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Feel like a fraud? 6 Ways to Overcome “Imposter Syndrome”

Not matter your status or achievements in your career, with friends or family, you harbor that sneaking feeling that if others found out about the “real” you, they wouldn’t approve, value or admire you- even love you as much as they now do.

Here is William’s story:

William has always been a good student. In high school and college, he looked forward to taking tests and writing papers — objective measures of success gave him a chance to prove himself.

But as a PhD student in clinical psychology at The New School in New York City, he began to doubt his abilities. Now he wasn’t just studying to make the grade, but actually leading therapy sessions with patients in a hospital psychiatric unit.

“I felt, what gives me the right to be here?” he says.

In those moments, he says, he didn’t just feel he was lacking certain skills. He wondered whether he belonged there at all. “There’s a sense of being thrown into the deep end of the pool and needing to learn to swim,” he says. “But I wasn’t just questioning whether I could survive. In a fundamental way, I was asking, ‘Am I a swimmer?'”

In retrospect, Somerville realized that he was experiencing typical feelings of the impostor phenomenon.

First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

Though the impostor phenomenon isn’t an official diagnosis listed in the DSM, psychologists and others acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Impostor feelings are generally accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression.

By definition, most people with impostor feelings suffer in silence, says Imes, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Georgia. “Most people don’t talk about it. Part of the experience is that they’re afraid they’re going to be found out,” she says.

Yet the experience is not uncommon, she adds. With effort, you can stop feeling like a fraud and learn to enjoy your accomplishments.

“In our society there’s a huge pressure to achieve,” Imes says. “There can be a lot of confusion between approval and love and worthiness. Self-worth becomes contingent on achieving.”

Says Carole Lieberman, MD, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author. “They are often asked to function in a capacity that they don’t feel ready to handle.”

Most people experience some self-doubt when facing new challenges, says Lieberman. “But someone with [imposter phenomenon] has an all-encompassing fear of being found out to not have what it takes.” Even if they experience outward signs of success

If you recognize yourself in the description of the impostor phenomenon, take heart. There are ways to overcome the belief that you don’t measure up:

Take these 6 steps:

  1. Talk to your mentors

Share your feelings with a mentor who helps you recognize that your impostor feelings are both normal and irrational.

  1. Recognize your expertise

Observing younger less experienced, can help you realize how far you’ve come and how much knowledge you have to impart.

  1. Remember what you do well

Make a realistic assessment of your abilities

  1. Realize no one is perfect

Stop focusing on perfection. “Do a task ‘well enough,’.

  1. Change your thinking

People with impostor feelings have to reframe the way they think about their achievements,

  1. Talk to someone who can help

For many people with impostor feelings, individual therapy can be extremely helpful. A psychologist or other therapist can give you tools to help you break the cycle of impostor thinking, says Imes.

(Kirsten Weir is a writer in Minneapolis, grad PSYCH Magazine, “Feel like a fraud?”).

Actually your are not only not alone, you are among some great luminaries:

Tina Fey ”I’m a fraud and everyone is about to find out.

Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization “There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert.  How do these people believe all this about me?  I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”

Michelle Pfeifer “I still think people will find out that I’m really not very   talented.  I’m really not very good.  It’s all been a big sham.”

Kate Winslett “Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this.  I’m a fraud.”

Maya Angelou “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “

Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, and Sonia Sotomayor have also admitted to feeling like they’ll be found out for the frauds they are.

(Kyle Eschenroeder,

     Looking back over our lives, we may discover roots of inadequacy that may help explain our doubts and misgivings. There are many events in life that can contribute to feelings of inadequacy. Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, codependency, and posttraumatic stress can also contribute to feelings of inadequacy.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapists & Counselors help people uncover and address childhood experiences that lie at the source of negative feelings in order to recover from them. Working with a therapist, people identify their assets and expand upon them; clients learn how to acknowledge their strengths and minimize their weaknesses so that they can feel confident and adequate, regardless of their limitations.

This is where Counseling on Demand comes in.

We may suggest writing down the things you’re truly good at, and the areas that might need work. That can help you recognize where you’re doing well, and where there’s legitimate room for improvement.

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I am the Founder and CEO of Counseling On Demand with a Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with over 25 years of experience in helping Individuals, Couples, Adolescents, and Families who struggle with a wide variety of Life's Challenges. I thus have developed an Array of Effective Counseling Tools and Evidenced-Based Interventions to help you towards Your Road to Better Mental Health and Wellness. You are Never Alone...I look forward to meeting with you or your family member soon!