Imposter Syndrome

On a typical day, you know you’re good at your job, but unfortunately, today is not that kind of day.

Lately, for some unknown reason, you’ve been experiencing a niggling sense that you’re just not up to the job. You find you can’t help but let uncertain thoughts creep in, and you ask yourself constantly – “what if I’m just not good enough?

You’re exhausted from battling with negative thoughts, and your daily routine is peppered with insecurities that you can’t seem to shake. If this sounds familiar, then you might be experiencing what has become known as ‘Imposter Syndrome’. It became so common that many psychologists are now calling it ‘Imposter Experience’.

The Impostor Phenomenon was first described by Pauline Clance who noted that individuals experiencing it have an intense feeling that their achievements are undeserved.


Some of the common signs of imposter syndrome include:

  • Self-doubt
  • An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
  • Attributing your success to external factors
  • Berating your performance
  • Fear that you won’t live up to expectations
  • Overachieving 
  • Sabotaging your own success
  • Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short

Beliefs behind the imposter syndrome

While for some people, impostor syndrome can fuel the feeling of motivation to achieve, this usually comes at a cost in the form of constant anxiety. You might over-prepare or work much harder than necessary to “make sure” that nobody finds out you are a fraud.

This sets up a vicious cycle, in which you think that the only reason you survived that class presentation was that you stayed up all night rehearsing. Or do you think the only reason you got through that party or family gathering was that you memorized details about all the guests so that you would always have ideas for small talk?

The problem with impostor syndrome is that the experience of doing well at something does nothing to change your beliefs. Even though you might sail through a performance or have lunch with co-workers, the thought still nags in your head, “What gives me the right to be here?” The more you accomplish, the more you just feel like a fraud. It’s as though you can’t internalize your experiences of success.


While impostor syndrome is not a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is not uncommon. It is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this phenomenon in their lives.

If you think you might have imposter syndrome, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you agonize over even the smallest mistakes or flaws in your work?
  • Do you attribute your success to luck or outside factors?
  • Are you very sensitive to even constructive criticism?
  • Do you feel like you will inevitably be found out as a phoney?
  • Do you downplay your own expertise, even in areas where you are genuinely more skilled than others?

If you often find yourself feeling like you are a fraud or an imposter, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist.  The negative thinking, self-doubt, and self-sabotage that often characterize imposter syndrome can have an effect on many areas of your life.

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