Ever Feel Like an Impostor in Your Own Life? You're Not the Only One

woman feeling like a fraud

Ever feel like one day, everyone around you is going to wake up and see you for the fraud you really are? That your clean house is really a well-disguised clutter bomb, that anyone could have landed your awesome job, and hell, you just got lucky that your kids are seriously the best in the world? There's a name for that, in case you were wondering. It's called "impostor syndrome," and guess what? Feeling like a phony is kinda common.


Impostor syndrome is "a persistent feeling that you're only pretending to be competent, talented, or creative despite actual achievements in your life," explains Joseph Burgo, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives.

People who have impostor syndrome feel like they've got no special ability or talent, but have just sorta fooled everyone else into thinking that they know what they're doing. They're also uncomfortably sure that any second, someone's going to call them on it.

Men and women who are both highly motivated and successful are prone to developing what we're now going to start referring to here as IS, since that carries a bit more gravitas than "Im Syn," or "Faux Fakeness." And gifted young women are especially at risk, says Burgo.

Especially when cultural messaging reinforces the idea, "they may feel that they don't belong at the top and have only gotten there by deceiving the people around them," he explains. "As a result, they avoid displays of confidence and refrain from taking credit for their own work."

Of course, you know all too well what we mean:

"I only got the job because they couldn't find anyone else." (Please!)

"I did run a marathon, but I wasn't very fast." (But you still ran it!)

"It was no big deal to host 20 people for dinner. Anyone could have done it." (Uh, no.)

More from The Stir: 8 Things Men Are Most Insecure About

So why do some of us have such a freaking hard time taking credit -- ever -- for what we've rightfully achieved?

Prepare for an "aha" moment, because here it comes.

Burgo thinks that people with IS are trying to use their (over) achievements to take flight from feelings of internal defect or damage -- aka, a sense of shame. "On some level, [people with IS] know that all those achievements have nothing to do with the shame at their core," he notes. "For that reason, success feels inauthentic and irrelevant to who they really are."

Even if you run a marathon every year (and a slew of 13.1s in between), and even if you land an awesome job and get constant accolades, you'll still feel like a fraud.

As with any struggle rooted in shame, says Burgo, "the best way to cope with [IS] is to find other people who share your experience and talk about it."

Explore those feelings of unworthiness, rather than trying to hide them away, he suggests. And if you want to get all psychotherapeutic on your ass/IS, you can try searching for the root of your feelings in your childhood.

The kind of shame responsible for IS "takes root early on and reflects a sense that early development, particularly mother-and-child bonding, went awry in important ways," Burgo says.

But that, we're guessing, is a whole other story.



Image via Johan Larson/Shutterstock

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