Psychotherapy for Impostor Syndrome
Why do highly successful people feel like frauds?
I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.
If you experience feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, you may be surprised to learn that you are in great company. Impostor Syndrome is typically associated with high achievers. So, if you feel like a fraud, the chances are that you’re more capable than you think; real frauds don’t worry about this.
Impostor syndrome is increasingly recognised as a key maladaptive psychological condition impairing professional performance and contributing to burnout.
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
Do you feel that you never reach your full potential?
Do you tend to dismiss your career success as “just good luck”?
Do you doubt your competence despite your good performance?
Impostor Syndrome is the overwhelming feeling that you don’t deserve your success. It convinces you that you’re not as intelligent, creative or talented as you may seem. It is the suspicion that your achievements are down to luck, good timing or just being in the “right place at the right time.” And it is accompanied by the fear that, one day, you’ll be exposed as a fraud.
It’s not simply another symptom of low self-confidence; it involves a constant fear of exposure, isolation and rejection.
Impostor Syndrome often strikes at moments of success: starting a new job, receiving an award or promotion, or taking on extra responsibility such as teaching others, starting your own business, or becoming a first-time parent.
These feelings can inspire you to work harder, so as not to be “unmasked,” leading to further success and recognition – and feeling like an even bigger fraud. Often, however they may lead you to revising your hopes and aiming at less ambitious goals, which in turn, prevents you from fulfilling your true potential.
Do I Suffer From Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor Syndrome can be difficult to recognise in yourself. Many people accept that others have the syndrome, but are convinced that, in their case, they genuinely are impostors.
However, if you identify with some of the thought patterns and feelings described below, you may well be experiencing Impostor Syndrome.
Feeling Inadequacy and Self-doubt:
Most people suffer from a lack of self-confidence at some point in their lives, but with Impostor Syndrome the feeling is constant and severe.
Many people who experience Impostor Syndrome are perfectionists. They set themselves unreasonably high goals, and then feel shame or disappointment when they fail. Perfectionists are never satisfied with their achievements, preferring to focus on their mistakes and failures.
Fearing Judgment and Discovery:
Impostor Syndrome sufferers are haunted by a constant fear of being found out that they are not competent enough. They often push themselves to the limit in order to prevent “exposure,” yet never feel that their efforts have been good enough. This creates a vicious cycle of effort, dissatisfaction, and fear, which further damages their self-esteem
Inability to Own Your Success:
People with Impostor Syndrome struggle with accurately attributing their performance to their actual competence and instead perceive it as being related to external factors such as luck or receiving help from others and attribute setbacks as evidence of their professional inadequacy.
Together, these persistent feelings of inadequacy and fears of exposure despite external evidence of success may lead to difficulties in fully developing individual’s professional potential and may be a significant contributor in burnout.
How can psychotherapy help feeling like an impostor?
The origins of these feelings of being an impostor are complex but ultimately they are often linked to early formative experiences, perhaps you grew up in an environment that encouraged high achievement or you felt that that getting good grades was the way to gain your parent’s love and affection. It can also be linked to a need to protect yourself for some reason. The belief that you are a ‘fake’ or a ‘fraudster’ can be linked to a fear that the ‘real you’ is something others will not accept and the ‘fake’ you becomes a form of a mask that you present to the world.
By seeking psychotherapeutic help it’s possible to uncover the underlying dynamics that not only keep the syndrome in place, but perpetually brings about life situations that constantly reflect back these deeply held beliefs.
Psychoanalytic approach to dealing with Impostor Syndrome
Several therapeutic approaches can be useful in the treatment of Impostor Syndrome but the hallmark of the psychoanalytic approach is the close relationship that develops between the therapist and client creating that secure base from which the individual can grow.
Imposter syndrome can feel very isolating. The idea that you are keeping a secret from everyone and fear that you are going to be found out can leave you feeling desolate and lonely. Therapy allows you a space to realise that you are not alone.
As a psychoanalytic practitioner I am interested in helping you to understand your own emotional experience in order to explore what may be driving the unhelpful dynamics that you encounter in your working life. At the core of my approach lies the development of a trusting therapeutic relationship that will allow us to work on the deeper dynamics underlying the feelings that you are not good enough and a fraud.
Through the experience of working together we’ll be able to look at this in a ‘live’ way, and unlike in the past, it becomes possible to say or feel things more freely in the hope of helping you recapture a sense of authentic meaning and purpose in your working life.
Some helpful information about dealing with Impostor Syndrome
Oliver Burkeman: The Guardian
Oliver Burkeman often has a light-hearted take on emotional matters. Here he gives his simple but easy to understand take on Impostor Syndrome and how society should try and tackle it.
What is Impostor Syndrome
A TED talk that helps explain the research that led to the identification of Impostor Syndrome
Michelle Obama talks passionately about Impostor Syndrome in her life