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Recognizing and Combating Imposter Syndrome as a Woman in STEM

August 26th, 2022


Imposter Syndrome

The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.

Imposter syndrome is the belief that, despite one’s successes and qualifications, their achievements are menial and they are undeserving or unqualified for a position in which they hold. This person may fear that at any moment they will be “found out” or “exposed.” In an effort to keep from being embarrassed by this faulty cognitive thinking style, they engage in self-defeating behaviors such as striving for perfection or having poor boundaries in an attempt to please and qualify for the role in which they already behold.

Gender Gaps

Gender Gaps

For women in STEM positions specifically, this can show up in several other ways.

First, it is important to note that many STEM positions are male-dominated, and entering a space as a minority can be very challenging. Braving through gender gaps and obstacles can impact the self-esteem of some women who work closely with their male counterparts.

For some women, they may have colleagues who aren’t aware of biases and perpetuate gender roles in the workplace, may not be respectful, and may look down on women who are in certain fields due to gender alone. Women in turn may develop insecurities about their belonging and sense of deservingness in their roles and the workplace.

To combat these uneasy feelings, some turn inward and begin to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as trying to model perfection. This means they may work longer hours to prove themselves even when it means taking work home. They may say yes more frequently to assignments when they really wanted to say no. They may seek new opportunities to learn more and become overachievers. They will self-doubt and frequently question themselves lacking the ability to account for their accolades. They may set unrealistic or very high achieving goals and feel disappointed if they fall short.

How Imposter Syndrome Manifests

How Imposter Syndrome Manifests

Imposter syndrome is a byproduct of faulty cognitive thinking styles. It is the result of a thinking pattern that is negative and directly impacts the view in which a person may have of themselves or the world around them. To further understand how imposter syndrome can manifest take notice if you have experienced any of the following:

  • All or nothing or black or white thinking - seeing things concretely without a gray area
    • It may sound like “If I am not perfect in my role, then I am failing.” Or “I either do it perfect or not at all.”
  • Overgeneralizing - seeing patterns that don’t quite exist based on one single event or making a broad conclusion
    • It may sound like, “I never get good projects because they think I’m unqualified.”
  • Mental filtering - paying attention to only certain types of evidence.
    • It may sound like hearing your project manager say “It was a good presentation. Can you provide us with a copy of the report next time?” and you thinking, “I messed up!”
  • Disqualification of positives - not taking stock of the good things that you have done or that have occurred.
    • It may sound like getting employee of the month two months ago and saying, “That doesn’t count, it’s in the past.”
  • Catastrophizing - picturing the worst-case scenario and believing it will happen.
    • It may sound like, “If I don’t get this right, I will be fired.”
  • Self-Criticism - putting yourself down, blaming yourself for things out of your control or not your responsibility.
    • It may sound like “If I had thought of the needs of the team, this could’ve been avoided. I’m such a failure!”
  • Jumping to Conclusions - presenting as either mind reading, believing you know what another person is thinking or fortune telling because you believe you know exactly what will happen.
    • It may sound like, “They all think I’m incompetent.” Or “If I don’t do this perfectly, they will never give me another chance.”
  • Emotional reasoning - believing that just because you feel a certain way that it must be a fact.
    • It may sound like, “I feel like such a failure. I am a failure.”
  • Should(ing) - when you frequently use the word “should” joined by words like “must” and “ought” to feel guilty for something or failing at expectations you’ve placed on yourself perhaps haphazardly.
    • It may sound like “I should know this!” to a complex problem at work despite perhaps never being trained for it or being unfamiliar with the process.
  • Labeling - placing a label on yourself in this case negatively.
    • It may sound like “I am a failure.”, “I am an imposter.”, or “I am useless.”
  • Personalization - blaming yourself for things that may not have anything to do with you and sometimes taking responsibility for things that were not your fault.
    • It may sound like a co-worker saying the files are bad and thinking “That’s all my fault” even though it may have nothing to do with you.
  • Comparisons - choosing to compare yourself with co-workers and assessing if you stack up against them or their accolades.
    • It may sound like, “They have only been here for 3 months and already have received a mention. Why don’t I receive feedback like that?”
  • Minimalizations/magnification - reducing something to less importance or blowing something out of proportion.
    • It may sound like getting positive feedback from a supervisor and thinking, “I could’ve done better.” Or making a small error and allowing it to ruin your entire day.
Allowing Yourself Grace

Allowing Yourself Grace

To combat these faulty thinking styles, it is imperative that you begin to acknowledge when they are occurring. Having an awareness of your thoughts can help you to then begin to challenge them as they come up. Identify if you are feeling as though you have to be perfect and let go of the expectation.

Allow yourself some grace to learn from errors and be gentle with yourself. Remember that you have earned your place and are qualified. The qualifications for degrees and certificates took effort, time, commitment, and dedication. If you show up to work with maximum effort to fulfill your job duties, it is safe to say you more than belong there and have earned your place.

Be kind to yourself, be loving in your thoughts, and if all else fails ask yourself if you would say that to a friend.

Written by: Samantha Adjekum, LCPC.

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At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic on (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.

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