Let’s be abundantly clear right out of the gate — overcoming Imposter Syndrome is not about toxic positivity or jollying yourself into feelings of false confidence. It’s not about blaming women for their legitimate feelings and ignoring the root causes of Imposter Syndrome. It is about things you can do to support your own healing and take external action to make sure you and other women, particularly BIWOC (Black, Indigenous, Women of Color), are included and feel a sense of belonging.
Even the most famous and seemingly confident women in the world can experience Imposter Syndrome. Oscar-, Emmy-, and Tony-winning actor Viola Davis shares that she thinks, “I’m going to wake up and everyone’s going to see me for the hack that I am.” Former First Lady Michelle Obama says, “It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know?”
Healing and prevention — this is the both/and approach that we need in these times of reckoning with bias and inequity. Let’s say that you’re walking down the street and a dog lunges out of a yard and bites you. You can take action to ensure that the owners leash their dog or fence their yard so the dog doesn’t bite anyone else, but you still have the bite. You still need to heal.
I want to be really clear that the goal of healing isn’t to stop the thoughts altogether, but to get better at immediately recognizing the voice of Imposter Syndrome so we can quickly recover our balance. You can discern between the voice of Imposter Syndrome and your true inner voice easily because your true inner voice will never, ever be demeaning, cruel, or disparaging. We can learn to respond with self-compassion and skill instead of weakening in its grip.
So where do we start?
Our first step is to learn to recognize the voice of Imposter Syndrome as soon as it starts whispering in our ears. That voice can sound remarkably like our own, but it’s not our true, wise inner voice at all. We’re actually repeating what we’ve been told about ourselves, in obvious and subtle ways, from the time we were girls. Researchers contend that people’s Imposter Syndrome feelings “can actually work their way from the outside in” (Feenstra, et al.,2020) and cause us to doubt our value and worth.
The place to begin is to simply become aware of the voice of Imposter Syndrome without having to do anything about it just yet. We can’t change what we aren’t aware of, so this is a crucial step in the process.
If you’re willing, choose a period of time (a weekend or a week) to notice each and every time Imposter Syndrome speaks to you, disguised as your own voice. Whether you catch it 10, 20, or 100 times, great! Awareness is the goal.
You can record your observations in a journal or on your phone—whatever works for you. You can record as much or as little as you want: a hashmark for every instance, or more detail such as what the voice said, what was happening at the time, your thoughts and feelings in the moment. Get curious and observe.