From playing Blossom in the early ‘90s to earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience to hosting Jeopardy, Mayim Bialik has a long, varied career under her belt. She recently added writer, director, and producer of As They Made Us to her long list of accomplishments.
Yet, despite it all, Bialik still suffers from imposter syndrome. The 46-year-old mother of two shared her struggle on Today with Hoda & Jenna. Imposter syndrome is a subtly damaging disorder that can affect virtually all facets of one’s life.
And it isn’t reserved for award-winning neuroscientist celebs, either. Imposter syndrome is far more common than you might think.
‘It’s Still Hard As A Woman’
Bialik visited Today With Hoda & Jenna to discuss her new drama film, As They Made Us. The film is Bialik’s writing and directing debut. But as she explained to the show’s hosts, it was difficult for her to accept the validity of her position.
“It’s still hard as a woman to be like, I own this place. I’m going to take this seat at the table,” Bialik says. “And you know, it was actually my ex-husband who said to me, every kid out of film school is like, I’m going to make an amazing movie because everything I touch turns to gold.”
“But for women,” Bialik continues, “it’s like, oh, should I? I don’t know. He said this is your story. You wrote it. It’s your vision. You have every right as a woman to direct it.”
“As I was writing e-mails and I was working through this movie, even just talking about small things—instead of, ‘I think we need to start at eight.’ It was like, ‘we need to start at eight.’ I mean, I shocked myself. I’m like, why am I saying I think? I know!”
Bialik’s experience speaks to her struggle with imposter syndrome, which disproportionately affects women and minorities.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Someone with imposter syndrome doubts their abilities, accomplishments, or both. They might feel that they got to where they are by sheer dumb luck—not hard work, determination, and skill. These feelings make people feel like “frauds” who have tricked others into believing they deserve their role, position, awards, or otherwise.
In large-scale studies, psychologists have found that women and other minority groups suffer from imposter syndrome the most. This is unsurprising, given that imposter syndrome largely stems from internalized natural biases. We learn these biases from a patriarchal society that devalues women and other racial and sexual minorities.
So, when members of these groups gain success or authority that conflicts with social prejudices, they struggle to believe they deserve their earnings. This is an invisible, subconscious process that can be near impossible to detect.
How To Tell If You Have Imposter Syndrome
Some common symptoms of imposter syndrome include:
- Attributing your successes to external factors instead of yourself.
- Setting incredibly challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you don’t meet them.
- Overworking oneself to make up for how inadequate you feel.
- Never being satisfied with one’s work or level of understanding, even when you’re at levels others find commendable.
- Choosing to work alone out of fear of looking weak or incompetent by asking for help.
Imposter syndrome is especially insidious because of how it looks on the surface. People with imposter syndrome often work more, not less. They achieve, learn, and do so much that it doesn’t look like they’re suffering at all. In fact, it seems like they’re thriving.
Of course, those with imposter syndrome don’t see it that way. Internally, they struggle under the weight of anxiety and self-doubt. Because of their fear of relying on others, this can quickly turn into an exhausting, self-perpetuating cycle.
Paired with a society that loves to pick apart the actions of those not in the majority, imposter syndrome is a tricky beast to shake. Take, for example, Bialik’s small change from calling the first round of Jeopardy “single Jeopardy” instead of the “Jeopardy Round.”
Not only did the late Trebek use both terms interchangeably, but Bialik also hosts with an in-ear monitor—her words are carefully chosen and approved by the executive powers that be. Still, fans conveniently ignored this to tear into Bialik for her minute change.
She graciously admitted her so-called “flub,” saying, “I will never do it again. Even if it’s in the script, I will not say it.” Why would an award-winning actress and neuroscientist succumb to the unhappy nitpicking of others? Imposter syndrome.
What To Do If You Have Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is deeply rooted in an unbalanced, biased society. So, it’s fairly difficult to rid oneself of it entirely. However, we can make small, internal changes to combat these feelings of fraud and inadequacy.
To start, it helps to look at the facts. Knowing what imposter syndrome is helps to identify it later. But it also helps to assess your situations objectively. What cold, hard facts support that you deserve to be in your role?
If you can’t analyze your accomplishments in this way, then enlist the help of others. Sharing these feelings with supportive people can help bolster your confidence. Moreover, speaking to others who suffer from the same phenomena can help you feel less alone.
Take time to celebrate your accomplishments. Even small gestures can help you feel like you truly “earned” something. Treat yourself to a reward or engage in positive self-talk. Essentially, treat yourself like you would a friend who just accomplished a huge goal.
Finally, don’t be afraid to accept imposter syndrome as a certainty. These feelings will likely never completely disappear, and expecting you to never feel them again will only lead to more disappointment. Mindfulness, self-compassion, and cognitive behavioral therapy can help you weather the worst of it.
Because in the end, you aren’t the sham—the imposter syndrome is.