Fictional Case Study: 36 year old John Faker, is a newly-appointed Master’s-level Director of HR at a growing private/thriving organization that treats addiction. He hit the 6-digit salary mark this year and is working on his Ph.D. Despite his professional and academic success – having been accepted into a reputable doctorate program and having climbed the ladder to an upper-level management position in a relatively short period of time – he dismisses his accomplishments and credits good timing, luck, and an ability to deceive others into believing he is more competent than he really is, as reasons for said success. He doubts his ability to complete the Ph.D. program and his ability to function at the level expected in his new position. He fears he will eventually be exposed as the fraud he really is.
A relatively common, but rarely spoken of, phenomenon called “imposter syndrome” refers to the fear of being exposed as a fraud. Although not considered a “disorder”, it’s a self-doubt syndrome that leads to feelings of anxiety, stress, incompetence, and depression. Signs and symptoms include: fear of failure, perfectionism, overworking, undermining success, and limiting thoughts, such as: “I’m faking my way through this”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I just got lucky”.
To overcome this dysfunctional way of thinking, there are several things you can do!
- Know that this is not uncommon! It’s helpful to know that you’re not alone, and that a lot of other people who have found (or who are working towards) academic, personal, and professional success, feel the same way – whether they talk about it or not. It’s estimated that about 2 out of 5 successful people feel like “frauds”.
- Give yourself credit for personal achievements. List your accomplishments. Recognize the hard work you have put into where you’re at and where you’re going. Accept that you have played the primary role in your success. Remind yourself of the things that you do well.
- Challenge your thinking. Recognize those self-defeating/unhelpful thoughts and reframe them with more realistic ways of thinking. When doubts about the ability to be successful in the future arise, think about times in the past you were wrong about similar doubts.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. We often look at others, what they are doing, and how they are doing and judge ourselves in relation to them. You’re YOU. You have your own set of strengths. Your path will be different from that of everyone else. Instead of dwelling on things you think you do worse than other people, focus on your strengths and utilize them.
- Remember that you’re human. You’ll make mistakes and fall short of perfection. You have weaknesses. That’s ok.
- Talk to someone. A good friend, a mentor, or a colleague might be able to help you gain perspective. In the therapy setting, a counselor can provide you with tools to help you break patterns of dysfunctional and distorted thinking patterns.
- Remember why you’re qualified. Unless you’re one of the few people actually “faking it” – as in your resume is full of a bunch of bullshit you never actually accomplished – you’ve earned what you’ve achieved. You’ve spent time educating yourself, working in roles to prepare yourself, and learning unique skills that few others share. You’ve earned this!
- Self-help it. Read books or listen to podcasts that motivate you and help keep you in a healthy state of mind. Make a decision to choose confidence over self-doubt. Believe in your abilities. Finally, present yourself to the world in this way in the way that you carry yourself.
Joel Schmidt, MA, LMHC
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