Impostor Syndrome: Why Do Successful Women Feel Like Frauds

Impostor Syndrome: Why do so many successful people feel like they are fake and they’ll be found out.

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Mind It
3 min read
Some of the most successful women have spoken about feeling like an impostor.
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True story. I had just heard my film won a big award. My phone rang non-stop, friends, colleagues, family all calling to congratulate.

My response? ‘Hmmm, ya, I think we got lucky.’

A colleague called me out for being apologetic about my achievements and not shouting it from the rooftop.

I was having an impostor syndrome moment. After reading what’s written below, a lot of you, specially women, will find yourself nodding your head in affirmative.

Have you ever felt like you’ll be found out soon? Exposed as a fraud? Your achievements are not really your achievements? You got lucky?

You know who else has had these feelings?

Tina Fey, Maya Angelou, Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg, Emma Watson. These are some of the most successful, most talented women in their respective fields. And they’ve experienced this feeling of being a fraud, an impostor.

More recently, content creator Dolly Singh joined the list when she crossed one million followers on Instagram. She wrote, “But the moment I hit the 1M mark yesterday I have been crying. I didn’t take any calls or read any messages. I still haven’t. As far as I can see and the little I read about it, its mostly my imposter syndrome saying hello. If you don’t know what that is please read but basically all I feel is, I do not deserve this. I do not deserve so many of you. I have done nothing to deserve such good things.”

View this post on Instagram

Happy 1M to us. You’d think I’d be partying it up for having reached such a big milestone in life. Well I thought so too. But my anxiety had other plans. I could see my anxiety creep in on me slowly through the week as the goal was about to be reached. I panicked a lot. Every time my friends asked me, ‘Are you excited?’, I managed to say I’m a little. I was lying. I wasn’t excited. I was scared and I don’t know why. Yesterday I woke up with a small panic attack in the morning but decided to ignore it and shot a video. But the moment I hit the 1M mark yesterday I have been crying. I didn’t take any calls or read any messages. I still haven’t. As far as I can see and the little I read about it, its mostly my imposter syndrome saying hello. If you don’t know what that is please read but basically all I feel is, I do not deserve this. I do not deserve so many of you. I have done nothing to deserve such good things. Second is, I think I have something that is called the happiness anxiety where you get too overwhelmed when good things happen. I saw a similar day on my birthday last year and now this. Any happy day in my life turns into a nightmare for me and I have no control on it whatsoever. Third, maybe it’s also because I haven’t seen so much love in my life. I haven’t. Growing up I never had close friends, my parents were never lovey dovey and so somewhere deep down I find this unreal and fake. Like it’s a dream that I will wake up from any minute now. I’m sorry for this and being this way but I needed to be honest with you all and myself and I think wring it out here makes me feel a little better. Needless to say, it’s time for me to find a therapist. But apart from this, I want to thank you all for being the sweetest, kindest and the most wholesome Internet fam in the world. The way you all care is unbelievable and I really am so so grateful for the same. I hope you can forgive me for being a mess this way and I hope to do better next time. (In the last two pictures you’ll see my angel friends’s gifts- @komalpandeyofficial @kushakapila @medhasharma01 )

A post shared by Dolly Singh (@dollysingh) on

Sheryl Sandberg writes in her book Lean In

Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself — or even excelled — I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up … This phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt has a name — the impostor syndrome. Both men and women are susceptible to the impostor syndrome, but women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it.

So What is Impostor Syndrome?

Research shows impostor syndrome is not gender specific.
Research shows impostor syndrome is not gender specific.
(Photo: iStock)

According to this New York Times article, the psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes came up with the word in 1978. In their paper, they described impostor phenomenon as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”

Earlier it was believed that women, especially those who’d made a name for themselves in more male-dominated bastions suffered from impostor syndrome. Now it is believed the syndrome afflicts men as well. They just do a better job of hiding it.

Research now suggests it’s not gendered. But women perhaps feel more comfortable talking about it or addressing it.
Dr Usha Girish Talvadkar, Consulting Psychiatrist, Jaslok Hospital

A test has been designed to check if you suffer from impostor syndrome. Try it out here.

Students and Impostor Syndrome

A small research project published in Monk Prayogshala, a not-for-profit research organisation, found that among the 75 women post graduates interviewed, about 8% experienced intense impostor feelings often, and about 44% of them experienced it frequently.

It’s a feeling that is common in women in academia and STEM, both fields largely dominated by the ‘white male.’

Why Do Some People Feel Like Frauds?

Despite being widely successful, why do these people believe they are frauds? It could be familial or behavioural. As a child you felt like you could never live up to your parents expectations. You were always compared to your siblings. You had to compete for attention.

Impostor syndrome is more common in those who are perfectionists. They strive for perfection and any short coming is seen as an act of failure. This feeling of ‘I am not good enough.’

They also happen to be soloists. ‘No one else can do this but me.’ They take a lot on and the inability to live up to it leaves them with this feeling of inadequacy.

Successful women have these labels thrust on them. The label of being a superwoman. She must not slip up at any cost. If she is ‘exposed’ she will be deride by her colleagues and her family. Her world will come tumbling down.
Dr Usha Girish Talvadkar

Dr Usha says group therapy can help them over come these feelings. But most people who feel like impostors despite evidence to the contrary, do not seek help immediately.

This continued feeling of inadequacy can translate into anxiety and sometimes depression.

(For more stories on mental health, follow FIT)

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