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Session 22: Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

The Therapy for Black GirlsTM Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

In this week’s highly requested episode, I discussed the Imposter Syndrome, 5 different subtypes, and strategies for dealing with it.


The Imposter Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear that Haunts Your Success

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women

The 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome & How to Beat Them

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Read Full Transcript

Episode 22: Dealing With Imposter Syndrome (Dr. Joy)

Dr. Joy: 00:04 Welcome to the therapy for black girls podcast where we discuss all things, mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves. I'm your host, Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia. To get more information and resources, visit the website at And while I hope you love listening to and learning from the podcast, it is not meant to be a substitute for a relationship with a licensed mental health professional.

Dr. Joy: 00:45 Hey y'all, thanks so much for joining me for Session 22 Therapy for Black Girls podcast. So before we get started today, I do want to send my thoughts and prayers to all of our listeners in the Houston area or listeners who have friends and family who've been impacted by the storm. This definitely has been a significant, um, and very tragic storm. Um, and so I'm definitely thinking about you all, um, and you know, wanting to offer some ways that we can help. So if you will pay attention to the show notes, you can find those at We need to have included different Houston agencies where you can donate money or goods so that we can help those who have been impacted by this storm. So today I want to discuss dealing with the imposter syndrome and this has been a widely requested topic to be discussed because I think for successful black women and high achieving black women this often comes up.

Dr. Joy: 01:50 And so I wanted to talk a little bit about what it is and some strategies for dealing with it. So before we get started, I think we need to have a definition of what the imposter syndrome is. So the term was coined by two American psychologist, Dr Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, and they coined this term in 1978 and they describe 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. So I think for a lot of people, one of the first times where you may have this experience of being an imposter may struggle with imposter syndrome is in Grad School. Um, so I don't know that there's any other time in your life where you're probably under as much criticism and scrutiny as when you are in Grad School.

Dr. Joy: 02:53 And so I think a lot of times people begin to question whether they really deserved to be there. You may have feelings of, okay, at any moment somebody's going to find out that I don't deserve to be here. I got in here by chance, despite all evidence that that is not the case. So I do think that this is something that a lot of people struggle with and I'm wanting to give you some strategies to help deal with that. So in preparing for today's episode, I did some more research about the imposter syndrome and found something that I was not aware of. So more research, of course has been done in this field and they have now found five different types of imposter syndrome. So I want to read these subtypes to you. This is coming from an article for Melody Wilding for Fast Company and the article is based on the five different subtypes that were found by Valerie Young and she has a book called "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of it".

Dr. Joy: 03:57 So of course all of this information will be included in the show notes. So the five different subtypes of the imposter syndrome, are the perfectionist, the superwoman, the natural genius, the rugged individualist, and the expert. So the first type is the perfectionist. Perfectionism and imposter syndrome often go hand in hand. Think about it. Perfectionist said excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experienced major self doubt and worry about measuring up whether they realize it or not. This group can also be control freaks, feeling like if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves. So some questions to ask yourself, if you not sure that this subtype is you, have you ever been accused of being a micromanager? Do you have great difficulty delegating even when you're able to do so? Do you feel frustrated and disappointed in the results?

Dr. Joy: 04:57 When you miss the insanely high mark on something, do you accuse yourself of not being cutout for your job and ruminate on it for days? Do you feel like your work must be 100 percent perfect? One hundred percent of the time. The second sub type is the "Super Woman". Since people who experienced this phenomenon are convinced their phonies among real deal colleagues, they often push themselves to work harder and harder to measure up, but this is just a false cover up for their insecurities and the work overload may harm not only their own mental health, but also their relationships with others. Does this apply to you? Here are some questions. Do you stay later at the office then the rest of your team, even past the point that you've completed the days necessary work? Do you get stressed when you're not working and find downtime completely wasteful?

Dr. Joy: 05:49 Have you let your hobbies and passions fall by the wayside, sacrifice to work? Do you feel like you haven't truly earned your title despite numerous degrees and achievements so you feel pressed to work harder and longer than those around you to prove your worth? The third subtype, the "Natural Genius", people who struggle with this who are also natural geniuses, judge success based on their abilities as opposed to their efforts. In other words, if they have to work hard at something, they assume they must be bad at it. These types of imposters set their internal bar impossibly high, just like perfectionist, but natural genius types don't just judge themselves based on ridiculous expectations. They also judge themselves based on getting things right on the first try. When they're not able to do something quickly or fluently their alarm sounds. Here are some questions to see if this subtype applies to you. Are you used to excelling without much effort? Do you have a track record of getting straight a's or gold stores in everything you do? Where you told frequently as a child that you were the smart one in your family or peer group? Do you dislike the idea of having a mentor because you can handle things on your own? When you're faced with a set bag, does your competence tumble because not performing well provokes a feeling of shame? Do you often avoid challenges because it's so uncomfortable to try something you're not graded?

Dr. Joy: 07:27 The fourth sub type is the "Rugged Individualist" sufferers who feel as though asking for help reveals their phoniness or what young calls rugged individualist. It's okay to be independent, but not to the extent that you refused assistance so that you can prove your worth.

Dr. Joy: 07:46 Questions to ask to see if this subtype applies to you. Do you family feel that you need to accomplish things or your own? I don't need anyone's help. Does that sound like you? Do you frame requests in terms of requirements of the project rather than your needs as a person and the fifth type is the expert. People who fall into this competence type may feel like they somehow trick their employer into hiring them. They deeply fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable some questions to ask to see if this subtype replies to you. Do you shy away from applying to job postings unless you meet every single educational requirement? Are you constantly seeking out trainings or certifications because you think you need to improve your skills in order to succeed? Even if you've been in your role for some time, can you relate to feeling like you still don't know enough?

Dr. Joy: 08:44 So these are the five different subtypes and I'm guessing that you've probably heard some, some scenarios or situations that apply to yourself. So I think that this is a great article and I do want you to give it a read. Um, she also offers different strategies to do with each subtype and we're going to get into some more general strategies to deal with the imposter syndrome now. So I have five different strategies that you may want to consider, um, to help deal with the imposter syndrome. So the first one, um, is to make yourself a file on your phone or in your inbox or on your hard drive or your google drive where you can collect all of the compliments and things that you get. Um, so if you get a nice email or positive work evaluation, great feedback from a presentation or if somebody gives you a fabulous comment on your IG Post, um, I want you to save all of those things in this particular file so that you can look back over them when you're having a doubtful day.

Dr. Joy: 09:53 So I have a file on my google drive, the name of my file is called "You Did That" and whenever y'all send me sweet emails about what you're learning from the podcast or when clients share how, how I've helped them, then I save it in this file. So if I'm having a tough day or feeling like, okay, I don't really know what I'm doing, then I can look back through these text messages and emails to, you know, kind of remind myself to keep going and that what I'm doing makes an impact. So what I want you to do is to tweet me and let me know what the name of your file is, so if you have one to let me know and if you don't have one, then I want you to create it and then tweet me and let me know what your file name is.

Dr. Joy: 10:37 I'm make sure to use the twitter address therapy 4 the number four b girls, or if you're not on twitter, you can tag me on Instagram at therapy for black girls are on facebook therapy for black girls.

Dr. Joy: 10:51 So related to this. Number two is that I want you to learn how to actually accept a compliment. So oftentimes without even thinking about it, we minimize our hard work and our talent without really even thinking. Someone tells you that your outfit is beautiful and you say, "oh girl, I just threw this together". Or someone tells you you killed that presentation and you say, "whew, I'm just glad it's over". Instead, I want you to try saying something like, "thank you for noticing I really liked the cut of this skirt", or "thank you for your feedback about the presentation I really appreciate your support". So somewhere along the line we have learned that self-deprecation, um, and kind of playing small when necessary to kind of seem humble and not be boastful, but I don't know that that really serves us and I want us to try leaving some of that behind so I'm definitely not seeing, Kinda run all over and talk about how great you are and tooting your own horn in situations where it would not be appropriate, but there's no need to play yourself small or it's a hide or talents and gifts to try to make someone else comfortable.

Dr. Joy: 12:08 We don't need that. We need you to kind of be your full self. So the third strategy is to cultivate strong relationships with mentors or other senior figures in your field. Sometimes others can see the greatness in us before we do. Even if what your mentor is saying doesn't match up with your personal reality of yourself, you should believe that someone who really cares about you is not just seeing something to make you feel good. So sometimes people who are in our field who have kind of walked the paths that we've walked can really see like some of the natural talent and skill that we have in our field and our chosen areas before we can see those things. And so I think if you develop a strong relationship with these people and you developed a foundation of trust and honesty, you can believe it when these people tell you that you're doing a great job, that you know, that you're, that you belong in this place.

Dr. Joy: 13:01 And so I think sometimes that can help you to kind of, um, gain the confidence to match up with the skill that probably is already there. One important point to notice about this is that a real mentor is typically invested in both of you and the longevity of whatever the field is that you guys are in. And so they want to see you succeed, but they also want to see the field move forward. Um, so in a lot of ways, mentors and seniors in our field can be gatekeepers. And so if this person is telling you that you're doing a good job and they think you should keep going, then they probably are accurate and you should probably believe them, even if what you, even when, if what they believe is not something that you're seeing in yourself right now.

Dr. Joy: 13:48 The fourth strategy is I want you to get comfortable with good enough. And I think this is especially true for sisters who are starting or continuing in graduate school, um, because most times you don't get to Grad school by being less than stellar. Um, so you're usually very successful student, probably highly accomplished. So the idea that all of your ideas may not be great might come as a shocker. Um, and sometimes that will happen in Grad school because you're learning. So I want you to learn to take difficult feedback and allow it to move you and allow you to kind of move forward, but not allow you to wallow in self doubt. So allow it to kind of propel you forward and learn things and stretch and grow and challenge yourself in ways that you need to, but don't allow it to paralyze you so that you're not doing anything. So while I want you to get comfortable with good enough, the fifth strategy is that I do not want you to answer to anything which is not name.

Dr. Joy: 14:52 So I say this to say that feedback about your work and how you can do some things better is great, but comments about your worth and deserving to be in a particular place or a space or not. Yes, you're writing may not be as strong as it will be in a year and no, you probably aren't ready to be seen as a leader in your field, but you do deserve to be where you are in this exact moment. You absolutely do. So I want you to be open to the feedback and allow yourself to grow in whatever field you're going into or whatever career path you've chosen for yourself, but do not allow people's negativity and criticism to kind of invade your space. So much so that you continue or start to question yourself in doubt yourself. Okay, so I would love to hear if you have any other tips that you would add to this list, other strategies that maybe you try that have helped you to deal with the imposter syndrome.

Dr. Joy: 15:51 Make sure you also tagged those on social media using the Hashtag Tbg in session so that we can kind of follow this conversation and other women can get those tips and share with each other as well. So we also have an on the porch question today. So this letter say is, "I've been struggling with how to rebuild a relationship with my older sister. We've been estranged and haven't spoken in five years. I had to lovingly let her go for awhile because I believe the relationship became too toxic and filled with drama. I try to have a few courageous conversations with her on several occasions before I had to make the tough choice to break from her. She struggles with mental illness and I'm at a loss as to how to rebuild with her. We had some terrible things happen in our relationship and I don't trust her and she does not trust me.

Dr. Joy: 16:47 Before our physical fight slash betrayal happened, I would pretend everything was okay even though I wasn't happy with it, I was always trying to protect her, which was a bad idea and it blew up in my face. For 10 years, I felt like I was begging my sister to have a relationship with me and five years ago I hit a wall and decided to take care of me. I believe the relationship was codependent, toxic, confusing, and there was really no reciprocity and it really broke me and I gave up. We have no relationship presently. She never showed up for me. And that sucks. Let's be clear. I'm not perfect, but I've always made an effort to invest the time, energy, and have sacrificed a lot, helping her through life's up and downs, suicide attempts, abusive boyfriends, um, honestly at a loss help".

Dr. Joy: 17:47 So first of all, thank you much for writing in. I do hope that I can give you some feedback that may be helpful to you and to also give some feedback to other people who may be struggling with similar situations. So your letter really reminded me a lot of the conversation I had with Dr Pamela Thompson in the surviving Mama episode because I think in a lot of ways, um, familial relationships that are toxic are very difficult to deal with and like she mentioned in that episode and in her book, um, sometimes we just have to let those relationships go. It sounds like that's where you got in this relationship with your sister and so I'm not quite sure what you're asking for help related to, um, I'm not sure if you are thinking of kind of trying to reconnect with your sister. Or what it almost really feels like to me is that you are asking for permission to continue on this path that you've chosen for yourself in terms of making your safety and health and wellness and your peace of mind a priority.

Dr. Joy: 19:00 And I would absolutely say you have that permission. Um, you don't have to ask anybody else for that permission because it sounds like you made a good decision for yourself. It sounds like you tried a lot of different things that didn't work and so, you know, I think it may be helpful to always be open to the possibility of having a reconnection with your sister if that's something that she takes the steps forward to do. I would leave it on her to kind of show you if things have changed. It sounds like you've taken a lot of initiative in the past, so I don't know that I would encourage you to try to do that again, but I think you could be open to it if the opportunity presented itself and she came to you, um, you know, maybe apologizing and explaining to you how she felt like the relationship could be different.

Dr. Joy: 19:55 But you mentioned a lot of things in this letter. Um, you know, that do point to the relationship being toxic. So you talked about a physical fight, you talked about betrayal, you talked about not trusting her and her not trusting you. So with all of those things that have happened, I do think you made the best decision for yourself and unless something drastically changes and she comes to you to kind of say what those changes are and how they can continue moving forward, I think that you probably are doing the right thing for yourself by continuing to have this separation with your sister. And, you know, honestly, sometimes we just have to love people from a distance. Um, so it doesn't mean that you have to wish your sister any ill will, which it doesn't sound like you are, but it does mean that sometimes you have to take a step back so that you can do what you need to do for yourself.

Dr. Joy: 20:49 So I do hope this helps. If you have any questions that you would like to have some feedback about, please make sure to send me an email. You can send that to you podcast at And as always, if you are looking for a therapist in your area, please make sure to check out the directory on the website. You can find that at backslash directory, and I'd also like to ask you to share the podcast with a new friend who hasn't heard it before. Um, I always like to see what you are learning and the insights that you're gathering from the episodes. So make sure to share this with a friend who hasn't heard the podcast yet. If you're interested in joining our Facebook community to talk about the episode or other mental health and wellness kinds of topics, you can join the facebook community. You can buy that at

Dr. Joy: 21:44 That's T-R-I-B-E, and I'd also like to encourage you to pick up the September issue of the old magazine Oprah's magazine because I am featured in a piece talking about changing the face of therapy. So I'm very excited to kind of be on the national stage in that way in featured in o magazine. And it definitely feels like a huge accomplishment. And I'm just excited to be able to talk about therapy for black girls and the impact that I'm hoping to make in the community and encouraging black women's who continue to make their mental health a priority. So make sure to pick up your copy if you see it on the news stands. As always, you can find me over on social media at therapy for the number four, be girls on twitter and on instagram and facebook. You can find me at therapy for black girls. I'm definitely looking forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.

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Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
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Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here