Aug 23, 2023 Embracing Your Worth: Empowering Women to Overcome Imposter Syndrome in Personal & Professional Realms

Anyone who identifies as a woman likely has many hats to wear and probably wears several of them in one day. Society expects a woman to be a wife or partner, mother, sister, caregiver, homemaker, career woman, nurse, teacher, problem-solver, and cheerleader all in one. She’s supposed to work hard, love hard, and be great at being everything to everyone. However, the pressure to meet these ideals can be absolutely overwhelming.

Even when you’re doing your best at home and in the workplace, where you embody the skills to back up the credentials you worked for and earned, and even when others recognize your excellence, you may feel like you’ve fallen short of expectations. You may feel you’re not as great as everyone thinks, and it’s only a matter of time before they discover you aren’t. 

If you struggle with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, think you don’t belong in certain social or professional circles, or constantly second-guess yourself and your abilities, you may be affected by the imposter syndrome women of all walks of life can experience. In this blog, we’ll explore what imposter syndrome is and how it can be a hindrance to building self-worth. The valuable, solution-focused support clients receive in counseling sessions with Susan Delia helps with learning how to build self-worth, how to build confidence, how to be a confident woman in a relationship, and overcoming imposter syndrome.

The internal struggle of imposter syndrome

We all doubt ourselves sometimes, so what makes imposter syndrome in women different? First identified and named in 1978 by psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes, imposter syndrome is a mental pattern in which an individual—typically with high academic or professional achievement—doubts their accomplishments and fears being exposed as a fraud. Some of the effects of imposter syndrome women commonly experience are feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and depression because they believe they don’t deserve their success and have only gotten where they are because of luck or circumstance.

Common characteristics of imposter syndrome include:

  • Low self-worth
  • Undervaluing contributions
  • Downplaying achievements
  • Setting and adhering to unrealistic expectations
  • Fear of not living up to these expectations 

For career women, imposter syndrome makes success at work seem like an unattainable, risky goal instead of a reality they achieve with skill, dedication, and focus.

Many women begin pushing themselves too hard to overcome a sense of incompetence. They expend their energy quickly, and work becomes more of a chore than a source of purpose and meaning. What happens to the passion these women have for what they do? It’s lost along with their self-confidence as they begin experiencing burnout.

Because of imposter syndrome, women say their contributions will be purposeless, insufficient, and sloppy. In turn, self-doubt causes them to give less effort, attention, persistence, care, and creativity to their work until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What causes imposter syndrome?

Teenage girl in school uniform reads a book on a warm day in the park. Vertical view

Where’s all the doubt and cognitive distortion coming from? It has various causes, including:

  • The family environment. Was a 98 percent on an exam never good enough in your household because it wasn’t a perfect 100? Growing up, parents and other relatives may have emphasized achievement excessively and been overly critical even of successes.
  • Unrealistic expectations and social pressures. Women are often subjected to unrealistic expectations concerning beauty, intelligence, romance, and success. As a result, many high-achieving women may find themselves defining and building self-worth in ways explicitly connected to achievement.
  • Sense of belonging. Part of imposter syndrome is the fear of being found out and cast out. Being made to feel different or excluded from the group because of language, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, or physical or learning differences can fuel the imposter phenomenon.

Recognize that some institutions intend to make some women feel like imposters

woman of color wearing a mask as a metaphor for imposter syndrome in the workplace

The effects of imposter syndrome women struggle with can hit them harder if they identify as a person of color or LGBTQIA+. Biases and systemic influences exacerbate imposter syndrome because prejudices result in discriminatory views, procedures, and policies for women of underrepresented populations. When managers and team members treat people differently because of their race, color, gender, sexuality, religion, or socioeconomic class, the company culture becomes a toxic space of stress, self-doubt, and second-guessing—making imposter syndrome more prevalent.

The other side to this is when workplace diversity is actually tokenism. Feeling like the token woman or token Black person can make a professional in an underrepresented group feel like they don’t have the skills to be there but are just there to meet a quota. To show they deserve to be there and prove their value and that of their group, they may set themselves to even higher standards, perpetuating imposter syndrome and impairing mental health.

Building self-worth and cultivating confidence in your professional life

After struggling with feeling unqualified and afraid to be exposed, you owe it to yourself to learn how to build self-worth and how to build confidence. A significant part of building self-worth is focusing on strengths and accomplishments rather than dwelling on perceived weaknesses. You can do this by:

  • Getting out of your head. Rumination, a pattern of circling thoughts, goes hand-in-hand with imposter syndrome. Even when the workday’s over, you may ruminate on thoughts that you aren’t professional or strategic enough, pushing you into a spiraling loop of anxiety. Talk about these thoughts with someone you trust or write them down—they’re less powerful when they aren’t circling.
  • Keeping failure in perspective. When your work generates less-than-ideal results, imposter syndrome can make you question your competence. Remember, everyone makes mistakes. Try resisting the temptation of aggrandizing what’s a small loss into a large failure—meeting 99 percent of your goals instead of 100 percent doesn’t make you unqualified.
  • Practicing self-compassion. Now that you understand where the doubt comes from, don’t beat yourself up for feeling like a fraud or for making mistakes. Give yourself credit and compassion for how far you’ve come. Combat imposter syndrome by assessing the evidence of your skills and competence.

Embrace your worth and break free of impossible expectations

woman falling asleep at work desk while trying to keep up with impossible demands because of imposter syndrome

Endlessly trying to conform to the expectations of the “ideal” woman who seemingly has it all and constantly making upward comparisons with others can bring you to a mental, emotional, and physical breaking point. When you realize you can’t continue down a path of self-denial, self-sabotage, or trying desperately to be something you don’t have to be, try embarking on a journey of self-discovery and authenticity. Build self-worth by nurturing the real you, a skilled, accomplished woman who deserves love, care, and respect for who she is, not just what she can do.

Learn how to challenge limiting beliefs stemming from societal standards

In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions with Susan Delia, clients receive support in recognizing and understanding the root causes of their struggles. Here, you’ll realize it’s the foundations of societal expectations constraining you and causing you to struggle. Through introspection and self-compassion and utilizing solution-focused skills learned in therapy, you can learn how to build confidence, how to build self-worth, own your skills and successes, and think and behave authentically.

Recognize that being superwoman doesn’t have to mean trying to be superhuman

Societal expectations make many professional women hungry for better outcomes, more success, and higher prestige and drive them to take action with perfection. Such perfectionism causes them to feel unsatisfied no matter how hard they work and the goals they achieve.

Reframe mistakes and failures as learning experiences and celebrate your successes instead of zeroing in on perceived failures. Use your achievements and progress to set feasible standards that provide optimism and motivation and help you know when good enough is good enough. 

Focus on progress, not perfection

When learning how to build self-worth and how to build confidence, you’ll recognize that one way not to do so is by trying to show off an ability to take on loads of work in a short period. Your willingness to work overtime to gain validation from your colleagues can threaten your mental and emotional well-being. It gives you false confidence and self-worth, which can impair your performance. Don’t try to force the image that you can handle anything. Instead of making others see you as a natural genius, try seeing yourself as a work in progress, always learning and doing your best to the best of your ability. 

Imposter syndrome can get just as personal as it does professional

Left unchecked, imposter syndrome negatively impacts relationships and life satisfaction, too. Imposter syndrome’s effects can appear in romance, making women feel like they’re not enough for their partners and don’t deserve to be loved.

Women feeling like imposters in their relationships may feel they’re playing a part and pretending to be someone else. Just like in the workplace, they fear they’ll be exposed, but in this case, they think their partner will discover their true self and find them inadequate. As a result, some women:

  • Devalue themselves and don’t see themselves as equal in the partnership
  • Put their partners on pedestals, believing they deserve someone better
  • Can’t meaningfully, authentically communicate and connect with their partner or trust them with their authentic self
  • Doubt their partner’s feelings toward them
  • Require excessive validation and reassurance from their partner, which can cause strain and exhaustion in the relationship
  • Expect the worst, such as a breakup, because they feel unworthy of having good things
  • Find ways to sabotage the relationship and push partners away due to constant worries they’ll be broken up with

Build self-worth by letting the power of self-love lead you in how to be a confident woman in a relationship

Romantic love is an integral part of life. However, realize that the most essential relationship you must cultivate is one with yourself. 

When you peel away the layers of societal conditioning, you can discover hidden passions and desires you’d suppressed in favor of those that seemed aligned with the conventional image of success and romance. If you find joy in endeavors that allow you to express your unique voice without fear of judgment, spend more time nurturing it. Do it for you, not those demanding perfection. This newfound sense of liberation can propel you forward and help you be a confident woman in a relationship.

When you thoroughly explore your values, passions, hobbies, non-professional goals, and more, you’ll understand who your authentic self is in and out of the workplace. When you know who you are, you’ll know how to be a confident woman in a relationship because you won’t have to build self-worth or build confidence based solely on your partner’s feelings for you.

Learn how to build confidence and build self-worth in cognitive behavioral therapy

Sporty woman resting after jogging in the park. Healthy lifestyle, workout and wellness concept.

As you discover a more authentic, less anxiety-riddled view of yourself, consider exploring the psychotherapy and treatment type that augments your progress. In counseling sessions with Susan Delia, you’ll discover what works for and against your anxiety management in and out of the workplace. 

Consider CBT, which helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and beliefs. In CBT sessions with Susan Delia, you’ll learn how to be a confident woman in a relationship and the workplace by recognizing when you’re engaging in negative thought patterns and self-defeating behaviors. Supported by Susan Delia’s solution-focused expertise, you can learn to replace irrational beliefs with more constructive thoughts, empowering you to shift your mindset and embrace your worth.

If this sounds like what you need to learn how to build self-worth, overcome imposter syndrome, and confidently be your authentic self in every space you exist in, contact me about counseling in-person in Yakima, Washington, or online across Washington and Florida. Proven to support mental health, CBT for depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, and life transitions is also available at Delia Counseling Services.

Delia Counseling Services provides quality CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) for anxiety, depression, grief and loss, relationship concerns, and life transitions. Susan Delia serves Cognitive Behavioral Therapy clients online in Florida and online and in-person in the Yakima, Washington area, including zip codes 98902 and 98901 and beyond.

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