In 1978, Pauline Rose Clance and Susanne Imes wrote a paper that introduced the term Imposter Phenomenon, which "designate[s] an internal experience of intellectual phonies, which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women." (You've heard of her sisters, right? Imposter Syndrome and Imposter Complex?) Those experiencing this phenomenon, say Clance and Imes, persist "in believing that [high achieving women] are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample object evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor (sic) belief." They also wrote a handy quiz to accompany the paper, helping quizzers determine how much the phenomenon interferes with their lives. I'm not linking to that here because I don't want to cause you any more stress than you already have; and honestly, you don't need that confirmation bias.
Women are more likely than men to experience Imposter Phenomenon than their male counterparts, although men may also experience this doubt and uncertainty. I spend a lot of time talking with clients who have the Imposter Inner Voice (IIV) as a secondary soundtrack running through their minds, and it's not only about business. The IIV critiques relationships, parenting and housekeeping skills... you name it, your IIV has something to say.
Here's when it's likely to speak up: when you're pushing against your comfort zone. When you find yourself trying something new or stretching towards your goals, your IIV is going to speak up and assist you in retreating to your comfort zone by introducing self-sabotaging thoughts, or what I like to call, The But-What-If Mix Tape. It's the greatest hits of your insecurities stacked to have the maximum impact on your ego and your soul. It's a self-defense mechanism that hinders growth. It's an anti-love note to yourself.
If you read about this topic, you'll see suggestions about shaking off perfectionism, finding a support system to lift you out of the doubt, and recognizing the IIV when it happens; owning your agency and defining a pathway through the doubt.Here's what I'd like to add into the mix: pre-empt the But-What-If Mix Tape. You know the hooks and the themes and the feelings the IIV will elicit. Give yourself the space to explore and address the But-What-If before it even pops into your head. Answer those But-What-If questions for yourself during your moments of strength and confidence so that when doubt creeps in, your badass self has already prepped you to brush the IIV to the side.
I also invite you into my swagger. I'm not an imposter. I'm a goddamn phenomenon. And so are you.
Wanna read more on this subject? Of the 5 million Google hits you get on this topic, I cannot recommend this HBR article enough, "Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome"