Imposter Phenomena In Men And Women

Imposter phenomena in men and women encompass a range of fears and emotions that center around a sense of falseness and inadequacy. Individuals with imposter phenomena think they are “frauds” in their careers or in school, and are characteristically overwhelmed with unfounded beliefs that they are less than capable. These feelings occur in spite of demonstrated talent, education and acquired skills. While not tagged as a psychological disorder, the imposter phenomenon is very real, though rarely discussed.

Imposter phenomenon, also know as “imposter syndrome” and “fraud syndrome,” first surfaced in the early 1970s in a study done by psychologist Suzanne Imes and psychology professor Pauline Clance. The study focused on women considered to be high achievers and their associated self-image. The results forced women, in large numbers, to recognize their un-named feelings of inadequacy despite any success achieved or praise received.

Causes of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter phenomenon goes far beyond normal bouts of self-doubt. While self-doubt is common among individuals who are taking risks or seeking advancement, it becomes an issue when these doubts senselessly override the truth. Studies show that most individuals suffering from imposter syndrome may have early childhood to blame.

The first potential source of impostor syndrome is what is known as “labeling,” when parents and other influential adults tag siblings with specific qualities. For example, one might be more athletic while another becomes the bright one. This is common both at home and at school, especially for children progressing in the same school system.

The second situation that may contribute to imposter phenomena occurs when parents present their children in a superior light. Overt praise can lead children to have higher expectations for themselves. When overwhelming challenges arise, girls and boys may begin to harbor feelings of being “just average,” which they can then translate to failures.

Characteristics of Imposter Phenomenon

Some standard behaviors emerge for those dealing with imposter phenomenon. These include:

  • dismissive attitude when praised
  • feeling that peers with the same responsibilities are more mature
  • reluctance to accept new responsibilities or challenges for fear of failure
  • unnatural reaction to constructive criticism
  • worrying that others will begin to realize their shortcomings.

While those with imposter syndrome are, in fact, intelligent and capable, they typically hold very strong feelings that they will be “found out” as fakes or as undeserving of career advancements. Others live in fear that they are actually stupid and their success is due to a natural charm, rather than their innate abilities. These people tend to say their achievements are due to some mistake or just plain luck.

Internalizing these beliefs, rather than discussing them, can lead to other emotional issues, including depression and low self-esteem. Over time, harbored imposter phenomena can make it difficult for people to accept praise for any level of accomplishment.

Imposter Syndrome and Gender Prevalence

The first studies on imposter phenomena revealed that women were more likely than men to have this mental condition. However, newer research suggests that men may be equally susceptible to harboring these feelings. The consensus is that individuals from all walks of life experience a lack of confidence directly related to imposter phenomenon.

Within this wide range, though, some types tend to stand out, especially among the female gender. These types often include:

  • children and youth targeted as “gifted”
  • high achievers
  • those who achieve success quickly
  • those who have extremely specialized skills.

In addition, those in the following careers report more often than others that they have significant symptoms of imposter phenomenon:

  • academics
  • actors (both movie and TV actors)
  • entrepreneurs
  • researchers
  • social scientists
  • scientists.

Women executives also commonly suffer from imposter phenomena, especially as they climb the corporate ladder. Some reports state that females more than malse feel conflicted between jobs and family. In addition, they may develop inferior feelings in the face of male peers who portray greater confidence in the workplace. All of these issues, ranging from guilt to inequitable pay, can contribute to imposter syndrome in successful women.

Experts also suggest that women tend to internalize their feelings to a greater extent than men. Researchers therefore theorize that, if something goes wrong, women tend to blame themselves, whether or not they were, in fact, at fault. Men, on the other hand, more readily accept the fact that some things are beyond their control.

To treat imposter phenomena in men and women, therapists suggest acknowledging achievements, learning to accept praise when it’s deserved and developing a healthy image of oneself.

Effects of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter phenomena can cause some to experience:

  • A withdrawal from social activities: Those with imposter syndrome think that, if others get to know them, they will discover the individual’s “fraudulent behavior.”
  • Growing anxiety with each achievement: The individual believes the risk of being declared inadequate becomes more likely with each new success achieved.
  • Self-doubt: Even in light of exceptional accomplishments, the imposter believes he could not possibly be responsible for the results.

In some cases, imposters who are more than qualified for a job will employ tactics to avoid getting the assignment, fearing that the risks of discovery are simply too great.