Imposter Syndrome

"There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am."  -Sheryl Sandberg

  • An estimated 70% of people, both men and women, experience impostor syndrome at some point in their careers.
  • A study revealed almost 75% of Harvard Business School students and over two-thirds of Stanford Business School students felt like they were admitted due to some failure of the admission process.

Imposter syndrome was first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s.  Impostor syndrome often occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability.  The underlying fear is that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

Main Types of Imposter Syndrome

#1-"I'm a fake": The belief that one does not deserve their personal success or professional position and that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. There is a fundamental fear of being “found out”, discovered or “unmasked”. People who feel this way would identify with statements such as:

“Everyone who works here is smarter than I am.  When they discover that I don't know what the hell I am talking about, I will be fired." 

#2-"I got lucky": Another aspect of impostor syndrome is the tendency to attribute success or achievements to luck (external) rather than talent (internal).  Someone with such feelings would refer to an achievement by saying “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," or "I am not a born writer, I just work really hard," and harbors fear that they will not be able to succeed the next time.

#3-"It's not a big deal": The third aspect of imposter syndrome is the tendency to downplay success and discount it. An individual with such feelings would make light of an achievement by saying, “I did well because it was easy," or "I must have been the only one who applied."

How Can Therapy Help with Imposter Syndrome?

Therapy can help to normalize this phenomenon, help you challenge distorted cognitions, and teach you coping tools.  If you want to read more on this subject, you can read the following two articles: "The Dangers of Feeling Like a Fake" and, "21 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome."

 imposter syndrome treatment/ kelifern pomeranz, Psy.D.