Audrey Ervin Ph.D.

Open and Diverse

Imposter Syndrome

Fight Back Against Imposter Syndrome

How to reclaim your confidence.

Posted Jan 30, 2018

Alan Levine/Flickr
Source: Alan Levine/Flickr

At companies, schools, and organizations all over the country, talented people silently doubt that they are qualified or good enough. They’re also living in constant fear that someone is going to find out that they are frauds.

This pervasive sense of self-doubt is called imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome can strike even the most competent and high-achieving professionals, and it’s not always easy to tell who is affected.

Imposter syndrome is characterized by feelings of incompetence, inadequacy, or perceived fraudulence. Often experienced by high-achieving individuals, a person with imposter syndrome has an internal experience of persistently feeling like a phony, a fake or a fraud. They worry other people will discover that they are not competent or capable, despite objective successes.

Symptoms include generalized anxiety, depressive symptoms, lack of self-confidence, worry, introversion, trait anxiety, a need to look smart to others, and a propensity for shame.

Imposter syndrome is damaging to people’s careers and relationships. It can lead to burnout when people over-produce to prove themselves. People may also miss opportunities because they do not feel worthy or capable, despite being quite competent. At home, imposter syndrome can negatively impact relationships. Partners and families can suffer when people spend too much time trying to prove themselves at work and spend less time with loved ones.

Thankfully, there are a variety of ways to fight imposter syndrome. These tips can help people with imposter syndrome reclaim their confidence:

1. Pay attention to what you are telling yourself.

Ask, does this thought help or hinder me? Is this thought true? Mindfulness-based therapies may help people reflect on distressing feelings associated with imposter syndrome and foster more compassionate, accepting ways of relating to oneself. Cognitive-behavioral therapies can help to identify and replace maladaptive patterns of thinking, such as “everyone will find out I am incompetent.”

2. List your successes.

A lot of people forget about their accomplishments and focus on their failures. Make a conscious effort to track your wins. If you find yourself doubting your ability to complete a project or new goal, pull out the list to remind yourself of your past successes.

3. Seek internal validation instead of external validation.

People who experience perceived fraudulence are often unable to internalize their successes and seek external, as opposed to internal, validation. Seek counseling to work on increasing internal validation and decreasing your reliance on external validation. If you depend on internal validation, you can be in control of how you feel about yourself instead of letting other people’s opinions dictate how you view yourself and your abilities.