I Feel Like An Impostor

More often than you might imagine, I've had people sit on the couch across from me and say something like, "I feel like an impostor; like I'm just faking it". I've personally heard this come from the mouths of cardiovascular surgeons, Grammy-nominated musicians, nuclear engineers and other professionals at the top of their respective fields. These are people who have years of hard work, experience and commendations behind them -- people who have a clear trail that would suggest deservedness to an outsider looking in. I might fear that I was working in an area of the country where people were all delusional if I wasn't aware that this sensation is all too common. So common, in fact, that it has a name.

Impostor Syndrome is something I often encounter in counseling and it's not only from high-status professionals. It occurs for people in almost any career, at any socio-economic status, of any race, any religion or any sexual orientation. First coined by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 article about high-achieving women,  Impostor Syndrome is characterized by the following traits:

  • A difficulty internalizing accomplishments and believing they occurred because of merit. 
  • A feeling of being a fraud and not deserving the success that has been afforded them
  • The tendency to dismiss said success as being the result of luck or fooling others
  • It typically occurs in high-achievers

Writing about this now, I can fondly recall a client who sat down one day in my office and looked around sheepishly. Puzzled, I jokingly asked him if he was on the run from someone. "I feel like it", he replied, "I feel like I'm lying to everyone about who I am". This is often how the conversation begins between my clients and I, a little humor to soften the blow of an admission that can seem very personal to reveal. We discussed how this shaped his experience of his life now and in the past and opened doors to some great future work together. 

Many of us will encounter this sensation of being a fraud a number of our times in our lives. Some research shows that up to 70% of people experience Impostor Syndrome at least once in their lives. In my experience, these feelings usually crop up around the time of transitions (like a promotion) and art often rooted in in matters of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence. 

If you're all too familiar with this phenomenon and you want to understand it better, be in touch. This is an area that I love to talk about with clients and the conversation usually reveals a fruitful amount.

Until next time,