exhausting if you’re being overwhelmed with your “fraudy feelings” at the same time.

This feeling can absolutely get in the way of you being the best you can be – it can stop you applying for that amazing job, because you’re “sure” you’re not qualified enough to even get a first look-in. Or it can stop you seeking a promotion or pay rise because there’s “no way” you’ll get it when in competition with all those other Rock Stars around you (who, by the way, most probably also feel the same way about you!).

Psychologists first described the Syndrome in 1978 in a research paper entitled “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women” [2] (see link below for a great read!). They found that the women in the study tended to put any failures down to their lack of ability, while men put it down to bad luck, or the difficulty of the task – nothing to do with their inherent abilities.

In a more recent paper [1] that looked at more than 60 studies on the topic of Imposter Syndrome, they found that half of the papers that researched both men and women found that there was no difference in the rates of men or women suffering from the Syndrome. Further to this, half of the studies that looked at whether Imposter Syndrome decreased with age found it actually did (another great thing about a few pieces of tinsel in your hair!). So while some observations are interesting yet inconclusive, one thing was abundantly clear: the study concluded that there is “robust literature that describes the harmful association between impostor feelings and job performance, job satisfaction, and burnout”. Yikes.

So what can we do about this? An interesting way you may consider approaching your own fraudy feelings is to partake in group coaching – speaking about these feelings with other successful women will effectively hold a mirror up to your own self. As you listen to other objectively amazing women talk about their own feelings of inadequacy, you may begin to recognise this within yourself as well. Know you are never alone in these feelings!

Further, a very “rational” way to take the wind out of imposter syndrome is to imagine telling these feelings to the person who you think you have “fooled”, and watch them explode with indignation – you are effectively accusing them of being so dim-witted, careless or blind that they unknowingly made an egregious error in hiring you!

Want to explore this topic some more with me before it really gets in the way of your wonderful success? Book in a Moxie Discovery Call today and let’s nip those fraudy feelings in the bud – together!


[1] Dena M. Bravata, Sharon A. Watts, Autumn L. Keefer, Divya K. Madhusudhan, Katie T. Taylor, Dani M. Clark, Ross S. Nelson, Kevin O. Cokley, Heather K. Hagg. Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Apr; 35(4): 1252–1275. Published online 2019 Dec 17

[2] Clance PR, Imes SA. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychother Theory Res Pract. 1978;15(3):241–7, https://www.paulineroseclance.com/pdf/ip_high_achieving_women.pdf

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