Better Me

Impostor Syndrome: What Happens When You Feel Like a Fraud

Do you ever feel like your accomplishments aren’t anything special, even though you’re successful in your career? Do you ever doubt your abilities, even though nobody has questioned them? At work, do you feel like an intellectual impostor or fraud?

These kinds of feelings are common. They affect 70% of us at some point in our lives. When these feelings of doubt are persistent and pervasive, they could be a sign of a condition called impostor syndrome. It’s also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome, perceived fraudulence, or impostor experience.

“People with impostor syndrome are cloaked by feelings of insecurity,” said Divya Jot Singh, MD, a psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. “They feel inadequate.”

Impostor syndrome isn’t an officially diagnosed mental health disorder. But it is a real condition. Psychologist Pauline Rose Clance described it in her 1985 book, The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success, which she wrote after recognizing her own feelings of being an impostor in graduate school.

If you have impostor syndrome you may:

  • Be a perfectionist
  • Feel like a failure every time you make a mistake
  • Seek education or certification to boost your knowledge, because you always want to know the answers
  • Feel like you aren’t good enough when you have to try hard to learn or do something
  • Be afraid to ask for help
  • Feel like you always need to be accomplishing something

Who gets impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is common in high-achieving professional women, but men experience it too. The feelings of inadequacy appear in various racial and ethnic groups, and show up in people in different careers and professions.

It’s not clear why people develop impostor syndrome. It could stem from a personality trait. It could come from internalized childhood expectations. It could develop in someone who feels like an outsider—for example, minorities and women who work in white, male-dominated fields.

How can you overcome impostor syndrome?

There hasn’t been a lot of research on impostor syndrome, since it’s not a recognized mental health disorder, Dr. Singh said. But there are things you can do to overcome your feelings of inadequacy:

  • Observe your thoughts and question whether they are helpful
  • Reframe how you respond to criticism
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Talk about your feelings with others
  • Connect with a mentor or coach
  • Seek out resilience training
  • Consider individual or group therapy focused on work-related issues

If your work culture is contributing to your feelings of inadequacy, you can try to change it, or look for a position in a company that’s more supportive. You want a workplace where mistakes are not considered failures, expectations are healthy, and success is celebrated, Dr. Singh said.

You may also want to connect with a mental health professional. “Impostor syndrome can lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety,” Dr. Singh said. And the feelings of inadequacy can lead to poor job performance and satisfaction, which can exacerbate mental health issues. So, people who have impostor syndrome should be screened for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, then treated if necessary.

If you think you might have impostor syndrome, our behavioral health experts can help. Find a doctor near you.

Other useful articles:

Behavioral Health Anxiety Depression Wellness