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Mind and Matter

Clarity . Connection . Comfort

Conquering Imposter Phenomenon in the New Year

“…so, if you’re tired of the same old story, turn some pages...  You got to learn to roll with the changes…”                                                                             – Lyrics to Roll with the Changes by REO Speedwagon

The term imposter phenomenon was first coined in the 1970s by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance, Ph.D. and Suzzanne Imes, Ph.D. to refer to pervasive feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, and incompetence despite contrary evidence of skill and success. These individuals feel like frauds, worried that they will be found out and exposed as such, often believing that they acquired their job or post by sheer luck. Those afflicted with these feelings are high achievers who are not able to internalize their skills, expertise, or achievements. It is quite common in professional settings, but it also manifests itself among parents, and even within groups of friends. Imposter feelings are a form of intellectual self-doubt. These individuals often feel a great deal of anxiety and may experience symptoms of depression.

According to Imes individuals with imposter feelings are often perfectionists. The phenomenon, also known as syndrome, often becomes a cycle wherein the individual afraid of being found out as a fraud works extremely hard to complete a project perfectly. When he or she succeeds, they form a mistaken belief or a superstition of sorts, that the anxiety and self-torture they put themselves through paid off, reinforcing the cycle. These individuals often suffer in silence as few seek assistance due to fear of being found out.

In the American Psychological Association article, Feel Like a Fraud? psychologists Imes and Clance offer the following suggestions to work thru imposter feelings:

  1. Recognize your expertise- Tutoring others can help you see how far you have come or how much knowledge you have to share.
  2. Remember what you do well- Make a realistic assessment of your abilities. Recognize areas where you are doing very well and areas that you need to continue to work on. Remember that no one is good at everything.
  3. Realize no one is perfect- Task yourself in doing things “well enough,” not perfectly. Learn to celebrate your accomplishments. Take time to relish in and truly appreciate the value of your work.
  4. Change your thinking- The superstitious thinking that goes hand in hand with this phenomenon needs to be tackled gradually. Learn to reframe your thoughts. Obtain the assistance of friends or co-workers to keep you accountable. Gradually cut down the time spent on a project. Learn to let go.
  5. Talk to someone who can help- A behavioral health provider can help you break the cycle of imposter thinking. Call the UM- FSAP to schedule a confidential consultation at 305-284-6604.

Source: Weir, K. (2013). Feel like a Fraud? gradPsych,11(4). 


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