How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome: 7 Experts Share Incredibly Powerful Tips + Strategies To Overcome Feeling Like a Total Fraud
“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”
― Albert Einstein
A sincere thanks to all the awesome experts who shared their best tips, insights and strategies on how to overcome imposter syndrome.
Have you ever felt like a fraud?
Like you are wearing a mask? Self-doubt can be a very powerful emotion lurking beneath the surface of our smiling, confident masks. We wear these masks out of fear.
Fear that we are not good enough.
In this article I’m going to focus on how to overcome these feelings, versus the WHY behind the feelings.
As a therapist, my work often involves helping people discover the story they are telling themselves.
In the case of imposter syndrome, the story you are telling yourself is one of doubt and disbelief in your capabilities. That often leads to putting on a mask. When you put on a mask, you create a different story for the people who can see it.
You are the only one who knows the true story, behind the mask. And that story, can lead to Imposter Syndrome, inducing feelings and symptoms of distress, anxiety and depression.
There are five different types of profiles describing Imposter Syndrome discovered by Valarie Young, who is the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. She discovered patterns amongst people who experience Imposter Syndrome feelings.
The Perfectionist – they set unreasonably high expectations for themselves. Anything short of complete success is a failure to them.
The Expert – they feel under so much internal pressure to know every single tidbit of information before they start anything. These people are fearful of appearing stupid, and will do anything to avoid that.
The Natural Genius – they are people who don’t have to try very hard at things to be good at them, and when they do, they feel like a failure, or that they aren’t good enough.
The Soloists – they feel as if they have to do everything on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they are a fraud.
The Superwomen or Supermen – they pressure themselves to work harder than everyone else to show they aren’t imposters. They need to be superior in all aspects of life, and if they are not, then it causes distress.
These are all masks worn by people we all know. Underneath the masks are the stories. Stories of fear, self-doubt, and inability to feel success, fear of failure, shame, guilt, rejection, and the list can go on and on. As I mentioned before, this can result in symptoms of distress, anxiety and depression.
How can someone overcome this? Acknowledge it, process it, accept it, and grow from it.
1. Acknowledge it.
Own your stuff. Imposter syndrome is a form of cognitive distortion, where your perception and the reality of the situation are not congruent.
If you can talk with a trusted source, friend, therapist, or family member, you may notice differences in how they view the situation and how you do. This can help to identify that you have a distorted perception, and admitting is always the first step.
2. Processing the deeper rooted feelings will be important in dealing with the imposter syndrome.
Learn about the syndrome, identify the best fit profile and process how it makes you feel. I suggest during this stage, to think about the roots of where this could have started. Think back to an age where you FIRST remember feeling this way. This can help to have a better understanding of WHY and HOW this manifested.
Perhaps there was a situation as a child where you can remember feeling failure or shame because of something, and it resulted in you trying harder and harder in order to avoid feeling the failure. This would be a good thing to do with the help of a professional therapist.
3. Accept it.
One of the harder stages. Learning that it is OK to NOT BE PERFECT. Accepting that perfection is impossible. Learning to love all of yourself, including your flaws. Acceptance will lead to a higher self-esteem and healthy self-worth.
4. Grow from it.
The best part! Challenge your negative thoughts as you notice them come up. This is important to moving forward in a healthier direction. Choose to reframe your negative thoughts and choose the positive path! You will be amazed when you can formulate this into a habit how much BETTER you will feel about yourself.
Other suggestions to overcome Imposter Syndrome include;
a. Starting a “brag book”. Keeping a record of your accomplishments in writing can often help to rewire those negative thought patterns which create the self-doubt. Don’t forget to read them!!
b. Celebrate your successes, and write down the skills you used that contributed to them. Pair your progress with a reward!
c. Take in compliments. Practice saying “thank you” and “I appreciate that” or “I’m so glad you liked it!” Just receive it.
d. Keeping postcards, screen shots, positive letters, anything you may have received affirming your positive qualities in a concrete form to help counteract the negative feelings our minds tell us. Look at these things when you feel the self-doubt.
Imposter Syndrome can happen to anyone and it is a difficult mask to remove. If you need help, please seek it, through a friend or a professional.
Christine Barker, LCPC – www.takingcontrolcounseling.com
Imposter syndrome is often associated with a specific setting and as such it may be helpful to sort out the anxiety you are absorbing from the environment versus the anxiety you are generating internally.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is this just a phase?
It is common for people to go through phases of imposter syndrome as they develop expertise in a particular area. It’s important to note that each time you learn a new skill or expand into a new niche within your field you are likely to go through these phases again. It’s also common to bounce between the phases based on positive or negative feedback from others. The phases often look something like this:
a. I just finished school/training and I don’t really know what I’m doing and yet I’m expected to be competent at my job – what if I screw up? What if I’m actually not cut out for this field? What if no one has been honest with me and I just skated by and now I’m going to be found out?
b. I have some experience and I feel pretty confident that I know how to do my job, some people still think I don’t know what I’m doing and sometimes I’m afraid they might be right.
c. People are starting to treat me like I know what I’m doing – “OMG, what if I don’t really know what I’m doing?”
d. I think I finally know what I don’t know and I’m okay not being the expert in those areas. I feel comfortable in my niche (and know how to find the information that I need) and others feel comfortable coming to me for answers and guidance.
2. What is the culture of my environment?
Does it tend to be supportive, encouraging, and collaborative or does it tend towards aggression, competition, and hostility?
a. Can you identify one or two people that foster competition and/or chaos or is there just a general sense of being in a cut-throat environment?
b. Look around, is there anyone else who seems to be trying to avoid too much notice? Ask them how they would describe the culture or atmosphere of the office.
c. What are the consequences of failure in your office or organization?
What evidence do you have of those consequences? Are there specific office rules/policies that indicate success versus failure and the consequences? Have you seen others fail and observed the consequences they received? Have people disappeared from the company without any clear communication from leadership about how to avoid that same fate?
3. Consider who is providing feedback.
a. Are you getting any positive feedback regarding your performance? If so, what makes that feedback believable or not?
b. Who is providing your feedback?
Is it a client, a colleague, an assigned mentor, a volunteer mentor, a boss or supervisor? What is that person’s motivation for providing feedback – to encourage, to challenge, to create fear/doubt, to keep you in your place, to hurt you? Does the person have any experience or perspective that would cause you to give greater weight to their opinion?
c. What is the nature of your relationship with the person providing feedback?
Is it someone who is feeling threatened by your advancement? Is it someone who is struggling in their own life or career and is trying to spread the misery? Is it someone who tends to only see the negative? Or are you receiving a lot of positive feedback and encouragement but just can’t seem to believe it?
After you have answered these questions, here are a few steps you can take:
1. If this might just be a phase of your career, look back and see if you can see a pattern of how long you tend to be in each phase, the triggers that tend to set you back, and the things that have helped you move to a higher level of confidence.
If you can identify a general time frame or some factors that signify the start and end of a phase then you can start monitoring where you are within a phase and feel confident that the next phase is coming.
2. If you are in a very competitive environment, start rating the level of energy you feel when you arrive at the office.
Excited energy feels different than stressful or aggressive energy. Notice how the environments energy changes throughout the day and over weeks or months. Consider what rituals you can use to create a barrier around you so that you don’t absorb the negative energy.
Dr. Alice Lee has a great energy breaths exercise on her website (holisticpsychiatrist.com) that can be helpful for recharging your energy. Other ideas include listening to music, praying for a spirit of peace to enter the office with you, decide not to play the game and instead become an observer of your environment.
3. If you are in a situation of having to accept feedback from someone who seems to have an agenda against you, practice saying “Thank you for the feedback.
I will give that some thought.” This allows you to acknowledge the feedback while also giving you some space to consider whether there was anything constructive about the feedback that you can incorporate.
Alternatively, you can “lead your leader” by adding structure to the feedback sessions and asking for information about what went well and what you should definitely continue to incorporate in your work.
A third option is to ask for written feedback if you find yourself reacting negatively to feedback conversations (there is more about this in the next segment).
Imposter syndrome is a form of anxiety which is accompanied by the fear that you are somehow faking it and in danger of being discovered as a fraud. The fears are either not founded in reality or are exaggerations of reality. Like other forms of anxiety, reality checking is an important part of the recovery process.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself in order to assess what thoughts and beliefs might be feeding your imposter syndrome:
a. When someone wants to offer feedback, what is your first reaction?
Do you tend toward fear or curiosity? After you receive feedback do you ever walk away feeling encouraged? Are you aware of ever receiving mixed feedback (ie. Information on both what you are doing well and what needs improvement)? Do you feel better receiving written feedback versus a face to face meeting? What deep fears are revealed by negative feedback?
b. What are your experiences of feedback, correction, and punishment?
When you were young, did you ever feel like you, your choices, and your behavior were okay or did you feel like you received criticism most of the time? Did you receive any feedback from parents or caregivers or did you feel like no one was paying attention and that you had to figure out the world on your own? Do you feel like anyone had realistic expectations for you?
c. How do you see success?
Is it a black or white matter (ie I’m either a success or failure) or can you accept that you are a work in progress? Do you ever celebrate your successes or do you tend to discount successes by focusing on slight imperfections?
d. How do you talk to yourself?
When you have a setback, what is your process for regrouping and trying again? How often do you talk yourself out of taking risks or trying new things? When you start a new project do you immediately start thinking about all the things that might go wrong?
e. How do the people who know you best describe you?
Do you know how you are perceived by others in various settings? Do people from different settings perceive/describe you in similar ways or do you seem to be different in every setting? Do you have people who believe in you who are starting to feel discouraged because you cannot accept their encouragement?
After answering these questions, here are a few things you can try:
a. Try translating feedback into a form that is easier to digest.
For example, if you receive face to face feedback, take notes so that you can go back and see what was said, or ask the person to provide the feedback in written form.
If you feel emotional reading feedback from someone, have a third person read it aloud. We often impart emotion when we are reading emails and text messages that may or may not match the intention of the sender.
b. Imposter syndrome is often fueled by the misconception that we have nothing special to contribute to the world and so if our performance is not good enough it means that we are worthless.
If this is true for you, you may need to do some work on your sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy. Two of my favorite tools are Strengths Finder 2.0 and Strengths Based Leadership. These tools not only help you identify your strengths but also puts into perspective the fact that not everyone shares those strengths and talks about how those strengths can be used in various settings.
c. Sometimes we need to explicitly define success and how we can measure it for ourselves (without expecting perfection).
Keep an atta-boy/atta-girl file with emails, cards, notes, and any other evidence of success, achievement, and encouragement. Develop rituals for celebrating success and give yourself a set time frame to enjoy each success before strategizing on what you should do differently the next time.
d. There are two exercises that work particularly well for identifying and changing negative self-talk.
(i) The first is to start writing down any negative or pessimistic statements that you find yourself thinking.
Then take the time to create a replacement thought. The important thing about the replacement thought is that it has to be realistic and believable and preferably action oriented. For example, if the negative thought is “this will never work out”, a replacement might be, “I’m doing my best”.
(ii) The second activity is to start with a clean sheet of paper and two different colored pens.
Start writing the stream of negative thoughts that are going through your mind. When you notice that your mind starts to refute one or more of the statements, pick up the other pen and write the positive statements. Continue back and forth until your mind goes quiet on the topic.
e. Sometimes we just get in the habit of choosing to give more weight to negative thoughts and minimize positive thoughts.
There are a few things you might try if your feelings about yourself do not match what others say or perceive about you.
(i) Consider doing a workbook such as “Get out of your mind and into your life”.
One of my favorite statements from that workbook is that you can have a thought without buying the thought.
(ii) Consider bringing your spiritual beliefs into the situation.
This could mean memorizing an encouraging scripture, meditation to let your mind rest, prayer to ask for divine perspective and assistance, or finding a spiritual mentor who can help you put your faith into action.
Angela Sarafin, LMFT - www.angelasarafin.com
The archetype of the ego was created to separate us from our truth and it does a very good job.
The ego gives us our human identity. Its what we take on to drop into the human experience of a “self.”
Our ego holds our beliefs is shaped by what we have seen the most, have been told the most and is reinforced by what we then tell ourselves the most. These beliefs affect our thoughts and emotions which then manifests our experiences. The ego is the imposter and when we over identify with it we feel inauthentic.
The take away here is that what we tell ourselves manifests as a feeling and the feeling affects us emotionally which affects how we are in the world.
You can practice this idea easily for confirmation. For one minute hold a negative thought about yourself, something you believe to be true and then check in with how you feel. Then for one minute focus on what you are grateful for and check in with yourself again, you should feel a positive shift in emotion.
This demonstrates that our thoughts greatly affect our experience. In that time, nothing has changed in your outer experience but, you where able to shift to a more positive experience simply by accessing your highest perspective. The peace and confidence you seek is really a projection of your focus and is not attached to some external validation as the ego would have you believe.
So the good news is that we don't have to think everything we feel or believe everything we say. There is a way to move through this human experience and have a human experience with emotions and reactions and all, and our sense of self can thrive.
I'm going to share a few insights and practices that are easy to use that can help you, and the key to all of them is the remembrance of your truth.
In reality you are the light, we have everything we need to accomplish what we have set out here to do, this is the promise of the universe when we began this incarnation. We are on a mission larger that what we may be aware of and we are fully equipped and supported to be successful.
Accessing the feeling competency and support is done so thorough remembering who you are. And doing so is simple, the key is that you practice your way into it.
To achieve this you only have to be willing.
The spiritual text, “A Course in Miracles says that, ”Your true self is beyond the limits of the material world.” so all the reasons you can come up with as to why you “cant,” don't apply when we remember and connect with who we are. ACIM offers a great mantra to help us.
When you become aware that you are doubting yourself and are being held back by fear of failure, simply say,
“I am willing see peace instead of this.” Through routinely practicing this mantra in the face of a negative thought, you will begin to experience the peace you are summoning. Peace and confidence does not come from some external source, although it may show up through an external support because the Universe uses material resources to support you.
True peace is already within you and all you need to do to have this experience is to summon it forth with your verbal and mental attention.
Coming to know the peace that you are comes from the practice of remembering who you are, this remembrance of your truth brings the experience you seek to you. To help us remember, the Course offers us this mantra, “I have forgotten what I am, I accept the truth of my identity, I am not a body. “When this memory returns to you, it shines away all that is not light.”
Another practice that can help us switch our identification to one that reflects our highest self is the buddhist practice of Generosity.
This is essentially the same practice given to us by the Yogis, the practice of recognizing the light within us and truth of who we really are, and then extending that willingness to see truth in all whom we come across and all that we experience.
When I am struggling with myself or having a hard time in an experience with another person or even a situation, I go within for a moment and connect to source and say, “Namaste.” This is a very powerful practice and like all practices can be done even when we are not being triggered. That actually helps us to stay centered in peace when we are.
Yogi Bajan the Kundilini Yoga master offers this same practice in a beautiful and inspiring way;
“Just understand one word. Take it from me, I’m not giving you any Sanskrit word or any religious word or anything. I’m just telling you something that will help you survive through all the odds. Whenever you face anything and you don't have an answer, just call yourself inside and say, “Victory.”
Lean on victory, make it a guide word, make it a precious word.
I don't know what you are, who you are, why you are. Don't ask questions. Don't do your analysis. Don't try to solve problems. Just utter the word ‘Victory.’
With just the mental utterance of this word your whole life will change. Mentally utter the word ‘Victory.’ Try it. You'll find the strength of a hundred angels behind you.”
And last but not least, another simple practice to help us feel better is offered to us by the Buddhists. Its a mediation called ‘Tonglen,” and it helps us to receive where we are, rather then be in resistance, which always creates more suffering.
When we can receive what is present for us, a disturbing emotion or a negative story we've been playing on repeat, then we are present for the lesson, we have shown up as the student and this brings healing.
That is what all life experiences ask us to do, and our only job really is to show up and be willing to receive the lesson. When we do this suffering can fall away and we can choose as the Course in Miracles says, to “let love be your teacher instead.”
What a great thing to know, that we can choose for a peaceful and positive loving experience to show up for us to teach us the same thing! We don't necessarily need to learn through suffering. Its your choice!
This meditation that is offered to us, allows us to call forth from within all the antidotes we need.
To recognize that all the peace, health, prosperity, we are seeking is already within us, it comes to us through us. As you do this, you are actually remembering what you are, and the more you practice this, the more you will come to know who you are and experience the peace you are. And once you remember this, it cannot not show up for you externally!
The meditation is simple, simply breath in the emotion, thoughts and experiences that you are not wanting to have, be with them, allow them, receive them, and on your out breath attach the intention of the antidote.
You don't have to actually feel it, just attach the intention of it to your breath. So you breathe in depression, or pain, or doubt, whatever it is that is up for you that you are feeling, and breath out peace, or health, or security etc.
What you breathe in and out can change on each breath depending on what you are feeling, so be free with it. Let your body and emotions guide you. As you breathe out the antidote you are actually bringing forward what is innate in you, so that with practice you can easily access from within what you need.
I hope these insights, teachings and practices inspire you as they have helped and inspired me, and that you find the peace within you and come to know the light you are.
Mary Jane Pikul, LCSW – www.maryjanepikul.com
I was 29 and had just earned my PhD. I was interviewing for an internship assessing children with learning problems.
The pediatrician conducting the interview wanted to give me the respect of calling me “Doctor,” but obviously couldn’t remember my last name. Every time he addressed me as “Doctor” I looked around the room. It took me a second to realize he was talking to me.
Now, scroll forward 30 years and, as a practicing therapist, I get called “Doctor” by clients every day. I nod, smile, and acknowledge their address without any surprise. I am a doctor because I have studied and practiced a long time in the field and know I can help people improve their mental health.
What’s changed? I have embraced my role as a PhD, a therapist, and a mental health professional.
Roles are something kids begin to learn and practice when they are 3 to 5 years old. Playing house, fireman, and animal trainer are all examples of children trying out a new role and making it their own.
As adults, each of us assumes roles in our day-to-day lives including those of parent, spouse, or employee. The things we say and do are different in each role. The way we talk as a parent disciplining our children is very different from how we talk to a lover in a sexual embrace. Each of these roles represents a different part of who we are and is important to us in different ways.
When you feel like an imposter, you have not learned how to embrace a particular role, whether it is at home, work, with friends or family.
This blog will describe practical ways to learn how to take on a new role, including identifying the roles you currently feel comfortable in, looking for role models, and creating reasonable expectations for practicing these roles in your life.
I think of a role as a sort of a uniform I adopt to get a particular job done.
It provides a signal to the other person about what they can expect from me. For example, the help I ask of a policeman is quite different from that of my dentist. A role also provides me protection in terms of the information I share with that person. What I share with a personal friend is different than what I say to clients.
How do you begin to step out of the “Imposter” role?
1. Identify a role you feel confident and comfortable in.
Think about a time or place in your life when you felt confident in what you were doing. What was your role in that situation? Were you an equal to others around you, an expert, or a learner? What skills did you use? What were the personal qualities you embodied in that situation that helped you feel good about yourself?
If you said, “I’m not good at anything,” look further. How did you end up in your current situation? Did you apply for a position or say “Yes,” to the right person at the right time? If so, what did that other person see in you that you might be missing in yourself?
Perhaps you could ask friends, peers, mentors, or parents what they see as your strengths. Bringing a particular time to mind when you handled a situation well can be a great reminder of what you’re capable of.
2. Transferring your skills from an old role to a new one.
I remember when I was first practicing as a therapist, and it felt like it took me forever to become confident in that position.
One day I thought, “I wish I could be as good a therapist as I am a folk dancer.” I had spent much of high school and college mastering folk dances out of the sheer love of the music and the movement. In time, many dances were encoded in my muscle memory and were second nature for me. I knew I danced very well.
Just this thought helped me in my much newer therapist role. I imagined what it would be like to be as confident a therapist as I was a folk dancer. I kept coming back to this as a touchstone, and one day I noticed a session when I felt that same ease with being a therapist. While it took me years to get to the point that I felt this confident every day, holding on to this image helped me realize I would someday get there.
3. Find role models to emulate.
Look around to find others who you feel do well in the role you are striving to master. How do they look, act, or behave? Are there skills you could learn from their playbook? Perhaps they could tell you stories from their past about what helped them when they were new in the field. Or maybe you could ask them for pointers in areas you feel insecure?
4. Set realistic goals for roles.
Being able to embody a role doesn’t mean you have to be super human or know everything. Helping someone or accomplishing something only implies that you are one step ahead of others around you. That one step may just be that you are aware of an issue, not that you have a solution totally mapped out. Make learning and growing a part of your role definition. After all, if mastering a role means you have nothing more to learn, that could lead to years of boredom once you full realize your abilities in that area.
Redefining feeling like an “Imposter” as learning and mastering a new role can provide a path for moving out of this painful situation.
Once you realize gaining confidence in your abilities is a matter of time and practice, you can begin to let go of expectations of needing to be better than you are and embrace your current talents and skills.
Tory Butterworth, PhD, LPC – www.torybutterworth.com
“Imposter syndrome” or feeling like a fraud is a common experience.
It’s a form of insecurity and a natural part of being human. The tendency when we feel like a fraud is to avoid doing the very thing that makes us feel like an imposter. In the short run, avoidance helps us feel calmer and safer.
In the long run, however, we don’t want a negative belief to stop us from trying new things that could grow our confidence in the future.
We cannot let imposter syndrome (or any insecurities for that matter) prevent us from meeting our personal goals and reaching for our dreams. That’s a recipe for feeling worse and fueling imposter syndrome.
So, what are some ways we can work with imposter syndrome so it doesn’t totally derail us?
Both personally and professionally, I have found three ways that help:
1. Make room for the part of you that feels like an imposter AND the part of you that feels valid (even if it’s barely there).
2. Befriend and get to know the part of you that feels like an imposter.
3. Validate all the underlying emotions triggered by the circumstances that give rise to imposter syndrome, like fear, for example. The Change Triangle is a great tool to understand and work with emotions. I use it myself and teach it to all my patients.
4. Relate to your imposter part and your emotions with unwavering compassion and love, like a good parent relates to their scared and insecure child.
Below is a little more instruction on each of these three suggestions.
Making Room for the Conflict
Our mind is made up of multiple parts* that hold varied thoughts, feelings, and memories. I use the word “part” to refer to a discrete aspect of a person’s experience.
A part can refer to each side of a conflict: A part of me wants to write a book and another part of me thinks I cannot do it.
A part can refer to a childhood experience that lives on in the brain as a memory or as a trauma: When I walk into a room full of people, a part of me feels ten years old.
A part can be an emotion, belief, image, or thought: A part of me felt sad, but another part of me felt happy. Or, a part of me believes I am an imposter, but another part of me knows I have a ton of education and experience.
Imagine you and I are together in a room. I remind you we are not here to judge you, merely to support you and help you get to know yourself more deeply. I encourage you to suspend judgments of yourself and to relate to yourself with curiosity and as much compassion as you can muster. You tell me you feel like a fraud. And I say, tell me why you are a fraud.
Can you write down all the reasons you feel like a fraud here:
Now, I ask you: does any other part of you feel differently? Look for even the most subtle parts inside that hold a different viewpoint.
Write why you are not a fraud here:
Can you imagine holding or visualizing both of these parts of you together with lots of space in between but nevertheless holding them together in your mind at the same time.
Congratulations! You are holding a conflict in your mind.
Just notice what that is like. Does it feel better? Worse? Just validate your experience.
Getting to Know Your Imposter Part
With some practice, we can gain awareness and talk directly with the imposter part of us. Can you bring up your last memory when you felt like an imposter? Just let whatever images come without questioning validity. Some people are not so visual so they struggle to imagine parts of themselves. That’s fine!
Working with emotions and feelings is a very creative endeavor.
Another approach is to notice where in your body you feel the imposter syndrome. I feel it as anxiety in my core. My whole torso feels like it is vibrating and there is no solid ground underneath my feet.
Where do you feel your imposter syndrome physically?
Now imagine talking to that part of you whether you see a visual image or just sense that part inside.
Ask it some questions:
When was the first time that part of you felt like this? How old were you? What was happening at the time? Who was there to help you feel better? How did you get the idea that you were an imposter—was there actual evidence or was it just a feeling? Does the imposter part feel young, like a child, or like an adult? If the part of you that feels like a fraud had an image, what would it look like? Where in your body do you feel the imposter syndrome?
For example, when Nicole, a successful coach thinks about publicly speaking, she panics and thinks Who am I to coach others? I don’t really know anything? What if people find out I don’t know what I am doing?
Imagining this part of herself, she saw an image of herself as a little girl. The little girl was small in stature and overwhelmed by fear. A memory came up from childhood when she had to recite a poem in front of the class and she forgot her words.
Once we get some sense of that part, we can communicate with it.
Yes, I am suggesting talking to yourself (not out loud), and even more so. We can ask it where it got the idea it was an imposter? We can ask it what it needs to feel a bit more confident or supported? We can ask it what it fears and think through various scenarios we imagine happening, for better and for worse. The more awareness we have, the more we can work with parts of us that cause us distress.
Naming and Validating Your Emotions
When we validate our emotions, we feel better. We have two main categories of emotions. Inhibitory emotions, which are anxiety, shame, and guilt. Under those lie our core emotions of sadness, fear, anger, disgust, joy, excitement, and sexual excitement.
When you feel like a fraud, try validating all the emotions you notice that go with your imposter syndrome. Let’s use Nicole from above as an example. She validated that she was scared to do her presentation. She was also happy that she was asked. She was also angry that she didn’t have more support from her family.
Think about a time when you felt like a fraud and ask yourself if you can name all the emotions that go with that memory. There can be more than one. There can also be conflicting emotions happening at the same time like, I feel fear and excitement; or I hate this and I love this.
Just putting words on feelings helps us relax.
We can listen to what the feelings are telling us and then think through actions we should take on our behalf. For example, if you feel scared, ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Then listen to your fear and see if that could really happen?
Our emotions make us think all sorts of things that aren’t true. For example, Nicole’s fear told her that someone might stand up and say you don’t know what you’re talking about. Once she said that out loud, she realized nobody would be that rude. But I helped her plan a response to her worst fear so she felt prepared just in case…
Giving Insecure Parts Compassion and Love, “What does it need?”
Offering compassion to ourselves when we feel fraudulent helps us feel better. But for many of us, compassion doesn’t come easily, especially if we were treated harshly as children. Compassion immediately softens tension. So, let’s try it. First access a loving compassionate part of yourself. You can do this by remembering how you lovingly treated a hurt animal, child, aging parent, or good friend.
From this loving, calm, and compassionate part of you, try to see, feel, and connect deeply with your imposter-feeling part.
Give it compassion with a warm look, kind words, a hug, or anything else that feels right to you. Judging or being harsh to insecure parts of us only makes them feel worse and get stronger. We want to create a safe space to reflect on our vulnerabilities, just like we would do if we were talking to an upset child.
Feeling like a fraud is natural and human.
It’s how we validate, work with, and deal with those parts that makes a real difference. The definition of true courage is doing something we fear. Be with your fears, give compassion to your insecure parts, and go out there and make it happen anyway!
Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW - www.hilaryjacobshendel.com
Imposter Syndrome, the “I’m a Fraud”, of cognitive distortions.
Cognitive distortions essentially are the ways in which our minds develop dysfunctional cognitive-behavior-affects patterns. There are many varieties of cognitive distortions. In the case of the “Imposter”, the distortion is believing you are somehow faking it, or have been mis-placed, or maybe are undeserving.
In addition, you believe you are perhaps fooling or lying to others, maybe even those that you love. Inauthenticity, whether it be professional, socially, intimately, you believe you are living a lie, one not created from within. Like wearing someone else’s clothes.
Pervasive anxiety awaiting the impending doom of the curtain coming down can be quite taxing to live with.
It is clear this person would experience the world as an extremely vulnerable, maybe hypersensitive nearing paranoia, fearful and edgy, and perhaps deceitful and guilty, depressed person. The amount of psychic energy wasted on these fears and manifestations is immense
The magic is that by reframing and understanding your very own distortion, you can gain power rather than getting your energy sucked out uselessly.
With some consistent mental exercise and mindfulness, you can work your way to a healthy perception of self. Perhaps, the first question is what is the big secret? As a therapist, I cannot count the times that I have heard a client say “Wow, in my head it was a lot worse”. I mean let's be real.. sometimes saying your greatest fears out loud allows the opportunity for it to lose it’s power. At least we know what we are dealing with.
I want you to read the next sentences and establish which sounds more like you...
The kite is flying because the wind is taking it for a ride.
The kite is flying so well because I am holding the string taut and managing the wind properly.
The first sentence illustrates a view using an external locus of control.
Factors outside of me, that I am witnessing, are generating an event/experience. The second sentence illustrates a view of internal locus of control. I am a part of the event/experience.
Someone prone to the “Imposter Syndrome” would be leaning too far towards external loci of control.
Others and outside forces will dictate my future. I can imagine that the perceived lack of control and absence of autonomy/freedom is terrifying. When we tap into our internal loci of control however, we can gain confidence, learn lessons, understand ourselves more, study, take a hold of our lives.
Seeing a therapist is a great way to “process the process”.
1. Research cognitive distortions. A search will give you a list of common Cognitive Distortions. Be honest, which do you use? This will begin the process of increased insight. I was always big on “filtering”.
2. Identify what you are afraid of being found out about... then begin to examine the rational /irrational ratio of this secret, perhaps with the help of a therapist.
3. While external locus of control is an integral part of our existence, we must connect with our worlds and not be spectators.
Slow down, consider more.
Stephanie Loeb Beilinson, LPC – www.theloebcenter.com
Impostors have esteem issues.
We all have esteem issues at one time or another and I realized what it was to see my limitations and admitted them. I had to admit it to quit it. Impostors seldom do that.
Impostors pretend to know more than they do.
It’s one thing to “fake it until you make it” and learn on the way, but when you fake it and never make an effort to actually know what you are talking about, this is a self-esteem issue.
If you feel like you have to say you know more than you do, perhaps self-esteem is what is causing your anxiety, depression or feelings of undeserved accolades, achievements or comparing yourself with others.
There were times in school, I had a lower opinion of higher education because it was mostly theory and when we went into internships, I knew what I didn’t know. I was oftentimes memorizing and regurgitating previously known knowledge on exams and papers.
It was a good base to spring from but in practice, it was helpful but could also be hurtful if I didn’t remember I was in a therapeutic relationship with a fellow human instead of a client or patient. My professors’ personal experiences, mentorships and internships were the saving grace to help me help others. I thank them all.
To me, a counselor is a person who helps you listen to yourself and seek your best solutions. I can’t do that from a position of superiority. I tell my clients that I am their sounding board and voice. I tell them I can read every psychology book written but I haven’t read the one on their life story. It is my duty to refer those out that I can’t help because of a lack of my expertise. This also keeps me mindful not to get Impostor Phenomenon.
3 major things that may help you combat IP.
1. Know what you don’t know:
If you don’t know something, don’t pretend you do. Find out if you need to and ask for time. Saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out for you,” is an authentic and human answer.
2. Humility is not humiliation:
Being humble is human. Accept yourself for who you are and others for who they are. Someone will always know more than you do about something, even if their IQ is lower or their education is less. Everyone is an expert at something. We can’t all know everything.
If you feel humiliated around others, dig deep within to see where this is coming from as it may be your own lack of esteem. It could also be that someone is trying to humiliate you and you don’t need to be in this relationship. Examine it for yourself or with a therapist.
3. Discern, learn and earn respect:
If you discern that you don’t know something and want to, learn it. Then you will have earned it and won’t be an impostor but a student in the school of life. You will have self-respect and it will elevate your esteem. The more you learn, the more you realize that there is more to learn than you could possibly do in a lifetime.
We all are in class every day learning something. You won’t feel like an impostor if you honor yourself in equanimity to others.
Mary Joye, LMHC – www.dailyom.com/cgi-bin/courses/