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Imposter Syndrome: Men Feel It Too

The concept of imposter syndrome was originated by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance, PhD and Suzanne Imes, PhD in 1978. They called it “imposter phenomenon,” and their study focused on women considered high achieving.

It’s natural, then, that most subsequent discussions revolve around high-achieving women. But men feel it too, and when we leave men out of the discussions, we inadvertently stigmatize it for everyone.

In simplest terms, it’s when you feel doubtful that you’ve actually succeeded, are qualified, or that you’re enough despite evidence to the contrary.. 

And everyone feels this. Notice I said “feels.” It isn’t something that can be diagnosed: the reason why Clance and Imes called it a “phenomenon” was for this very reason.

Imposter syndrome is a feeling.

Remembering this is key for 3 reasons:

1. Feelings aren’t facts.

Just because we may feel like we don’t belong, or we haven’t earned our position doesn’t mean it’s true. Acknowledging this intellectually helps change the internal story we tell ourselves.

The good news is we can actually check the facts. For example, if you were promoted, haven’t received poor feedback, or received a good review, these are signs that you are doing well. We want to acknowledge the facts and stay out of the meaning-making we get into when we get anxious or uncertain.

2. We can’t control our feelings.

We just can’t. It doesn’t matter what gender you are. None of us humans can control our thoughts or feelings.

3. Feelings don’t last forever.

The phrase “this too shall pass” can be a simple reminder that feelings will eventually go away. Several experts have studied the length of feelings. I often site one by Harvard-trained brain scientist Dr. Jill Boite Taylor. She says a feeling last about 90 seconds when left unattended.

I find great hope in knowing that it’s an uncontrollable feeling that I didn’t cause nor will it last forever! So what do we do? Ultimately, we ride it out like a wave. We don’t engage, and we continue to take the next right action in our life.

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? It’s not, of course. In my own practice, I hear men discuss their feelings of inadequacy every week. There are some excellent articles out there talking about the repercussions of the label and how different groups of people may behave when they feel imposter syndrome. What I  focus on is our response to it.

I’ve previously written about imposter syndrome — and may again because it’s a form of anxiety. Check out my 5 Ways to Put the Kibosh on Imposter Syndrome.

Working through difficult feelings can be easier with someone. Having a trained, objective therapist is helpful because we can help you identify thoughts and feelings that trigger behaviors. Once we identify — without judgment — we begin to change, to respond differently in a way more aligned with the way you want to respond. If you want to talk about your own situation, please reach out.