Imposter Phenomenon: The Fear of Being a Fraud

“They’re going to find me out”

“I don’t deserve this”

“I feel like a fraud”

“I just got lucky”

Have you ever found yourself thinking along the lines of any of the above? If so, you may be suffering from imposter phenomenon.

Imposter phenomenon (or imposter syndrome) is the term coined for the internal belief that you are incompetent and a phony and that you don’t deserve your success, despite evidence to the contrary. You downplay your skills and achievements, believing they are due to luck, rather than your own efforts. 

Often emerging in response to workplace abilities, this phenomenon can affect anyone, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic background. Though not an official mental disorder, clinical psychologists believe it to be extremely common, affecting up to an estimated 70% of the population. It is thought that there are five different ways in which imposter phenomenon can manifest in individuals. These are: perfectionist, expert, soloist, superhero, and natural genius. 

If any of the above sound familiar, do not fret: there are ways to combat these feelings of being an imposter. 

  1. Acknowledge that you are experiencing these thoughts and feelings and share them with others so as to not let them grow – you’ll also be surprised at how many others feel the way you do. 
  2. Assess your abilities and be realistic. Highlight your strengths and make note of what you can and – most importantly – cannot improve on. Nobody’s perfect and the reason we so often work in teams is so that others can rise in areas where we fall; accepting this is key to feeling competent in your own work.
  3. Avoid negative self-talk. Remove phrases such as “I’m not good enough” from your vocabulary – if you weren’t good enough, why would you be there in the first place? Record any positive feedback you receive so that you can look back over it and remind yourself of how well you are doing. 
  4. Recognise the difference between feelings and facts – and focus on the facts. For example, someone complimenting you on your work is proof that you’re doing a good job, feeling that they did so just to be polite is not grounds to dismiss this compliment. 
  5. Own your successes. Often, people believe that when things go right, it’s due to external forces but when things go wrong, it’s all their fault. Acknowledge that it was your efforts that led to the task being completed – you are working so hard, celebrate your hard work!

Most importantly, if you feel like these feelings of inadequacy are interfering with your daily living, then it may be best to speak to a counsellor or therapist to help you combat these feelings. And remember, it’s normal to feel doubt from time to time, but you must not let this doubt get in the way of your progress and hold you back.

Note from Tracey Corbett Lynch, Manager of LMHA:

“Another excellent contribution from blogger Nicole Russell this week. When I mentioned the subject matter of this week’s blog a lot of my female colleagues related to this subject of Imposter phenomenon. It’s a subject that will touch how many of us have felt, a little inadequate and undeserving of our success or achievements at one time or another. imposter Phenomenon or Imposter syndrome is in my personal view akin to that experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are in your career, and you only got there through blind luck. I had felt this as I progressed and received promotions in my career while young. I dismissed the long hours worked, volunteering myself for projects I wasn’t being paid for or no one else wanted to do, the years of night school and sheer determination over many years it took to build a career to support my family. I had blightfully dismissed all these contributing factors to my key milestones. I had a constant feeling of not being good enough. It took a long time to quiet those voices and build up some self-belief. 

Nicole’s blog has some lovely tips around the importance of acknowledgment and avoiding negative self-talk. Remember self-doubt is a natural feeling every now and then when we face challenges but do not let it creep into the places that affect your day-to-day life.”

Blogpost written by Nicole Russell, a volunteer with the Limerick Mental Health Association and psychology graduate of the University of Limerick.