We’ve all heard the term “fake it until you make it,” which refers to the idea that by acting confident and, as though you know what you’re doing, you will eventually make that a reality. But, what if that reality never comes and you feel like you’re faking it all the time?
Everyone occasionally feels like they’re just winging it. We hope no one notices that we don’t really know what we’re doing. But when you live constantly feeling like a fraud and worry about being exposed you may have what is called imposter syndrome.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome refers to the persistent feeling that you aren’t actually responsible for your own achievements or success. People with imposter syndrome often feel like they’ve been lucky, in the right place at the right time, or that others are really the source of their success and feel guilty because of the praise that they’re receiving.
These feelings are often found in high achievers but can affect anyone in any walk of life, and both men and women can experience them. And it’s not just in the workplace.
Imposter syndrome can affect any positive area in your life – relationships, school, money, or family. Feeling that you don’t really deserve any of the good things in your life and are completely unworthy of what you have is a primary characteristic of imposter syndrome.
Feeling this way causes stress, anxiety, depression, and can make even the most successful people afraid to take on new challenges and unable to live with the worry of being exposed.
If this sounds familiar but you’re still unsure, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you consider yourself a high achiever?
- Do you feel you’re lucky and worry your luck will run out?
- Do you worry your achievements will make people expect too much of you and you’ll ultimately disappoint them?
- Do you often feel like you’re mediocre or incompetent?
- Does a new situation make you desperate to feel prepared, cause you to obsess over the details, or feel like nothing can be left to chance?
- Are you controlling when it comes to events, projects, or anything else with which you are associated?
- Do you experience constant self-doubt?
- Are you worried that if people look too hard they’ll find flaws in your work?
- Are you concerned that people will find out you’re not as smart or as good as you seem?
If you answered, “yes” to most or all of these, you are likely dealing with imposter syndrome. And while we can all experience these feelings occasionally, when they become persistent and get in the way of your happiness and ability to enjoy your success, they become a problem.
How To Get Over Feeling Like A Fraud
One of the biggest problems with imposter syndrome is that no amount of success and happy achievements make it go away. In fact, it’s often the case that the greater the success, the more intense the feelings of being a fraud and being found out can become.
For some people these feelings can serve as motivation. They work harder, do more, triple and quadruple check everything just to validate themselves and increase their feelings of worthiness. But is that a healthy motivation? Not really. Using feelings of fear and self-doubt to motivate yourself is draining and costly to your mental health and overall happiness.
Finding a way to overcome imposter syndrome and feel secure in your achievements isn’t easy, however. If you suffer with this, it likely has deep roots. So to get past it you will have to truly examine your past experiences and beliefs about yourself and your abilities.
To do that consider some of the following truths:
- While others may have helped, you had a major role in your own success.
- Hard work pays off. If you have worked hard you have earned the right to be proud of what you’ve achieved.
- Positive or negative, other people’s opinions aren’t as important to your own mental health and happiness as yours is.
- You belong as much as anyone around you.
- Everyone around you has insecurities and feels like a fraud sometimes too. You’re not alone.
- Failure doesn’t make you a phony.
Although these are all true and need to be remembered, accepting them as truth can be tough. You may need work to believe them, and to that end consider using the tips below to assist you:
- Keep a notebook of praise and compliments paid to you. Reviewing these can help you feel more secure and counter your negative self-talk.
- Stop thinking about yourself and focus on adding value to those around you – but not in an obsessive way. The point here is to eliminate the, “What will they think of me?” train of thoughts and negative self-talk. Helping, pitching in, and doing things for others will not only make others appreciate you, it breaks down walls, brings you closer to other people, and will make you feel good about yourself.
- Make a list of the things you’re afraid people will find out about you. Then review them and find the reasons they aren’t that bad or unique and recognize that others have the same or worse concerns about themselves.
- Talk to someone and tell them how you feel. Doing this will take some of the fear away, allow that person to reassure you, and you may discover they have had very similar feelings.
If none of these helps and you still find that you feel like a fraud, it may be time to talk to a counselor. As I mentioned earlier, these thoughts and feelings are usually deep-seated. Getting past them will mean that you need to address their source and work through those issues before you can really move on and find the happiness and self-confidence you need.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.