Therapy to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Endeavor Counseling specializes in online therapy for imposter syndrome in Cary, Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Winston-Salem, and to all residents of NC
How Does It Feel to Have Imposter Syndrome?
In a nutshell, you never feel good enough. You worry you aren’t as smart, competent, or put-together as you look on the outside, and it’s only a matter of time until other people “find out” the secret that you’re faking it.
You second-guess your abilities, your performance, and the decisions you make. You focus on what is wrong with you rather than what you’ve done right. Making sure you don’t make any mistakes inevitably makes you feel anxious and overwhelmed.
You feel like you don’t deserve your salary, your partner, your job, or praise. Instead, those things feel like proof that others have been fooled into thinking you’re better than you really are.
Others may call you a high achiever. But despite whatever success you find, praise you receive, or reassurance from others, it at all feels very hard to believe. You would love to look in the mirror and trust that you’re good enough for everything you’ve earned and aspire to, but “feeling good enough” never seems within reach.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome isn’t a formal diagnosis, but a term used by therapists to describe a pattern where people have difficulty acknowledging their accomplishments and abilities.
Those with imposter syndrome frequently feel they are being given credit for things they didn’t earn or deserve and, as a result, also question their abilities and self-worth.
The urge to “cover up” or overcome perceived inadequacy can cause one to experience anxiety, perfectionism, and depression along with imposter syndrome.
Other terms for imposter syndrome are “high achiever anxiety,” “high achiever syndrome,” “imposter phenomenon,” or “fraud syndrome.”
Imposter Syndrome vs. Normal Worry
Nervousness and self-doubt are normal reactions when encountering new or uncertain challenges, but imposter syndrome is different in two important ways:
Self-doubt becomes the default way a person relates to themselves and most challenges they face, rather than a reaction to occasional new and challenging situations.
Experiencing success or recognition doesn't build confidence. Instead, they are experienced as “unbelievable” and can have the opposite effect of increasing self-doubt.
Common Signs of Imposter Syndrome
Fear you won’t meet expectations
Attributing success to outside factors
Being hard on yourself
Setting unrealistic goals
Difficulty assessing your competence and skills
If you are not sure if you are struggling with imposter syndrome, there are imposter syndrome tests, such as the Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale that you can try here.
5 Types of Imposter Syndrome
People who feel like imposters often hold unrealistic expectations of success. Research by Dr. Valerie Young has identified five different types of imposter syndrome based on how people unrealistically define success for themselves:
The primary focus is on setting an unrealistically high goal and how closely the outcome matches that goal. A minor flaw or anything less than 100% results in failure and disappointment.
The Natural Genius
The Natural Genius measures competence by ease and speed. Any struggle with a goal or task, the need for multiple attempts, or experience of setbacks cause The Natural Genius to doubt their abilities and self-worth.
The Expert is the knowledge equivalent of The Perfectionist. The expert measures success by knowledge and experience. No amount of knowledge or skill set is enough. Even a small lack of understanding or ability causes embarrassment and a feeling of failure.
For the Superhuman, the criteria for success is how many roles they can both juggle and excel in. Any evidence of falling short in one area of life- such as parent, partner, friend, employee- brings a feeling of shame and disappointment.
The Soloist is most concerned about who completes the task. They believe they should be able to do it all on their own. As a result, any need for help, coaching, therapy, or tutoring is a sign of failure.
Imposter Syndrome vs. Low Self-Esteem
Imposter syndrome is relatively common, and is not simply a result of low self-esteem.
Many people are surprised to learn that imposter syndrome is actually a motivational and protective defense system fueled by self-doubt. Fear is a tremendously powerful motivator. While it may seem counterintuitive, imposter syndrome harnesses feelings related to fear (like self-doubt and worrying) as a way of making sure we don’t get complacent or make mistakes that could lead to failure.
Often, imposter syndrome does result in achievement, and explains why imposter syndrome has high prevalence in academia, entertainment, work related anxiety symptoms, parenting stress, and other demanding roles. Imposter syndrome in relationships is also common.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome can have roots in upbringing, trauma, or genetic predisposition. Regardless, our brain forms a strong partnership with fear-based emotions as a powerful and reliable source of motivation and vigilance. It’s decided that it’s safer to be pessimistic and worried than to trust evidence of success and believe in yourself.
The tragedy is that imposter syndrome (and its high costs of anxiety, dissatisfaction, and mental distress) is not necessary to reach your goals and feel successful.
How Can Therapy Help Me Stop Feeling Like a Fraud?
Counseling for imposter syndrome teaches you how to disconnect from doubt and fear as an approach to achievement, and begin pursuing success through trust in your strengths and successes. These skills may include:
Discovering the origin of your imposter syndrome and why it exists
Uncovering and challenging automatic negative thoughts about your abilities
Learning about your bias for negative information and how to trust positive evidence of success
Defining objective measures for success rather than reading into feelings of failure
Developing a tolerance for uncertainty, setbacks, and disappointment that allows you to embrace risks and build self-esteem
Practicing mental techniques to ground yourself in the midst of uncomfortable feelings like anxiety
Meet Joe Burke, LCSW
Hi, I’m Joe Burke- an imposter syndrome therapist in Cary, NC, specializing in imposter syndrome treatment that helps professionals, students, parents, and other adults trust their abilities and feel competent and in control.
My services are provided via effective, online counseling to all residents of North Carolina.
As a licensed psychotherapist and certified professional development coach, I’ve helped countless adults overcome self doubt, anxiety, and imposter syndrome utilizing evidence-based approaches such as CBT for imposter syndrome (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for imposter syndrome (ACT), and other approaches.
Find out more about my professional background and qualifications here. See how I can help you learn to trust yourself and overcome imposter syndrome.