Fear Factor: Is ‘Imposter Syndrome’ Getting in Your Way?

You’ve probably heard of ‘imposter syndrome’ and how it can affect someone’s self-esteem in the workplace. The term was coined in 1978, by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, in their studies of high-achieving women. According to The New York Times, “They described it as a feeling of ‘phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.’ While these people ‘are highly motivated to achieve,’ they also ‘live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.'”

The trouble with imposter syndrome is, if left unchecked, it can become so deeply enmeshed in one’s psyche and patterns that it becomes self-fulfilling. The insecurity can manifest in many areas of one’s life – especially finances, a subject that women in particular, tend to view as private, and therefore easy to hide.

Do any of these seem familiar to you?

  • Believe you’re ‘bad with money’, ‘irresponsible’, or that you’re somehow ‘undeserving’ of financial security
  • Believe you can’t afford big-ticket purchases, despite spending similar amounts on small things that add up
  • Stressed about paying for ‘need’ items when you’ve overspent on ‘want’ items
  • Pushing credit cards to their max and worried about being declined
  • Making minimum payments even when you have enough cash to pay balances
  • Investing inconsistently and changing your risk tolerance
  • Procrastination in filing taxes and paying bills
  • Shopping or spending addictions

If you think an imposter syndrome might be hampering your ability to manage money or compromising your financial future, fear not, there are things you do.

Safety in numbers: Authors Clance and Imes found that group therapy was a great help to their clients and study participants. A night out with besties and wine offers a chance to swap stories and find comfort in knowing that no one is perfect, and no one expects you to be perfect, either.

Invite your demons for tea: In her book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach uses the example of Buddha and the recurring appearances of his worst demon. Rather than fighting, ignoring or trying to annihilate it, Buddha would calmly acknowledge its presence and invite the demon to sit and have tea – a lesson on practicing acceptance and kindness with one’s self, even the devilish bits.

Shine a light: Fear flourishes in the dark. It’s not easy, but be brave and open those statements, tax assessments and online accounts. While paying bills and taxes is rarely fun, it is an act of self-care that will leave you feeling stronger and more in control. And while you’re at it, automate those future payments to make it easier on yourself.

Hire a professional: Imposter syndrome make it hard to ask for help, yet a whole industry of financial planners, investment brokers, estate planners, tax experts, accountants and even personal bookkeepers exist to help people navigate and improve their finances. A good advisor will never make you feel judged; choose someone with whom you can have an honest and trusted rapport.

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