Imposter Syndrome: 71% Of Us Have It. Here’s How to Overcome It!

A Health and Wellness Post

By Dr. Robert Oliva

A defining characteristic of imposter syndrome is that no matter how good you do it doesn’t make you feel any less a fraud.

When I was an undergraduate looking toward graduate school, a professor pulled me aside and suggested that I apply to a very prestigious, out of town, graduate program. My reaction was simple, I thought he must have had a very warped view of who I was. There wasn’t a chance in hell I would be admitted. So I didn’t apply.

I realize now that I was suffering from what has been called imposter syndrome. I could not imagine that I was capable or worthy of attending an elite program. I felt as if I had fooled the professor into thinking I had the intelligence and capacity to truly excel.

I know that many of you feel the same way. I hope this piece can help you navigate your feelings and overcome that sense that you are not good enough. It’s never too late to accept the challenge of accepting the talents and skills that can propel you forward.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is the subjective experience of feeling that you are not as good as others think you are. It’s the feeling of being a phony, a fraud or incompetent. More deeply, it’s the sense that you don’t belong where you are (job, school, relationships, etc.) and that it was only by chance or luck that you are there, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

A very unsettling aspect of imposter syndrome is living with the fear that you will be unmasked. Someone, a colleague, a boss, a teacher, will discover that you don’t make the grade. That you are a fraud.

Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance coined the term in the 1970s when they published The Imposter Phenomenon. They originally thought it was restricted to very high-achieving women but have since realized it is widely experienced in the population across gender, race, skill and educational level, expertise, or social class.

Imposter syndrome is not considered a clinical pathology in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is state of mind brought about by cultural/racial marginalization, gender bias, overly competitive and hierarchical circumstances, and systemic inequality.

It is estimated that up to 70% of Americans experience some form of the syndrome.

This short Ted-Ed video sums it up nicely.

What are the signs of imposter syndrome?

  • Feelings of self-doubt
  • Getting down on yourself for your performance
  • Constant overachieving
  • A feeling that your successes are the result of outside forces, luck, fate, etc.
  • Fearing that you will never live up to expectations
  • Consistent sabotaging potential successes
  • Setting highly challenging goals only to feel sadly disappointed when falling short
  • Inability to realistically evaluate your competencies and skills.

A defining characteristic of imposter syndrome is that no matter how good you do or how well you perform, it doesn’t make you feel any less a fraud. You may have aced a presentation at work or school, but all your success does is make you feel more fraudulent, more of an imposter. This can drive you to even greater overachieving efforts and heightened anxiety or depression. It’s as if you can’t internalize actual success and so continue to feel as if you don’t belong.

Jump to Dr. Oliva’s website to read more about Imposter Syndrome, what type you might be, and how to cope with the effects on your life.  You’ll be glad if you did!