Imposter Syndrome Counseling in Madison, WI

How did you ever make it so far without someone figuring out you are not all that smart? Or good at what you do? Or capable? Or skilled? It’s just a matter of time before someone figures it out, and strips you of the degree, job, relationship, or opportunity that you got without deserving it!

Do you have this narrative in your head? You are not alone! Particularly prevalent among high achievers, studies have shown that between 40 to 70% of successful people experience this. These individuals are unable to internalize their accomplishments, and experience a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” Despite apparent success, and external indications  of their competence, these people remain convinced they do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, good timing, or the result of tricking others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

Imes and Clance, psychologists studying this phenomenon in 1978, found several tendencies consistently present among high-achieving women with impostor syndrome:

Diligence: Gifted people often work hard in order to prevent others from discovering they are “impostors.”  This hard work leads to more praise and success, which perpetuates the impostor construct and fears of being "found out.” The "impostor" may feel the need to work  harder than others, so over-prepare and obsess over details. This can lead to high levels of stress.

Feeling Phony: Those with impostor feelings often attempt to give supervisors and professors the answers they believe they want, which leads to an increased feeling they are "being a fake.”

Use of Charm: Women often use their intuitive perceptiveness and charm to gain approval and praise from supervisors, and develop more personal relationships with supervisors in order to help them increase their abilities intellectually and creatively. However, when this results in praise or recognition, they feel it is based on charm and not on ability.

Avoiding Displays of Confidence: Another way of perpetuating the impostor feeling is to avoid showing confidence in abilities. A person may think if they actually believe in their intelligence and abilities, they will be rejected by others. Therefore, they may convince themselves they are not intelligent or do not deserve their success.

While historically studies have primarily focused on women, recent research has suggested that men are also prone to impostor syndrome.

We think of the imposter syndrome as evidence that a person has not caught up with him or herself. One of the ways we develop and evolve over the lifespan is by putting ourselves in situations a bit too big for us and growing into them. Think of all the times you made a big step, starting a new level of school, taking a new job, or assuming a new role. We are all imposters at such times, it takes time to fill in the gaps and learn the skills necessary. For most, we gradually develop a belief in ourselves and our legitimate ability to meet the demands of our new place in life. When this natural evolution does not take place, leading to a sense of fraud, in our experience, it has to do with a delay in self-awareness and lack of a grounded and realistic perception of our capabilities. There are many ways we are discouraged from acknowledging our own excellence — injunctions against being prideful, fear of challenging others, concerns about whether others will accept and value us if we move beyond our prescribed roles. Many of these messages come from our early experiences in life which teach us many lessons about our worth and our place in life. Every individual has a different experience. Our Madison therapists will help you trace back to understand the origins of your lack of authenticity, and then derive practical means of coming in to your own with a stable sense of the truth of yourself.