Do you ever feel like some day, someone is going to find out that you’re a great big fraud!?
That someone is going to realise that you:
- Aren’t as good a mum as you seem to be
- Aren’t coping as well as you “should” be
- Have no idea what you’re doing in raising your children
- Are bound to slip up at some point (It’s just a matter of time)
- Have made so many mistakes, you’ve lost count
- Are so lucky that your children are amazing, despite having you as a mother
- Don’t really deserve the compliments and praise people give you.
Lovely mum, if you can relate to at least a few of those points, then know that you’re in good company.
Many mums experience these feelings.
Why we feel like this
It’s no surprise really.
One day you’re an independent, capable woman, responsible for yourself (and pretty good at it!), and then the next day you’re a mother, entrusted with the life of a helpless little person, who you don’t yet know or understand, and who is not at all like all the books said they would be.
You have no idea what to do and clearly, there’s no straightforward answer to that anyway! What makes it worse is that everyone else looks like they know exactly what to do and are coping fine.
As your children grow, the challenges change and you’re still learning on the go. It sometimes seems that the second you figure out the current challenge, it’s over and a new one presents itself.
I promise you that no one is actually trying to figure out if you’re really a good mum.
No one’s looking for clues, secretly checking the state of your house, noting how many days in a row you’ve worn the same top, how many hours you’ve allowed your son to use the ipad or how many times your daughter didn’t listen to you today.
What you’re experiencing is imposter syndrome.
This phenomenon was first defined by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clane and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978.
People who experience imposter syndrome doubt themselves and feel inadequate and fraudulent, even when there’s evidence to the contrary.
This means, if you’ve had a particular success in mum life, you’re likely to put it down to luck, or to factors that are outside your control and unrelated to your own ability.
Some mums may admit that they worked or tried really hard to make that success happen, but that they needed to do so because they’re not all that smart, maternal, talented, etc.
We’re particularly susceptible to imposter syndrome in relation to the things we care about most. This makes motherhood the perfect match.
What causes imposter syndrome?
The root cause of imposter syndrome isn’t really clear but as with many issues, imposter syndrome is often related to childhood experiences. In particular, pressure to achieve, or be perfect. This pressure could have come from our parents, or anyone influential in our lives.
Suzanne Imes, said “in our society, there’s a huge pressure to achieve. There can be a lot of confusion between approval, love and worthiness. Self-worth becomes contingent on achieving”.
As adults, we feel a lot of pressure to be a perfect mum, and think our self-worth is determined by whether we reach this standard.
Perfectionism is also linked to imposter syndrome. If you have a tendency to set unrealistically high standards and give yourself a really hard time when you don’t reach them, then this can lead to imposter syndrome.
You might be interested to know that people who are bright, talented and successful are most likely to experience imposter syndrome. Yes, that’s you!
How imposter syndrome affects us?
Our brains are very clever. When we’re worried about being exposed as an imposter, we become very creative in avoiding this.
Here are some of the things you might to do to avoid being found out:
1. Do MORE.
Because you’re not busy enough (note my sarcasm here). We do more preparation, more practice, commit to more, etc. We just do more to make up for our perceived inadequacy. Queue burnout and exhaustion.
Sometimes you might make sure you “fail” to provide a more acceptable reason for failure than your own abilities. For example, you purposely overcommit yourself so that when you don’t throw an over the top birthday party for your son, you can say it’s because you were just so busy, rather than incapable of doing it.
If you don’t want people to realise that you’re an imposter, then you can’t afford for them to get too close or know you too well. So, you don’t invest in friendships or open up to people and you stay away from situations that might lead to your undoing. You might commit to social gatherings and then not show up. This is unhelpful for mums, as support and a sense of community is so critical for our wellbeing.
4. Don’t ask for help
Because that’s the perfect way to expose yourself.
5. Procrastinate or never finish things.
Because then you can’t be judged for what you’ve done.
If you’re constantly dealing with feelings of being a fraud, you may experience anxiety, depression (because you feel so unworthy) or burn out (from trying so hard to do everything well). You’ll probably feel quite exhausted by it all and will see a negative impact on your relationships, energy and happiness.
How to deal with imposter syndrome
Lovely mum, you don’t need to go on feeling like this.
Firstly, let me remind you that NO ONE needs you to be perfect. You just need to be real. Real mums are never perfect and perfect mums are never real.
YOU are not the problem. The problem is that you are THINKING like an imposter.
Dr. Valerie Young, internationally renowned expert on this topic, says that “if you want to stop feeling like an imposter, you have to stop thinking like one.”
Here are some strategies to try:
1. Acknowledge it!
Acknowledging that you feel like an imposter is the first step to bringing change!
2. Accept that you’re human
You make mistakes and don’t know everything, just like everyone else. No matter how many books you read or courses you do, nothing can totally prepare you for being a mother of each unique child. You have to learn as you go and therefore mistakes are inevitable. Totally normal.
3. Focus on having a growth mindset
When you have a growth mindset, you believe that your talents can be developed through learning and effort. You weren’t born with fixed talents. Mistakes are opportunities for learning. With a growth mindset, you’ll worry less about looking smart or competent and more about growing and learning.
You can read more about growth mindset here.
4. Keep a list of the things you do well as a mum and in life in general
Big and small; taming that tantrum, getting yourself dressed and looking fabulous, finishing the laundry, hitting a deadline, cooking a dinner that everyone enjoyed, staying present with your kids, staying calm under pressure, showing yourself compassion or taking 5 minutes for yourself. Anything at all!
Write them down each night and review them once a week. Celebrate that YOU did those things.
5. Acknowledge and accept compliments and praise
Remember the person who gives you the compliment believes it to be true! Stop downplaying your own accomplishments and exaggerating the accomplishments of others. You might find it useful to write these down with the things you did well.
Read more about gracefully accepting compliments here.
6. Replace self-critical thoughts with positive ones
When you start to criticise yourself stop and shift your focus to your strengths or a more compassionate thought. For example, rather than saying, “I’m so hopeless, I lost my temper again! I’ll never be more patient”, try telling yourself “I’m becoming more patient with practice. It was good that this time, I quickly realised that my response wasn’t helpful and I apologised.”
You can read more about your dealing with your inner critic here.
7. Stop comparing yourself to others.
This is never helpful. Enough said.
8. Keep going despite how you’re feeling.
Don’t let your self-doubt stop you from being the mum you want to be. Forget about what other people think. Note your feelings but continue towards your goals.
Want to get started right away, lovely mum?
Then commit to at least 3 of the strategies above (because some are easier and quicker than others).
What will you change right now, to help you feel less like an imposter and more confident in yourself as a mum?