Do you ever feel like a fraud?


Do you ever feel like a fraud?  Like it’s just a matter of time before people realise that you’re not really as smart/capable/talented as they thought you were, and that somehow you’ve managed to fool them so far, but eventually they’ll cotton on.  Despite the many achievements you make and all the positive feedback in the world, you brush this aside and convince yourself that you’ve succeeded by pure luck, and that deep down you don’t actually know what you’re doing.

If this sounds a bit like you, you might be surprised to learn that feeling like a fraud is much more common that you think.  In fact, psychologists have researched this phenomenon since the late 1970s and call it the Imposter Syndrome.  The term was coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes.  In their 1978 article – the psychologists state:

“Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief.”

You might feel like you’re the only person you know who feels this way, but a feature of imposter syndrome is a feeling of being alone in your thinking….when actually, imposter syndrome is very common and many people think they’re the only one who could feel this way.

Clance and Imes (1978) outlined that imposter syndrome may be more common in high achieving women and may be to do with having an external attributional style, which means attributing successes to luck or external factors, rather than attributing success to hard work or effort.

When you’re feeling like an imposter, this can change the way you relate to the world, impacting your behaviours, feelings and physiology.  For example, if I feel like a fraud at work, I might work extra hard or take on additional projects that I don’t have time to work on, to stop others from finding out that I’m in fact incompetent!!  This can lead to feelings of exhaustion and sadness, and physical tension…. or, if I felt like I only got where I am by luck, then I might avoid challenges or opportunities for fear of failure and people realising I’m not smart enough.  This could lead to feelings of anxiety or sadness which may further impact my thoughts, behaviours and physiology.

If you’re having feelings of fraudulence, this could be holding you back from achieving your goals.   There are things you can do to help!! Here are four simple strategies you can try to increase your confidence, and to help you to change your attribution style:

  • Think of a recent project or goal you successfully completed – go back and make a list of the specific steps you put in to reach it.  For example, you came up with an idea, you used your research skills, you coordinated meeting, you worked long hours to get it done etc – write down as much evidence as you can!
  • Reflect on how you got to where you are in your career – did you complete a university degree or course?  Did you complete other accreditations or certifications?  Did you undergo training in the workplace?  Did you apply for your current role after being successful in a more junior role? Write down the key milestones you’ve completed to get where you are, and reflect on those moments.
  • Change your mindset about success – instead of thinking about the outcome of a task or project, think about measuring success in terms of the effort you put in, and what you’ve learned along the way.  If you did had a failure at work, and it has affected your confidence, reflect on what you learned or gained from that failure.
  • Remember that your thoughts are just thoughts – they’re not facts.  Try and hold your thoughts a little more lightly and remember that they are not truths – the less you buy into those thoughts, the less likely they are to bother you.

Remember that these thoughts can be common, but there are ways to help you to feel more confident.   However, if you’re finding that feeling like a fraud is holding you back from achieving your goals or causing you significant distress, be sure to speak with your doctor or psychologist, or call Lifeline (Australia only) only 13 11 14.

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