When You Feel Like a Fraud: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

“How did I get here? The others are definitely (smarter/faster/more talented/insert comparison word here) than me. I don’t deserve the be a part of this. At some point, they are all going to realize that I am here by mistake.” Sound familiar? As a recovering perfectionist, these are the thoughts that plagued me throughout my ballet career, graduate school, internship and beyond. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that there was a name for these ever-present feelings of unworthiness and doubt: Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome, or the “Imposter Phenomenon” as coined by Pauline Clance (1985), involves feeling as though achievements are not deserved, resulting in worry that the individual will be exposed as a fraud.

Although infrequently discussed, as much as 70% of the population may experience this phenomenon at some point. The concerns of being “found out” may lead to increased determination and hard work; however, they also contribute to increased psychological distress (such as anxiety and depression) and may eventually lead to withdrawal and/or avoidance of new experiences and those that may result in personal or career advancement. While numerous factors including sex, race, personality, childhood experiences, and institutionalized discrimination have been linked to Imposter Syndrome, one of the key factors in its development is difficulty with internalization and personalization of one’s own accomplishments. Additionally, individuals who experience Imposter Syndrome more commonly base their self-worth on opinions of others and their accomplishments rather than innate qualities.

So, what to do? The first step is to acknowledge the presence of these thoughts, and simply label them as such. When we are able to see a thought as it is, we are able to disengage from the message that it is giving us. Once we observe it, we can look at the thoughts critically and determine whether they are helpful or harmful. While disengagement works for some, others prefer to reframe the thoughts when they arise. For example, one could reframe “I am not smart enough to do this” to “I don’t know everything, and this will give me an opportunity to learn.” This will not only help you to work on personal development, but also on recognizing your achievements and taking risks. The more that you are able to disengage from and reframe your thoughts, the better equipped you will be to manage constructive criticism provided in your home, by peers, or in the workplace.

Most importantly, remember that you deserve to be where you are, and you are not alone. If you would like someone to talk to, please contact us at www.neurobehavioralaustin.com or call at (512) 329-8222. We are here for you.