Feeling Like an Imposter?

Do you ever feel like a fraud? Do you feel like you could be caught out at any moment and that you don’t really belong? Or do you feel that you don’t really deserve your accomplishments, job or status and that any day your friends and colleagues will find you out?

You might be surprised to know you’re not alone with these feelings. Many people feel the same way, and this issue is known as imposter syndrome. This syndrome or phenomenon is linked to strong yet unfounded feelings of self-doubt, believing others feel you are more able than you believe yourself to be, and that you will be caught out eventually and uncovered as a fraud.

Many people who experience imposter syndrome have feelings that their accomplishments in life can be put down to luck or that they have just been in the right place at the right time rather than anything else, not recognising their own abilities and lacking internal acknowledgement of the accomplishments that have contributed to their success.

Imposter syndrome was identified by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, and although at the time it was believed that women were uniquely affected it has since been acknowledged that men also experience imposter syndrome. A large proportion of society experience these feelings at some point in their lives; psychologist Audry Ervin says that imposter syndrome applies to anyone ‘who isn’t able to internalize their own successes’.

The syndrome is common in perfectionists. Because they fear failure and set themselves incredibly high expectations, perfectionists are often filled with self-doubt and a belief that they don’t measure up. Whatever the outcome, a perfectionist will often believe they could have done better.

It can affect those starting a new venture such as a new job role or commencing your studies at university, qualified by experience or academic achievements but not believing in their own capabilities. In these circumstances it’s quite understandable as you will be presented with new things you’ll need to learn.

It can link with those who suffer social anxiety as being in social gatherings or involved in a conversation brings up feelings of social incompetence; in any given meeting of friends and acquaintances you would be surprised how often a friendly face is masking a deep fear of being ‘discovered’, a belief that they are doing a poor job playing the role of a confident and secure peer, or a quiet misery fixated on the shortcomings that their friends and family are sure to uncover upon greater scrutiny.

Social media doesn’t help here because just about everyone out there on social media, be it Facebook or Instagram or any number of platforms, seem to have the most perfect lives! The constant reinforcement of a life-image which has been curated to appear perfect can lead to an aspirational malignancy, when taken at surface value.

Imposter syndrome might develop from factors such as gender stereotypes, early family dynamics, culture and attribution style. It might come from childhood memories and fears of not being good enough. It might be comparisons with others such as siblings or feelings of being unloved, even unlovable. A child that does not feel loved might believe they are just not good enough to be loved and therefore need to be better in order for anyone to care about or notice them. There begins the self-perpetuating cycle of self-doubt and feelings of being an imposter.

Low self-confidence and lack of self-belief can continue despite achievements such as academic awards and job promotions because of a belief that they may still get found out as a fraud. It’s a terrible loss to invest years of hard work into an education or work posting, receiving your deserved reward and being utterly incapable of appreciating it, any sense of triumph crumbing to ashes in your hands as you wonder how you managed to blag your way through this, and how long it will take them to realise their mistake.

Feelings of being out of place in an environment might lead to feelings of being an imposter and alienated as there is no one else like them. Having a sense of belonging fosters confidence, and feeling as though you do not belong leads to feelings of inadequacy.

Symptoms associated with imposter syndrome are related to depression, generalized anxiety and low self-confidence.


  • Start by recognising your own successes and the role you have played in getting where you are today. It’s important to realise that even if it was with the help of others or that you were in the right place at the right time, it took you to get there and move forward with the opportunities that were presented to you.
  • Take time to regularly review your past accomplishments, however small or insignificant they might be to others. Use the imagery of these events to bring the feelings of achievement back to now. Your subconscious will experience them as if they are happening at this moment, allowing yourself to experience these feelings of success in the present.
  • Start accepting praise rather than brushing it off or saying something to undermine your own efforts. Start thinking about what you have done to get where you are, what you have done to help something come into fruition, how you have helped others along the way and your entitlement to the praise you have received. Start giving yourself regular praise as your subconscious will hear this positivity and respond just as it would if somebody else were praising you.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others and start recognising your own uniqueness. You will never be anybody else and nobody else will be like you. It’s time to start appreciating your own worth. Get to know yourself as if you are somebody you admire, congratulate yourself for small successes each day and start liking yourself for the person you are.
  • Accept your weaknesses as well as your strengths; no one is good at everything, but everyone is good at something. Be it academia, art, sport or anything else, however small you might believe it to be, find your strength and pat yourself on the back.
  • Accept your mistakes; you’re human, you make mistakes and they are a natural part of the process, they are how you learn.
  • Understand that feelings are not facts; just because you feel a certain way it doesn’t mean you are that way or have to behave in that way. You are not an imposter, it is just a feeling and with focus you can change this feeling into something you feel good about by not letting feelings limit your behaviour.
  • Instead of worrying about being an imposter, because you have some level of success in your life that you believe is undeserved, start practicing a little gratitude, turn the feeling into one of thankfulness for all that you have.
  • If you carry these feelings, it’s important you talk to someone that can listen and help so that you can stop these oppressive feelings of inadequacy and start enjoying your life. Hasn’t this been going on too long? Don’t you deserve to be relaxed and comfortable in your life?

Liza Aitken

First Published on www.workingtherapies.co.uk 19th Sept 2018