What You'll Learn
- Defining Imposter Syndrome
- Imposter Syndrome in Motherhood
- The Different Types Of Imposter Syndrome
- Managing Imposter Syndrome
- The Effect Of Our Inner Critic
Do you experience these thoughts?....I should be a better Mom. I’m a fraud. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a Mom. What am I going to do when others find out I have no idea what I’m doing? Why can’t I be a perfect Mom like everyone else?
Imposter syndrome loves to creep in when you are trying something new, different, and challenging. It can be especially prevalent in motherhood because motherhood doesn't come with clear guidelines or a manual. When these thoughts creep in, we begin to doubt what we are capable of. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Kelly Vincent is here to talk about what imposter syndrome is, the 5 different personas it can take, how we can manage our imposter syndrome, and how this is a common part of many people's human experience.
Defining Imposter Syndrome
“One basic definition is this struggle to internalize your own successes, the struggle to identify the strengths that you have.” Kelly explained. “And the other basic part of it is these fraudulent feelings that pop up,” It’s almost like you’re constantly waiting for someone to discover you aren’t really qualified for what you’re doing, or you somehow don’t belong or deserve to be where you are.
“It’s not a formal diagnosis. It’s more of an experience,” Kelly said. “About 70% of us will experience it at one time or another.”
About 70% of us will experience imposter syndrome at one time or another.
Imposter syndrome has a cycle, but all of us may experience the cycle slightly differently. First, you’re presented with a task, you accept the task, and that task creates anxiety. You’re worried people might find out you don’t know what you think you know, claim to know, or are supposed to know.
The anxiety causes one of two reactions. Once the task has made us feel like an imposter, we’ll either over-prepare or procrastinate. Over-preparing to make sure we know what we’re talking about might look like staying up all night researching and reading everything you own on the subject. It doesn’t have to be so dramatic, but it’s more than necessary. Or you may try to avoid the task by procrastinating. There is also a mixed experience where some people do a little bit of both.
After the experience, you tend to feel a sense of relief that it’s over. But even if it went really well, you don’t internalize it. Even if you get feedback that you were awesome, it just doesn’t sink in, or you don’t contribute it to yourself. You might say to yourself, That project went really well, but that’s probably because the questions weren’t too hard, and my teammates carried a lot of weight.”
This cycle will start over the next time you get a task that you fear might expose you as an imposter.
Imposter Syndrome in Motherhood
Before motherhood, I could deal with imposter syndrome by over-preparing. I could always learn more, but nothing prepares you to be a mom. “The traditional sense of imposter syndrome was more in academia and career, but yes, I think it can translate to motherhood. It’s a new role. It’s such a new experience,” Kelly said.
How could you not feel like an imposter? You’ve just been handed a new task: keeping a tiny human alive for 18 years. And for at least the first year, this tiny human can’t tell you what they need. By the way, there is no user manual. This often leads to over-preparing. This is when we spend hours reading reviews and comparing products instead of buying the stroller, carseat, or whatever it is we’re obsessing over.
Sometimes we’re over-researching to alleviate anxiety.
There is no right way to parent. It’s really finding what works for you and your baby. Sometimes we’re over-researching to alleviate anxiety. It gives us something to do that might make us feel better. But there’s so much conflicting information that finding a clear answer might not happen. Just do what aligns with your personal and family values.
The Different Types Of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome impacts personalities or learning styles differently. And our personality type has a lot to do with what may trigger imposter syndrome in us.
“This is based off of Valerie Young’s research,” Kelly said. Valerie Young did her dissertation on imposter syndrome in women. Valerie Young identified 5 competency types: the perfectionist, the expert, the superhero, the natural genius, and the solo.
Perfectionist: The perfectionist feels things need to be perfect and done a certain way. If things aren’t perfect, the perfectionist won’t feel competent.
Expert: “The expert needs to know everything,” Kelly said. The expert will always keep learning or trying to learn more because no matter what they know, it will never feel like enough.
Natural Genius: “The natural genius sets super high lofty goals for themselves and then when they fail, failure tells them they aren’t competent, ” Kelly explained. But we fail at most things in life before we succeed. When you’re setting your goals so high, there is a good chance you might fail.
Soloist: The soloist needs to be able to do things on their own. Taking any help is a sign of weakness.
Superhero: The superhero needs to be all the things. They’re going to try to juggle all the roles, and if one role falls, the Superhero is a failure. “Those two—the soloist and the superhero—I tend to think of like the mom experience,” Kelly said.
Managing Imposter Syndrome
Kelly explained imposter syndrome is something that’s rooted in years of experience. We may have even started developing our imposter syndrome in childhood, so you can’t expect to see a change overnight.
“Working with a therapist can be super helpful,” Kelly said. Some of the best things we can do to manage imposter syndrome is understand where it stems from. What experiences trained us to respond this way? This is where a therapist can be helpful. Once you know where it came from, it’s time to determine what your individual cycle is, because it’s going to be a little different for everyone.
We sometimes talk to ourselves in a way we’d never speak to anyone else.
Self-talk can be really helpful too. We sometimes talk to ourselves in a way we’d never speak to anyone else. If your child was struggling with a hard situation, what would you tell them? It probably wouldn’t be, “You’re a failure. You’re worthless and no one will ever love you.” So, why do we talk to ourselves that way? It’s okay to say, “This is a hard situation, and I’m going to get through it.”
The Effect Of Our Inner Critic
Many of us will fall into at least 1 of the 5 types of imposter syndrome. Some of us may identify with all 5. The problem is when we can’t live up to our own expectations and feel like a failure, shame creeps in. Professionally, we may be able to find a different route or avoid what we feel bad about. But there is no avoidance in motherhood. Our kids need us.
We probably can’t get rid of imposter syndrome in motherhood completely. But we can work to reduce the intensity of it. “Imposter feelings rooted in that we care,” Kelly explained. We want to do a good job, and we’re trying. Otherwise, we wouldn’t worry about it.
We want to do a good job, and we’re trying. Otherwise, we wouldn’t worry about it.
Our inner critic—because it’s such a familiar voice—can sound like truth, but that doesn’t mean it is. It’s our voice, what we tell ourselves. But our inner critic starts to form when we’re very young. Part of it comes from observations made by a developing brain that could have easily misunderstood circumstances, and part of it comes from other people.
One of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves is the ability to question our inner critic. “Where did that thought come from?”
When it comes to motherhood, we’re always going to feel like an imposter, because things are constantly new. Our kids enter new developmental stages or phases of life. We may add a sibling or have to factor in a move. It’s a constantly changing role. The best we can do is focus on our values, and try to do what’s best for ourselves and our family.
If you need help zeroing in on your values, the motherhood roadmap can help with this.