How to cope with motherhood imposter syndrome

Working on your self-esteem, trying not to control everything and admitting that perfection doesn’t exist are some of the tips that psychologist Rebeca Gómez shares to deal with this problem

Perfection does not exist. Mistakes happen. It is all part of the motherhood process.Jamie Grill (Tetra images RF / Getty)

Motherhood has many sides that take shape as the years go by. Each case is different; even when talking about the same woman, every child requires a different way of being raised, as each one of them is unique. Euphoria, sadness, infinite love, believing that one can handle everything, fluctuating emotions, feelings of guilt, ambivalence towards certain attitudes and the education of the children — it’s all part of the process of motherhood, and of course, impostor syndrome too. How does the latter affect mothers who suffer from it?

First we need to define impostor syndrome. Its origin goes back to the year 1978, explains Rebeca Gómez, a psychologist and professor at the European Institute of Positive Psychology. The term was coined by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, two American psychologists who published an article about it called The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention.

One of the key symptoms is that the person is not objectively aware of their achievements and qualities. In addition, “they are very afraid of failure, are excessive in their self-criticism and their striving for perfection, and there is guilt. When something good and positive comes to them, they think they don’t deserve it and, therefore, they don’t enjoy it either.”

As to why people suffer from it, that is not easy to answer, because different variables come into play, such as education or life experiences. “What we can pinpoint are several factors that are directly related to its presence and that could cause it, like having low self-esteem, self-concept and self-confidence. Insecurities and incapacitating fears appear, and the attention is usually placed on the weaknesses, never on focusing and trying to enhance strengths,” explains Gómez.

Rebeca Gómez
Rebeca Gómez, psychologist and trainer at the European Institute of Positive Psychology.

Parenting and impostor syndrome

The psychologist states that it is a very common occurrence among adults, and ponders: “Who hasn’t ever felt like this?” The expert assures that seven out of 10 people suffer from it at some point in their lives; Gómez notes that it is no coincidence that it can affect students with excellent grades or people with great professional careers. “Another fact to take into account, shown by a British report, is that 86% of young people between 18 and 34 years of age admitted having felt in the last year that they did not deserve their job.”

The expert points out that motherhood is a very important moment in a woman’s life, “and I mean crucial, because due to hormonal issues, the intensity of certain moments experienced, the changes it brings or the fatigue it entails, the mother can feel more vulnerable than usual, and a feeling of not being capable of doing it well can materialize and cause the syndrome to grow.” If this happens, she continues, special attention must be paid to it, especially if it directly and negatively affects and incapacitates their quality of life: “Mothers and fathers need to be well in order for the children to grow well.”

How to handle it?

If impostor syndrome appears and settles in at the same time as motherhood, it will need to be addressed in the same way as when it appears in any other context, Gómez explains. The psychologist shares several recommendations that can be applied during the key moment of parenting:

  1. It is important to be more aware of the positive responses given by those around you.
  2. You must work on your self-esteem in order to understand your worth. Praise must be internalized and not minimized. Take some space and try to understand objectively why others are telling you that which you find hard to believe.
  3. Work on your internal dialogue. It helps a lot to reflect on how you would talk or what you would say to your best friend. Would you talk to them the same way you talk to yourself?
  4. Try not to control everything. Prioritize, delegate and assume that some things do not depend on you. You cannot do it all.
  5. Build an identity of confidence by assessing your personal strengths and strong points, and detecting the real situations where they appear and are implemented.
  6. Assume that perfection does not exist and that mistakes are part of life; it is something natural, part of the human experience, and also of motherhood. Mistakes lead to learning; stop being so self-demanding.
  7. Finally, something that also helps is to go back in time a little and remember the time when you were young. What did you like and demand of your parents the most? Surely not a perfect supermom; you needed love, affection, understanding and her presence. This will help you remember that everything else is secondary.

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