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The imposter phenomenon : an exploration of the need to please

The Imposter Phenomenon is an internal sense of intellectual phoniness that results in those who experience it, discounting their abilities by attributing success to such things as luck or charm. The topic of this thesis is "The Imposter Phenomenon: An Exploration of the Need to Please" Bussotti (1990) noted in her doctoral thesis that she unexpectedly found a strong association between the need to please and the Imposter Phenomenon and that this warranted further study. This thesis considers the roles Imposters received within their families as children and the impact of the subsequent need to please within the family unit, on the personal development of the Imposter Phenomenon. It however takes the dynamic of the need to please beyond the individual and places it into the wider framework of gender role socialisation. The theory that I postulate is that the way in which one pleases another is gendered in its understanding and outworking. The seven women who participated in this research were all from homes where traditional male and female roles were modeled. They learnt that to please others meant to behave as a traditionally defined female. Within this definition there was little room for more masculine traits to be integrated within their self-concept. When later in their lives they experienced academic success they attributed this not to their more masculised behaviours such as assertiveness and competitiveness but rather to the more neutral attributions of luck, or faking it. They said they felt like Imposters waiting to be discovered. I have proposed that this duality be named the Margaret Thatcher/Mother Teresa Identity Enigma. A brief outline of the thesis chapters is now provided. Chapter One: Provides a comprehensive literature review of the Imposter Phenomenon research. It covers a definition of the Imposter Phenomenon, why it is considered a problem, characteristics of the Imposter Phenomenon, family dynamics, longevity and maintenance of Imposter dynamics and therapy. Chapter Two: Imposter Phenomenon - In Other Guises shows how the concept of the Imposter Phenomenon is in fact one of many explanations of the same thing, the fear of failure. It specifically looks at Fear of Failure, Self-Worth Protection Theory, and the Achilles Syndrome. Chapter Three: Gender Role Development considers three broad theories of gender role development. These are Biological, Social, and Structural theories. It suggests that the social and structural theories are of most use when considering Imposter Dynamics because they recognise that women are shaped to a large extent by the society in which they grow up in. Chapter Four: Methodology, begins by outlining the paradigm of lnterpretivism used in this research. It also covers procedure, recruitment, participants and instruments utilised. It also addresses limitations of this research. Chapter Five: Findings presents the voices of the participants themselves in sections that weave together to show the impact of 'needing to please' others on their lives. Chapter Six: Towards a Social Theory of the Imposter Phenomenon pulls all of the different threads together and suggests a new theory about the impact of the need to please on the development of the Imposter Phenomenon.
Type of thesis
Wells, D. (1999). The imposter phenomenon : an exploration of the need to please (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11361
The University of Waikato
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