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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Minnikin

Imposter Syndrome is Social Conditioning by Another Name

Hold up five fingers… go with it…

Now put one down every time you say yes…

  • I sometimes worry about being exposed at work or that people will think I’m a fraud

  • I have to compel myself to assert my opinion or expertise at work

  • I have seen a social media post about imposter syndrome in the last week

  • I have friends who say they suffer with imposter syndrome

  • I believe I have experienced imposter syndrome

How many fingers are you still holding up? If you’re like me, you might be left with just one or maybe even none.

Imposter Syndrome is a convenient scapegoat that masks a deeper issue: social conditioning.

Many of us have experienced that gnawing sensation of self-doubt, that persistent feeling of being a fraud despite obvious evidence of our competence. This is known as Imposter Syndrome, a term coined in the 1970s by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes.

No disrespect to Pauline and Suzanne, but I can’t help but wonder if living in a society that actively coerces women into conforming to a narrow set of behaviours might have influenced their decision to seek a scientific reason for their constant feelings of inadequacy.

It's like the frog in the boiling water diagnosing themselves with a fever.

It’s not a fever, it’s the water! It’s not a syndrome, it’s the world we're living in!

Labelling women (and it is mostly women) with imposter syndrome is a very convenient way of blaming the individual for what is a societal problem.

In my book Good Girl Deprogramming, I suggest that “imposter syndrome” or as I prefer to call it, ‘chronic self-doubt’ is not in fact a syndrome, but a by-product of the social conditioning women undergo from the day we’re born.

From a young age, we're bombarded with societal messages about success, worthiness, and achievement. Through the school system, we’re conditioned to be Good Girls by preparing, doing well, getting the certificates, receiving the praise, ticking all the boxes.

The media, our workplaces, and even our social circles reinforce expectations of women, and whether knowingly or not contribute to the insidious coercive control of women throughout their lives.

Self-doubt busters

And so, what can be done? If you’re feeling self-doubt creeping in, here are some things that have worked for me, that I’d encourage you to try.

(excerpt from Good Girl Deprogramming)

  • Notice: When these feelings are popping up, is it with a particular task, group of people, a certain place, and keep a note of it.

  • Acknowledge: When the feelings of self-doubt are present, acknowledge them, e.g. “I’m feeling a bit wobbly at the moment”, this will help quieten the intrusive thoughts.

  • Question: When you’re in a more neutral headspace, get curious, question what makes you feel this way and avoid taking all the blame yourself.

  • Talk: Speak to people about how you’re feeling, a colleague, coach, or friend. You may find they’re feeling the same.

  • Remind: Yourself of all the times you have managed despite these feelings. Make a list! Confidence is simply about believing in yourself and your abilities.

  • Celebrate: Keep a ‘proud file’ – save all the times people have thanked you, nice emails you’ve received at work, WhatsApps from friends that remind you how great you are!

And above all, be crystal clear about the circumstances you’re in. Each and every day women and girls are coerced into conforming to a narrow set of behaviors and attitudes.

Simply by noticing it, you’re starting the process of breaking free!

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