Impostor Syndrome

Posted by on Aug 1, 2004 in Success!Ezine For You



E. Carol Webster, Ph.D.
Original Copyright © 2004

Feel like a phony? Like you don’t really know what you’re doing on your job? Afraid that people will learn you’re a fraud? You may be experiencing the Impostor Syndrome.

Many people who are highly admired by others for their great accomplishments struggle with the feeling that their success is due to factors other than their own competence. Some worry that their ability to wheel and deal, to impress or fool others, has rocketed them to the top and that the people they zoomed over on the way up may really have what it takes to do the job. Others believe that they are just hard workers whose efforts have resulted in promotion, but that they aren’t really as intelligent as people think they are and don’t truly deserve all the fuss that’s being made over them and their position. If you are a pioneer and are a “first” to make in your field, you may be particularly vulnerable to feeling that you’re just a token representative of your race or sex, for example, and that your unexpected anointment by powerbrokers has boosted you to a level you don’t feel ready for yet no matter how competent the objective evidence says you are. This inner struggle can engender discomforting feelings of anxiety and depression. You may feel afraid, on edge — expecting exposure at any minute, and pessimistic about how things will turn out in the end.

  • Acknowledge the Feelings

The first order of business in gaining control over your unhappiness is to acknowledge how you’re feeling. You can’t fix things if you don’t recognize the problem. Admit that you’re afraid. Identify the sadness. Be specific about the situations that make you feel that, in spite of all the great things you’ve accomplished, it’s still not satisfactory, not impressive enough. Learn to recognize what tasks you’re doing when you feel riddled with self-doubt and beliefs that everyone will find out that you’re a fraud. Critically examine these times. Are they circumstances that would cause anyone to have self-doubt – like when you start a new job or are the first to occupy a certain position in your field? Get these feelings out in the open so that you can deal with them or, more typically, so that others can help you make a more realistic appraisal of yourself and how you’re doing.

  • Identify the Realities

What are you really afraid of? Do you have the requisite education and experience to do the job? Are you doing it well even though you may feel like a wreck? Do you have the respect of your team and others around you? Does your boss or Board of Directors hold you in high regard? Typically, the answer is “yes” and you are disregarding this clear and present reality because of negative criticisms from the past that keep you feeling that no matter what you do, you’re just not good enough. But you don’t have to be victim to this negativity. It’s playing in your own head, so change the script. You have the power to do so. Take note of the fact that what you’re hearing today is positive and accurately reflects the kind of job you’re doing. Keep your distance from those you’re never going to be able to please and, when these are family members that you must maintain contact with, get help to learn how to keep emotional distance so that this negativity does not continue to torture you.

  • Take Care of Business

There are some times when feeling like an impostor is an accurate reflection of a situation or the state of things in some area of your life. For example, you should feel nervous and like you don’t know what you’re doing if you’re about to speak to your employees about a new policy and haven’t fully read it yourself. You should worry that your colleagues will find out you’re a fraud if you haven’t obtained all of your professional credentials and have been passing yourself off as if you have. Take care of any weaknesses in your education and training, as well as personally, if these things are going to keep you feeling inadequately qualified to occupy the position you now hold. Seek professional and personal improvement on your own time and at your own expense if what you need is not provided by your company. Don’t sit around complaining about what’s not being given to you. This only keeps you feeling inadequate and on edge.

  • Applaud Your Successes

It’s important to validate the things you’re doing well. Getting positive feedback from others is essential when you’re prone to put yourself down and to attribute your success to all kinds of other factors. Get a mentor so you can obtain ongoing, objective feedback from one who cares about your achievement. Participate in professional association or other peer group activities as an ongoing forum for obtaining collegial recognition of your successes, to shore up your skills as things advance in your field, and to continually be reminded that that other people have work worries, self-doubt and fears just like you do.

The Impostor Syndrome robs many people of enjoyment of the great strides they make in life. Don’t be one of these people. You deserve to relish your success and to feel proud of what you have accomplished. It’s okay to puff out your chest and tell yourself “I’m doing great in my life”. Keep your distance from those who make you feel that all you’ve accomplished still isn’t good enough and seek help promptly if you can’t do this on your own.



About the Author:

Dr. E. Carol Webster is a clinical psychologist consultant in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
She is author of the book for those dealing with the stress of success ―
Success Management: How to Get to the Top and Keep Your Sanity Once You Get There,

The Fear of Success: Stop It From Stopping You! ―
the book to help you overcome fears that may be holding you back in your life and career
The Private Practice of Clinical Psychology in: Voices of Historical & Contemporary Black American Pioneers
To contact Dr. Webster visit online at or call 954.797.9766.

E. Carol Webster, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychology Consulting
Mailing Address: 7027 West Broward Boulevard, #262  Fort Lauderdale, FL 33317

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