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Why do I feel like a fraud? It’s called Impostor Syndrome.

Why do I feel like a fraud? It’s called Impostor Syndrome.

Do you ever feel like a fraud? As if everyone’s going to find out your success is a fluke? That you’ve been faking it this whole time? That your success might disappear at a moment’s notice? That is called impostor syndrome.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome, also known as the impostor phenomenon, is a psychological pattern where one doubts their success or achievements whilst having a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. One is left with the overwhelming feeling that the penny will drop at any moment and everyone will realise how unsuccessful you really are.

The term was coined in 1978 in the article “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. Defined as an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness. Despite constant outside validation, individuals in the study often lacked internal acknowledgement or confidence in their work and felt it’s a result of luck or simply overestimating their abilities. The researchers determined those who experienced this syndrome showed similar symptoms to depression, low self-confidence, and anxiety disorders.

Although this study was originally performed on a sample of 150 high-achieving women, it has been estimated that nearly 70% of individuals will experience symptoms of impostor syndrome at least once in their life, most often in a new academic or professional setting.

Where does it come from?

There is no single answer to the question of where impostor syndrome comes from. Some experts believe it has to do with our personality traits, whilst others think it may come from childhood memories or our friends and family.

If you grew up in a household where your parents were constantly berating you for your grades, it can leave a long-lasting impact. Our environment may also have a big part to play in our impostor syndrome. If you don’t feel like you belong in your workplace or fit in at school you are less likely to feel confident, which can have a negative effect on your self-belief. This is especially true if you grew up in a group where there were fewer people who look or sound like you (as with race or class for example ) and you felt like you didn’t fit into the ‘pre-established’ groups.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms may vary from person to person and different kinds of environments, but they are generally as follows:

  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Self-doubt or distrust in one’s abilities
  • Irrational fears of the future
  • Negative self-talk
impostor syndrome
Photo by Ivan Aleksic from Unsplash

How do I get rid of impostor syndrome?

You first have to realise that you are exhibiting symptoms of impostor syndrome and acknowledge your thought patterns. Once you put these thoughts into perspective you will find it much easier to not engage in them. It may be helpful to ask yourself ‘Does that thought help or hinder me?’

Remember, your success doesn’t depend on luck, it depends on your dedication, effort, and commitment.

It can also be helpful to reframe your thoughts. The only difference between someone who experiences impostor syndrome and someone who doesn’t is how they respond to their challenges. Learn to value constructive criticism whilst also allowing yourself to be proud when you are praised.

It is always recommended to share your feelings with trusted friends, family, colleagues, or mentors. Those who may have more experience than you will be excellent at offering advice and with reassuring you that your feelings are normal. These people will also be good at telling you that it’s all negative self-talk and how powerful you actually are. You can even reach out to a therapist or counsellor if you think it may be part of a deeper issue.

Lastly, remember to celebrate your small wins. Instead of focusing on the feeling of being an impostor, try to focus on what you achieved this week. Did you receive positive praise? Sign a new client? Publish an article? Finish a project? Celebrate the little wins and allow them to fill your mind. This will leave less room for criticism.


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Isabelle Drury
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