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Imposter Syndrome

Heidi Cox

What is Imposter Syndrome?

In the last several years, you may have heard the term Imposter Syndrome being spoken about. So what is imposter syndrome? Do you have it? And how can you deal with it if you do think you are experiencing it?

First of all, imposter syndrome refers to a psychological experience of self-doubt about skills, talents, or achievements which leads to a fear of being exposed or “found out” as a fraud. In imposter syndrome, it’s not that you aren’t qualified, or that you haven’t put in real effort or dedicated time to improving your skills/talents. It’s that you don’t believe the level of skills you have legitimize your position or feel that they are enough. It’s the feeling of needing more and more credentials in order to value yourself. It’s a fear that if others saw you for who you truly are they would realize you are not good enough for that promotion, or title, job, award, etc.

Imposter Syndrome might feel like having degrees, titles, certifications, and still not feeling like you deserve to be where you are. To counter these feelings, you might find you work harder and harder and hold impossibly high standards for yourself – for example comparing yourself to an unreasonable yardstick (i.e. someone who is at the highest echelons, or has years more experience than you). Instead of realizing that you are working hard and have spent a lot of time and effort honing your abilities, you see what you haven’t achieved and worry about that.

What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like?

The most common emotional responses related to imposter syndrome are feelings of anxiety, doubt, and even depression. Imposter syndrome may be related to other psychological issues including perfectionism and highly demanding families. You may have been raised in a family that values achievements or metes out love and attention based on outcomes. All of these situations can make it feel like you are always driving yourself to achieve more and more while never pausing to reflect or feel satisfaction with where you are. In fact, merely reading this sentence, you might feel the need to scoff or wonder what it would even be like to be satisfied with yourself or what you have accomplished. If this is you, take a minute to notice that you might feel uncomfortable in valuing yourself just as you are.

How to Cope with Imposter Syndrome

Therapy can help you with imposter syndrome in many ways. Therapy can help you to evaluate patterns in your life like recognizing imposter syndrome and perfectionism. Once you’ve observed and understood these long-held patterns, your therapist can help you to re-evaluate your achievements, use self-compassion to improve your self-understanding, and let go of perfectionism by acknowledging mistakes and achievements alike without valuing one over the other. You can grow through imposter syndrome and improve your own sense of self worth in the process. Acceptance is another technique that might be useful to work through the often rigid self-imposed rules that accompany imposter syndrome.

If you or a loved one think you might be experiencing imposter syndrome, there are many things you can do. Just recognizing the pattern is a good start! Try recognizing your inherent worth, the efforts and time you have already put into things, and embrace imperfection – or at least practice not blaming yourself for mistakes that are out of your control. For more information and support, you can reach out to a therapist and set up an appointment to talk about imposter syndrome and how it might be affecting you.

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Imposter Syndrome


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About the Author

Dr. Heidi Cox is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of The Centered Space Psychology. She uses a warm, collaborative approach to therapy which holistically integrates evidence-based practices into dynamic work. She helps people be inspired to change, to grow in understanding, and heal from emotional suffering.

Dr. Cox specializes in working with women’s mental health issues, including postpartum anxiety and depression, reproductive issues, and loss. In addition, she works with anxiety, mood disorders, life transitions and relationship issues. She is HAES and LGBTQ+ allied. If you'd like to work with Dr. Cox, you can visit her MyWellbeing profile or contact her directly through her website.