Overcoming impostor syndrome for female entrepreneurs

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome: The Plight of Female Entrepreneurs

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome: The Plight of Female Entrepreneurs

For female entrepreneurs, overcoming impostor syndrome is something they have to contend with time after time. Impostor syndrome is just part of their reality. And for most, it’s inescapable.

Impostor syndrome attacks women precisely when they should be excited, celebrating, and feeling proud of their accomplishments. It chips away at their confidence and makes them question their abilities, skills, and intelligence.

Overcoming impostor syndrome is a challenge because it’s pervasive and systemic and keeps women from pursuing their dreams.

What’s driving impostor syndrome – and what can female entrepreneurs do to stop it?

In this post, we’re going to explore what impostor syndrome is, how to identify it, and what to do to stop it in its tracks. Keep reading because relief is on its way!

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a feeling of inadequacy that leads you to doubt your abilities and makes you feel like a fraud. Even when there’s evidence to the contrary, you don’t truly feel successful. The narrative in your head says that you don’t know enough. And that you’re not worthy of positive feedback or praise. Impostor syndrome makes you feel isolated and that you don’t belong. It makes you think your success is a result of luck and that soon, people will discover you are indeed a fraud.

impostor syndrome makes people feel stuck and believe they cannot get unstuck. They often think that no matter how hard they work, they will not get ahead. People suffering from impostor syndrome exhaust themselves and live riddled with self-doubt. Their internal struggle is imposing. It clouds their vision, making it nearly impossible to let go of their pursuit to “get it right.”

Impostor syndrome is disproportionally common among women who are also high achievers. It triggers negative self-talk, making it difficult for them to approve of their performance or recognize their successes.

Moreover, impostor syndrome creates feelings of isolation, anxiety, and a fear of failure, especially during transition periods.

Overcoming impostor syndrome quote

Impostor Syndrome in Female Entrepreneurs

Overcoming impostor syndrome is a familiar topic in the business world, but women are particularly prone to experience it. Research shows that more than half of all women considering starting their own business don’t do so because of symptoms commonly associated with impostor syndrome. And for women who do start their business, feeling like a fraud usually goes into high gear.

It’s important to note that while Dr. Pauline Rose’s Clance published her book Impostor Phenomenon was groundbreaking, it wasn’t entirely inclusive. Her research didn’t include the impact on women affected by systemic racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases. One might imagine the findings would be more nuanced if they were.

Is it only impostor syndrome?

As it stands today, impostor syndrome focuses solely on the individual.

Consequently, it doesn’t fully take into account the societal factors that impact women’s general worldview. It also doesn’t include the elements from family dynamics or past trauma that impact self-perception, including what they believe they can achieve and deserve.

What isn’t entirely clear is whether women experiencing symptoms associated with impostor syndrome are truly experiencing impostor syndrome. It’s very likely their symptoms are also the result of being historically and systematically excluded, marginalized, and discriminated against. 

What can women expect as business owners if they are excluded from efforts to create a more equitable and sustainable society?

My Personal Experience With Impostor Syndrome

As a female entrepreneur who is also a minority and an immigrant, I know what it’s like to have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to my achievement. Until just a few years ago, overcoming impostor syndrome felt impossible. Nothing I did was ever good enough in my own eyes. I had an incessant need to prove that I had worked hard enough and long enough to earn a seat at the proverbial table.

To this day, I can still get trapped by impossibly high standards (that I set myself) where the threshold for “good enough” is nothing less than stellar. If left unchecked, perfectionism and fear of failure can still grab hold and make the ensuing feelings challenging to overcome. So far, there’s no level of hard work or accomplishment that can end those feelings for good.

I’ve discovered that impostor syndrome isn’t straightforward; it’s episodic. It comes at you from every direction when you least expect it. And when it shows up, it makes itself at home in your psyche and disrupts your mental health.

Overcome impostor syndrome quote

The Impostor Cycle 

Dr. Pauline Clance coined the term “the impostor cycle” as a model to describe how impostor syndrome manifests in individuals.

The model works like this:

  1. You take on a new project with achievement-related tasks. This project could include a new role or new responsibilities within your current role.
  2. Self-doubt, anxiety, and fear grab hold, and you respond by over-preparing or procrastinating. Over-preparing usually means doing more work than is required to complete the task. Procrastinating means having to rush to complete the project at the last minute. Either way, you experience high levels of stress.
  3. You complete the project and get positive feedback and praise. Then, you get a sense of relief and accomplishment, but those feelings are only temporary and don’t last long.
  4. You rationalize your accomplishment. If you over-prepared, you say it was the preparation that made it happen (anybody can do it). If you procrastinated, you believe you got lucky.
  5. Your conclusion fires up those feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, and guilt about your success. And now, you feel like a fraud and worry you’ll soon be found out.

The impostor cycle loops over and over with project after project. This is when you may find yourself feeling trapped and burned out. For female entrepreneurs caught up in this cycle, overcoming impostor syndrome may be the best way to give themselves and their businesses a chance to thrive.

Impostor Syndrome Cycle Infographic

Silent Suffering

The problem for most high achievers is the idea that they have to suffer in silence. They don’t seek support often enough because it’s hard for them to ask for help. If they did, they would discover they’re not alone. Many people have the same idea, but shame and fear of inadequacy keep them from getting the help they desperately need to break impostor cycles.

4 Fundamental Truths About Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome…

  • Is real and affects about 70 percent of the population
  • Creates and supercharges limiting belief systems
  • Distorts how you represent competence, confidence, and criticism
  • Compels you to stay in your comfort zone

3 Characteristics of Impostor Syndrome

  • An inability to internalize accomplishments.
  • Being convinced of a lack of deservedness due to being a fraud — regardless of putting in significant effort and deep learning.
  • Dismissing proof of success as luck, timing, or the ability to deceive others. 

14 Impostor Syndrome Symptoms

  1. You attribute your success to luck or timing rather than your skills and talents.
  2. You believe that anybody can accomplish what you’ve accomplished.
  3. You worry that others will figure out you’re not as good or smart as they think you are.
  4. You feel unworthy and undeserving of your successes.
  5. You feel you’ve unintentionally deceived people into thinking you’re better than you are.
  6. You fear that someone will expose you as a fraud at any moment.
  7. You experience anxiety and self-doubt.
  8. You have a strong desire to make it “perfect” or “just right” and waste a lot of time trying to figure out how to make that happen.
  9. You find it hard to seek support and ask for help.
  10. You cannot take a compliment and always deflect. 
  11. You feel betrayed when faced with constructive criticism to improve and internalize the feedback as evidence of your inadequacy.
  12. You walk around feeling not good enough.
  13. You’re afraid of failure.
  14. You sabotage yourself (because you’re afraid of failure).

Impostor Syndrome and the Critical Inner Voice 

The critical inner voice is a disruptive unconscious pattern that consists of negative thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that directly oppose our goals, desires, and well-being. It’s internal chatter that makes us think negative thoughts about ourselves and others, creating attitudes that become deeply ingrained in the nervous system.

The critical inner voice originates in early childhood as we internalize the attitudes and beliefs of our caregivers. It’s what makes us feel like frauds and brings the onset of impostor syndrome symptoms. Additionally, it drives self-defeating and self-destructive behavior and punishes us for our behavior by amplifying negative thoughts.

The critical inner voice provides a constant reminder of all the things we are doing wrong and all the ways we are wrong. In the process, it creates a pessimistic attitude toward ourselves, the world, and the people in it.

In the end, the critical inner voice enhances impostor syndrome because it diminishes self-esteem and undermines our performance and efforts to make meaningful change. Essentially, the critical inner voice is our fiercest adversary.

Quieting Your Critical Inner Voice

Believing something doesn’t make it true. But believing something enough leads to self-fulfilling prophecies. This is just how the brain works.

When it comes to overcoming impostor syndrome, the best thing we can do is regard it as a mental construct, a limiting story, and an outdated one. Because that’s exactly what it is.

The critical inner voice isn’t speaking the truth; it’s regurgitating an old story you probably inherited and have since outgrown. It’s useless information that doesn’t align with your current knowledge, skills, or abilities.

Your work will be to get your brain on board with your improved true story.


3 Steps to Quiet the Critical Inner Voice

Step 1: Prevention

The first step in quieting your critical inner voice is to improve your self-esteem because high self-esteem lowers the volume of the critical inner voice to a manageable whisper; one you can be aware of and reframe.

Step 2: Awareness

Being aware of how you feel and the thoughts you think can prevent a full-blown impostor syndrome episode. To do this, acknowledge instances when you feel like an impostor. Only then can you interrupt those feelings and remind yourself that what you’re experiencing are remnants of an old story. You can teach your brain that the old story doesn’t apply to you anymore; perhaps, it never did. To establish a new pattern, follow the pattern-interrupt by doing something helpful that feels good and improves your overall mindset.

Step 3: Action

Once you recognize what your critical inner voice sounds like and feels like, it’s crucial to have a plan ready to minimize the damage and avoid getting absorbed in the limiting narrative. You can swiftly deal with the critical inner voice by listening to uplifting music, reading empowering words, taking deep breaths, dancing, taking a bath, going for a short walk, and anything else that feels good and is good for you. The key here is to stop the pattern as soon as you notice it because the longer you stay there, the harder it is to recover.

Now that you know what steps to take to quiet the critical inner voice, let’s move on to actionable practices to overcome impostor syndrome.

10 Simple Ways to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

The first step in resolving a problem is being aware that a problem exists. In this case, it means acknowledging it and consistently tending to your mental and emotional well-being. 

The practices outlined below will help boost your confidence, support your mental health, and improve your life. These practices are essential to better deal with impostor syndrome episodes.

Here are ten practical ways to overcome impostor syndrome.

  1. Remember the four fundamental truths about impostor syndrome.
  2. Celebrate your wins. Small. Big. Always. And often!
  3. Make it a habit to notice the goodness in yourself and others.
  4. Take action to boost your self-esteem a little every day.
  5. Believe in yourself.
  6. Question your thinking (believing it doesn’t make it true).
  7. Develop a growth mindset.
  8. Practice self-compassion.
  9. Accept that you’re worthy and deserving of every success.
  10. Practice 1-9 consistently, stubbornly, and with purpose.

How to Break the Impostor Cycle in Your Business

Take the pressure off.

Reframe projects and tasks as opportunities for growth and learning as opposed to a chance to prove yourself yet again. Focus on the facts by identifying your strengths and build up your confidence by trusting your ability to implement what you learn.

Don’t do it all alone

Seeking support and asking for help can go a long way in putting the brakes on impostor cycles. Peers, mentors, and experts can support you by sharing tools and strategies you can use to lighten the load and avoid burnout. In the process, you develop powerful strengths: Asking for help and allowing people to help you.

Upgrade your thinking.

Thoughts are powerful. They determine how we perceive ourselves and, in doing so, shape our reality. Impostor syndrome strips us of personal power. However, you can begin taking your power back by choosing to think thoughts that serve you or, at the very least, don’t disempower you. Upgrading your thinking is a practice that will pay off for the rest of your life.

Validate your feelings

Even if your feelings don’t reflect reality, what you feel is real and valid. Impostor cycles come preloaded with plenty of shame and feelings of isolation. And acknowledging your emotions is pivotal to breaking the cycle. Remember, many people experience impostor syndrome, so you are not alone. Talking with a coach, mentor, or close friend can offer you relief, comfort, and affirmation that you belong.

How to break the impostor syndrome cycle


Everyone experiences impostor syndrome, but you can choose to manage it like you manage anything else in your life. Impostor syndrome is not based on reality, but the feelings you have about it are real. With that in mind, focus on tending to the feelings more than you focus on the story.

You are more than your perceived shortcoming and are worthy of love and joy despite your accomplishments. Practice standing confident in your truth and invest in your well-being. You may be delighted to awaken to your inner knowing, self-love, and personal power.

Related Posts

5 Ways to Improve Self-Esteem for Business Success

Hey there!

I'm Brenda Terry

I'm a Mindset and Business Mentor and an NLP master coach trainer. I help you train your brain for success, break through mental and emotional blocks, reclaim your personal power, and take results-based action to finally get what you want in business and life.

This blog is where I share my insights, tips, and strategies for personal growth, mindset mastery, and business success. My goal is to empower you to reach your full potential and create a life of purpose, passion, and abundance.

Hey there!

I'm Brenda Terry

I'm a Mindset and Business Mentor and an NLP master coach trainer. I help you train your brain for success, break through mental and emotional blocks, reclaim your personal power, and take results-based action to finally get what you want in business and life.

This blog is where I share my insights, tips, and strategies for personal growth, mindset mastery, and business success. My goal is to empower you to reach your full potential and create a life of purpose, passion, and abundance.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!