Seven Ways to Start Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

girl holding her faceHave you ever felt like a fake or a fraud in your workplace or graduate program? Worry that other people might “figure you out?” Impostor syndrome is that insecure feeling, deep down inside, that you don’t believe you deserve the job or career you have, despite maintaining high performance. It is that nagging fear that you will be “found out” for not being as smart or as experienced as people think.

I became very fascinated with impostor syndrome after meeting with several highly qualified, bright, and successful clients that felt they managed to “fool” everyone. One example was a Stanford doctoral graduate who worked as an engineer at a big tech company. He would constantly argue that he was not smart enough, and that others would soon discover that he did not belong in the field. Examples of success were quickly downplayed as luck, a fluke, or a result of deceiving others.

Research shows that impostor syndrome is common in high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their successes and instead attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability. Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou once said “I’ve 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.’”

Race and gender are also crucial in understanding impostor syndrome. People from underrepresented backgrounds (i.e. women, people of color, first generation graduate students) are more susceptible to feeling like an impostor. When you do not see others like you in your own profession, it is easier to attribute success to luck instead of merit.

Although imposture syndrome may drive some people to work harder and achieve more, it can also lead to chronic self-doubt, low self-esteem, and burnout. Therefore, it is important to practice ways to overcome these feelings of insecurity.

  1. Lower your standards of perfection. You don’t have to attain perfection to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved. If you continually set the bar at a level of perfection, you will always feel disappointed. Set the bar at a realistic level so that you don’t always fall short.
  2. Focus on the unique strengths you bring to the table, not on being perfect at everything. Everyone brings their own unique set of strengths and growth areas to a group. It is impossible for one person to be great at everything.
  3. Own your own successes. Most people have an easier time focusing on their failures and mistakes, rather than on their accomplishments. It is important to have a balance. Write down a list of things that you have achieved or succeeded at in the last year. These deserve space as well.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparisons are often biased and rarely helpful. I often hear, “but everyone else seems to be doing fine.” This is a false assumption. We often compare our internal insecurities to others external appearance of confidence. You only have access to your own self-doubt so you mistakenly conclude that your self-doubt is more accurate. We are aware of how much we’re struggling, and falsely assume that others are getting by more effortlessly. The reality is that many people are struggling just like you. In addition, we do not compare fairly; we tend to compare our weaknesses to others people’s strengths, leaving us to feel inferior. We say things like, “But I am not as creative as Johnny” or “as efficient as Susan.” Meanwhile, Johnny and Susan may be wishing they were as detail oriented as you are.
  5. Take more risks. It takes great courage to take on challenges that you fear you will fall short. If you can accept your failures you can succeed much quicker.
  6. Talk about your own insecurities. We are very good at hiding our insecurities and putting on a mask at work. It is these false displays of confidence that leave our peers feeling alone in their own struggles. When you see someone you respect opening up about their struggles it is easier for us to hold realistic opinions about our own work and feel comfortable sharing about our own insecurities.
  7. Counseling can help! A therapist can help you with the tools needed to break the cycle of impostor thinking.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lauren Feiner, PsyD, therapist in La Jolla, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 8 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • angelique

    angelique

    May 29th, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    Lordy I know that this will sound like sour grapes but I really wish that I could show this to my sis n law without atarting a family fight.

    She is just terrible. Her daughters go to a great private svhool that is pretty exclusive where we live but they go on financial scholarship. That’s great, I am glad that they can do that for them because I know that it takes some sacrifice on their part too to be able to do that.

    What bugs me though are the airs that she puts on anytime we are at the school for an event or she is wound the other parents who maybe don’t need the scholarship money. She is always acting like such a phony, trying to keep up with them and honestly it makes me want to throw up when I am around all of that.

  • Jim

    Jim

    May 30th, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    I think that there is a part of all of us that has the tendency to try to act a little better than we are when we are around certain people. I don’t think that most of us mean anything by it or that we are trying to dupe someone, just a matter of trying to fit in with the crowd we are around.

  • Adrian

    Adrian

    May 30th, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    How about just try to be yourself and not worry so much about being what you think others want you to be? Or this image that you want to pretend to be when really you aren’t.

  • addison

    addison

    May 31st, 2014 at 5:50 AM

    I went through this at a time in my life when I really didn’t have the financial means to keep up with people that I wanted to hang out with, and yet I tried to do as much and be like them and it hurt me quite a bit on a personal level as well as from a financial standpoint. I could never have the things that they had without overextending myself and in my younger days that was what was seriosuly important to me. I really hurt myself in a lot of ways trying to do that and had to hit rock bottom before I understood that being something that I wasn’t was not the way to win or keep any friends.

  • Kimberly

    Kimberly

    May 31st, 2014 at 9:06 PM

    In a strange way, this is comforting to know! I’ve struggled with this professionally and personally. My mind dwells on this often, but I’m ready to overcome this monster!!!

  • geoff

    geoff

    June 2nd, 2014 at 3:57 AM

    The field that I work in is very competitive and filled with all kinds of super smart and intelligent people and I have always had a hard time believing that I was one of them.’
    I know that I have to be because otherwise I would have never gotten the job or the chance to prove myself, right? But there are always those nagging thoughts and fears that one day soon someone will find out that I don’t really belong and they will send me packing.
    I want to be able to see in myself what others apparently do but it feels like there is always something that holds me back and makes me feel so much worse about myself. I don’t know where that comes from as I have always been a success at whatever I try but there is still that thing that keeps me I think from achieving and being so much more.

  • Mike Jackson

    Mike Jackson

    June 2nd, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    Another possible cause of feeling like you don’t fit in, that you are somehow getting away with something, that you have just been lucky and that sooner or later they are going to find out and that you will be found lacking comes from the natural and normal experiential dynamics of individuals with Attention Deficit Disorder.

  • anonymous

    anonymous

    June 3rd, 2014 at 4:46 PM

    I have always felt like such a phony at work because I sort of lied a little on my resume and lucky me they never checked it out. I mean, I have the skills that they were looking for but not the job experience so I padded it just a little. I am always living in a little bit of fear that eventually the past will catch up to me so I have been thinking about coming clean but I love my job and don’t want to take a chance of losing it over a stupid thing I did years ago. Do you think that this is valid? Should I just let it ride or fess up?

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

 

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

   
GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on GoodTherapy.org.