Imposter Syndrome

Over the past year I’ve read Bossypants by Tina Fey, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso and Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. And if memory serves, I remember every single one of them describing struggling with something called Imposter Syndrome.

A quick wiki describes Imposter Syndrome as

a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved… [it] is particularly common among high-achieving women.”

Before I even start, I just cannot with this. That we have people like Adam Sandler walking around without a care in the world, who hasn’t made a good film since I was still in nappies, and these extremely hard working and evidently successful women feel this way. It makes me kinda mad. The feeling manifests in very different ways- women saying that their achievements aren’t good enough, or aren’t as good as their peers, as well as expressing shock and dismissiveness when praised with good work claiming that the success was merely luck or they had a lot of help.

Emma Watson is another extremely successful celebrity who has admitted to being plagued with this. As well as being a world famous actress, she is now an ambassador for UN Women and an incredible role model. However, she still seems to be coming to grips with her incredible success and achievements; all of which she is very deserving of. In British Vogue’s September issue she explains that, “when I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an imposter.” She also describes in an interview with Rookie Mag that you can read here about how she felt that “any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.”

Emma Watson at UN Women conference #HeForShe

The Imposter Syndrome originates from a study conducted by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes back in 1978 called ‘The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention’, you can read the study here. They explain that the Imposter Syndrome itself could manifest in “societal sex-role stereotyping” which would explain why the syndrome appears a lot more in women than in men. Girls grow up in societies which encourage them to be pretty and not play in the dirt, to not be bossy, to be ambitious but not too ambitious as to make men feel emasculated. As Clance and Imes go on to say, “a woman’s femininity is called into question by her success”- no wonder women are so quick to dismiss their successes. Being a ‘go-getter’ and ambitious are attractive qualities in men, it is a shame the same cannot be said for women. This article describes how the word ambition is a ‘dirty word’ and is practically an insult and when “applied to women, it’s almost a slur – the subtext somehow being that ambitious women are out to trample colleagues on the ladder to success, with family and friends littered somewhere down the bottom of the life priorities list.”

Similarly, the media have continuously portrayed successful women as being extremely unnattractive. Think Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’, or Sandra Bullock in ‘The Proposal’. It would be nice if women were encouraged to be successful and own it. Not to be described as ‘full of herself’ or ‘bitchy’ for knowing she’s a badass business woman and a successful woman period, whether she has two kids and a dog waiting for her at home or Netflix and popcorn.