For women, it's all about being able to "Do it all. Do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat ... about unattainable, conflicting, expectations of who [women] are supposed to be." Cultural norms dictate that they must be nice, thin, modest and use all available resources for appearance. On top of this—especially in today's troubled economy—they must be able to bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let their lovers forget they are manly men.
For men, it's all about getting up on a white horse and never showing weakness. Cultural norms dictate that men must always show emotional control, value the primacy of work, focus single-mindedly on the pursuit of status and applaud violence. At one of her book signings, Brown tells us of a man who came up to her and said, "You say to reach out, tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books you just signed for my wife and three daughters. They'd rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out to be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don't tell me it's from the guys, the coaches and the dads because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else."
So, in America today we have two types of imposter syndrome. One reserved exclusively for women, the other for men. Almost everything in our culture encourages us to numb our vulnerability. And, as Brene Brown points out, the impact of this numbing is felt equally by both men and women: "We are the most in debt, obese, addicted, medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. We take fat from our butt and put it in our cheeks … and the saddest part is that by numbing vulnerability we also numb joy, gratitude and happiness. We further make everything that's uncertain certain, black and white and contaminate our children" who then grow into the culturally determined imposter syndromes reserved for women and men.
Ignoring vulnerability as Sheryl Sandberg insists on doing in her Lean In Circles is not a remedy for either type of imposter syndrome. The remedy is to be found in men and women slowing down, truly listening to, showing empathy for and seeing each other for who they really are, especially on their bad days. But this is a subject for another post.
Andre Moore is the Director of Marriage Couples Counseling and Life Coaching in New York City.