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Imposter Syndrome and Anxiety
“Help, I Feel Like An Imposter…”

The anxious feeling that you’re a fraud and that any day now you’ll be found out is more common than one might think. Imposter anxiety is common among high achievers who often minimize their successes.   As a result, these individuals lack in self-confidence and don’t feel deserving of their accomplishments even though they are perceived as successful by others. Research has shown that two out of five accomplished individuals consider themselves frauds and other studies have shown that 70% of all people feel like they are imposters at one time or another. According to Inc. Magazine, an estimated 40% of successful people consider themselves frauds.

The term “Imposter Syndrome” was coined in the 1970s by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They described Imposter Syndrome as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these individuals “are highly motivated to achieve,” they “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or “exposed as frauds.”

The talented Oscar winning actress, Jodie Foster, said, “I still believe that at any time the no-talent police will come and arrest me”. Maya Angelou, a famous author and poet who won three Grammys and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, said, “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.’” Even Albert Einstein may have suffered from imposter anxiety. A month before his death, he was known to have said, “the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” Despite of all of their achievements, these individuals, like many other accomplished people with imposter anxiety, still question their successes.

Although both men and women can experience imposter anxiety, research has found that women are affected more often. Those who are affected by imposter syndrome do not fall into one specific diagnostic category, but tend to have clinical symptoms of generalized anxiety, depression, lack of self-confidence and high frustration levels due to an inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement.

imposter-syndrome-anxietyIndividuals who suffer from imposter anxiety tend to:

  • worry that people will find out that they are not as smart and capable as others think they are
  • credit their accomplishments to being “no big deal” or “a fluke”
  • avoid taking on challenges because of constant self-doubt
  • hate making mistakes
  • need to do things perfectly
  • feel defeated by any kind of criticism, viewing it as proof of incompetence
  • believe that others are more competent, smarter and more capable
  • live in constant fear of being found out

At the core of Imposter Syndrome is a fragile or low self-esteem. Even when the individual with imposter anxiety experiences success, old core beliefs have them questioning their self-worth, denying their achievement and a self-critical inner voice tells them, “You will never be good at anything and you’ll never amount to anything. Soon everyone will find out”. For those with imposter anxiety, success doesn’t help their feelings of low self-worth, instead it makes them think that they just fooled everyone into believing something that really isn’t true.

A big reason for feeling like a fraud and experiencing imposter anxiety is listening to and believing our own inner critic. Experienced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) therapists can help those with imposter anxiety change the maladaptive core beliefs and the negative, critical self-talk that has become a habit.

At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our specialized CBT therapists can help you to reduce your feelings of anxiety and help you to enjoy and celebrate your work and school accomplishments without feeling like a fraud.


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