Do Only Women Suffer From Impostor Syndrome?

Who do you think you are? Do you really think you did your best in that project and made your boss like you? You know that your colleagues are much better at this job than you. There’s no way you’re cut out for this job. Wait until you make a blunder and let everyone see your mistakes, everybody will know you’re a fraud. You will never be good enough.

This is what imposter syndrome sounds like. If someone says something like this to you, you may want to find new friends or file a verbal harassment report. Nonetheless, many of us communicate to ourselves in this manner. Why? Internal monologue like this could indicate that you, like 7 out of 10 people, suffer from impostor syndrome (also known as impostorism or the impostor phenomenon), a defective belief system in which a person persistently doubts his or her competence despite contradictory external evidence.

Imposter syndrome was first defined in 1978 by Drs. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes of Georgia State University. It was largely focused on high-achieving women. When the idea of imposter syndrome was created, systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases were completely absent. Women of color, as well as people of varied economic levels, genders, and professional backgrounds, were all excluded from the study. To date, imposter syndrome still tends to be used for women, mostly of stature and powerful female leaders, but it is much less frequently referenced in conversation or the media in connection with men. 

While there is no clear evidence, some study suggests that men and women may experience it at the same rate. However, while women are more likely to speak up about their imposter syndrome and seek help, males are less likely to do so. Toxic masculinity, a collection of attitudes and behaviors stereotypically associated with or expected of men, is one of the reasons for this hesitation. While we acknowledge how toxic masculinity harms women (e.g., sexual harassment, gender bias) and society as a whole, we must equally consider how toxic masculinity harms males. It hinders men from acknowledging they have imposter syndrome or realizing that having it isn’t helpful—men are less likely to disclose difficulty owing to societal standards, and hence will dismiss any internal challenges they are encountering.

It keeps them from seeking help to overcome impostor syndrome- males are trained to save face and never confess issues, which prevents them from seeking help to overcome impostor syndrome. Toxic masculinity prevents people from being vulnerable and learning from their mistakes. As a result, many men suffering from imposter syndrome may avoid admitting mistakes and, as a result, may be unable to embrace their ability to develop and evolve, restricting their job advancement. Because impostor syndrome is more commonly associated with women, it is much more difficult for men who are experiencing similar thoughts and sensations to speak up. This is even more difficult if Impostor Syndrome is viewed as a ‘weakness,’ rather than something that, when recognized and worked with, allows you to reach new heights of self-awareness and progress.

Some extremely influential celebrities have come up to talk about their experiences with imposter syndrome like Tom Hanks (Actor), Lady Gaga (Music artist and actor), David Bowie (Music artist), Serena Williams (Tennis player), Maya Angelou (Author and Civil rights activist)  and Howard Schultz (Founder of Starbucks).

There’s no shame in having self-doubt – many people do – and among those with Imposter Syndrome are a slew of celebrities and industry leaders. Perfection isn’t required for success because true perfection is nearly hard to achieve, failing to do so does not make you a fraud. Instead of judgment and self-doubt, treating yourself with love and compassion can help you keep a realistic perspective and drive you to pursue healthy self-growth. If you’re still having imposter feelings, a therapist can help you with overcoming thoughts of inadequacy or fraudulence, dealing with anxiety, depression, or other forms of emotional pain, and questioning and reframing undesired beliefs.

When you learn how to recognize and deal with these feelings, you can make efforts to move forward instead of getting stuck in the imposter cycle.