Fraudulent Females

It’s been coming up in my practice over and over recently.  It’s also come up in my personal life (keep reading) and I can’t help but wonder why so many of us women feel like we’re faking it all over the place lately.  

What I’m referring to is called Imposter Syndrome - the idea that you succeed due to sheer luck or coincidence, not because of your actual talent or qualifications.  Imposter Syndrome is defined as “the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.”  Some examples include feeling as though you don’t belong with a social group due to some deficiency, worrying that people will soon discover that you’re a fraud, or perhaps that you don’t actually deserve your job or your accomplishments.  Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first identified Imposter Syndrome in 1978, and in their groundbreaking writing on their work, they theorized that women were uniquely affected by this way of thinking. Well, hooray for us.

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This theme, of women feeling like they’re not actually competent, not actually good at anything let alone their livelihoods (workplace success, success in their home or family life, success in their relationships or friendships), has been top of mind for lots of women that I’ve encountered recently.  Whether it’s an incredibly smart, talented, sought-after young entrepreneur who never quite feels like she is “really any good,” to a former executive who’s taken time from her career to tend to her family and stay at home, who finds the transition back to working outside of her home a struggle – lots of women lately are talking about feeling as though they are fraudulent.  Fake it till you make it, on steroids, in virtually all aspects of their lives.

In my own life, it occurred to me that not that long ago, I had fallen into the same trap.  Physically, I was at a writing workshop one evening, though if I’m being honest, my mind was elsewhere.  I was scheduled to testify in court the very next day (as an EXPERT witness, of all things) but hadn’t yet gotten confirmation from the ADA as to what time I was needed in court.  The uncertainty of what time to set my alarm for the next morning was all but killing me and my focus was anywhere but at the workshop, as I frantically refreshed my email every 10 minutes.

But when my attention was focused on the workshop, I found that I struggled to write about the topic at hand.  It made me feel really uncomfortable. The presenter asked us to write about our struggles and our fears as they pertained to our writing.  I’ve long had it in mind to write something about my work and my experience in working with survivors. So what were my fears, you ask? Funnily enough, they were entirely focused on things like “Why would anyone care what I have to say?  What do I have to offer? Do I really know anything about anything?”

At the very same time that I was asking the world, why anyone would care about what I have to say, why anyone would waste their time reading something I wrote, I was eagerly awaiting confirmation from a district attorney’s office as to when they needed me the following day to testify AS AN EXPERT.

And then, it dawned on me.  I was feeling as though I was fraudulent.  A fake. Someone whose years of hard work, study, and effort had effectively no meaning whatsoever.  The irony of this situation was like a bucket of cold ice over my head. Why on earth would I be so harsh, critical and doubtful of myself, my abilities and my expertise?  I know these things to be categorically false, but of course, none of these rational thoughts mattered much as I was being my own harshest critic.

So why are so many of us women feeling as though we’re pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes?  That we’re not good enough, smart enough, capable enough or doing enough? Perhaps it has to do, in part, with our constant need to be doing it all.  And frankly, it’s no secret that A) it’s nearly impossible to do it all and B) usually when we do it “all,” we’re giving only some of our attention to lots of different things, never actually devoting 100% of our concentration anywhere.  

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Additionally, much of what’s written about mitigating these type of “imposter” thoughts is the importance of having a strong network of support, in particular regarding mental health, to combat them.  It’s incredibly useful to surround ourselves with others who can remind us that we’re being too hard on ourselves, to remind us that we are in fact good. When it comes to feeling not good enough, however, oftentimes these feelings are ones that induce a tremendous amount of shame within ourselves, which can keep us from spilling about them and feeling isolated in our own feeling of fraudulence, even to those we are closest to.  Effectively, we keep these thoughts to ourselves, which only serves to reinforce them, despite their being untrue.

What I’m describing here is so incredibly hard to manage.  Feeling as though we aren’t enough keeps us moving faster and faster, in our attempts to only do more.  Which in turn, can actually keep us from the people we need the most, who can validate for us just how exceptional we are.  

If nothing else, if any of what I’ve written above resonates with you, know that you are not alone.  Even if you choose to share your thoughts or feelings with no one, know that many people feel similarly to how you are feeling.  Many people, especially women, struggle with feeling fraudulent and feel as though we are imposters. If you have the need to hear it today, or any day – you are enough.  You are good enough, smart enough, work hard enough, parent well enough and you are enough, simply as you are. Simply by being you.

Julia holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, advanced Clinical Certificates from NYU, and certification in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy from the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. Julia can best be reached at      julia.hochstadt@gmail.com      or via her website      www.therapywithjulia.com     .

Julia holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, advanced Clinical Certificates from NYU, and certification in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy from the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. Julia can best be reached at julia.hochstadt@gmail.com or via her website www.therapywithjulia.com.


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