Feeling Like a Fraud? How to Identify Impostor Syndrome

Do you feel awkward when someone compliments you?

Do you sit there uncomfortably when you are praised at work?

Are you ready with several reasons to downplay a simple achievement?

It’s OK, many people can be socially awkward from time to time. It’s normal to experience periods of self-doubt in our lives. It’s natural (and healthy!) to second guess ourselves sometimes, too.

However, if you find yourself continually living in a state of self-doubt, this could be indicative of a pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviors referred to as impostor syndrome. It can show up in different people in different ways, and therefore, it can be difficult to tell if you may be experiencing it.

If you feel like a fraud most days, and have anxiety that at any moment you could lose it all, it may be worth taking a closer look.

What Is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is the personal belief that you may not be as qualified or successful as others may perceive you to be.

Essentially, you internalize the idea that you are a “fraud” of sorts, not qualified to be doing what you’re doing.

Maybe you feel “in over your head” at work, even though they keep telling you you’re actually doing a pretty good job.

Maybe you feel like your friends are just one missed call or cancelled event away from freezing you out, even though they keep inviting you to hang out.

Maybe you feel like a disappointment because you aren’t where you “should” be in your career, relationship, or living situation - even though your family tells you how proud they are of you.

Often, those with impostor syndrome fear that their peers or colleagues may catch on at any time.

The important thing about impostor syndrome (rather than just regular anxiety or self-esteem issues) is that despite fears of being inadequate, you are wholly qualified to be doing what you’re doing.

People with impostor syndrome also tend to overlook or cheapen their accomplishments. This approach only further perpetuates their mentality that they aren’t as successful as others think they are.

What Causes Impostor Syndrome?

There is not a definitive answer to this question. However, individual experiences in our childhood or adolescence can make us more inclined to habitually second-guess ourselves.

Perhaps you grew up excelling at school from a young age and were praised continuously for it. You got used to getting good grades and lots of positive feedback. At a certain point, maybe school became quite tricky. Or, perhaps as your classes became more challenging, you started to fall behind. This change from being so successful to struggling in academics can easily cause feelings of uncertainty.

Furthermore, maybe your parents would praise you highly one day but harshly critique you the next. This kind of confusing environment creates an inner conflict that can easily cause self-doubt. You don’t know whether to try harder, or to just give up.

Once something becomes difficult now, do you double-down on your efforts, motivated by anxiety? Or, do you give up because you get frustrated when your results aren’t perfect the first time, motivated by shame? Either way, you might have impostor syndrome.

Symptoms of Impostor Syndrome

The most common symptom of impostor syndrome is chronic self-doubt.

Despite performing well at work, you may still question how you got the job in the first place. You likely compare yourself to your coworkers and see them as being more qualified than you.

If you get assigned as the leader of a project, this may worsen your anxiety about performing well and proving yourself. Your past accomplishments may seem insignificant to you. Or, you may feel as if you somehow faked your way through getting those, as well.

What may start as self-doubt can easily resemble impostor syndrome over time, particularly if the self-doubt becomes chronic and unrelenting, and if there is evidence that you are actually qualified and competent.

Impostor Syndrome and Anxiety

Impostor syndrome goes hand-in-hand with anxiety and shame. It is one thing to feel unqualified, but not really worry about it. On the other hand, you might think not only are you bad at what you do, but you are a “bad person” because of that. Where someone else might cut themselves some slack while they inch up the learning curve, you take your deficits personally. Anxiety takes impostor syndrome to a new level of worry and fear.

Another significant factor in impostor syndrome is not necessarily just feeling unqualified, but it’s the fear that your coworkers or boss might catch on. This anxiety is debilitating and can negatively impact your work performance and general happiness.

It is normal to experience some anxiety in our day to day lives. However, when it gets to the point of becoming all-consuming and debilitating, it needs to be examined more seriously.

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome is quite common for adults to experience at least once in their lives.

If you’ve read through this article and feel you’re suffering from impostor syndrome, no need to panic. You can overcome the symptoms with self-awareness and perhaps a little outside help.

Also, it’s essential to look at your accomplishments and tell yourself that they are real and valid. You got that job for a reason. You received that promotion for a reason. People want to be around you because of you. It is easy to tell ourselves these things, but the key to overcoming impostor syndrome is to believe and internalize them.

A therapist can help you work through feelings of self-doubt. They can also help you figure out what the roots of such beliefs, and how to avoid these issues from coming back up in the future.

The most important thing to remember, however, is that you are qualified, you have excelled in your life, and you are doing the best you can. You are not alone in your struggle with impostor syndrome, and once you recognize the symptoms within yourself, the sooner you can begin to overcome them.

Read more: 5 Ways to Cure Impostor Syndrome

Prospect Therapy welcomes individuals and couples of all genders and orientations in Long Beach, Seal Beach and surrounding areas. Contact us below for a free consultation to learn more about how therapy can help you manage anxiety, perfectionism and impostor syndrome.