You better believe it: How to overcome imposter syndrome

We all know individuals who constantly question themselves and their accomplishments. They may even be at the pinnacle of their academic or professional career, but are still fearful of being ‘found out.’

There is a term that sums up these often false feelings of inadequacy: Imposter syndrome.

“Coined in the late 1970s, imposter syndrome is psychological pattern in which a person doubts their achievements. They often believe that someone will expose their fraud, even though this is not the case,” said Dr. Asim Shah, a psychiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine. “They feel inadequate despite having success. It’s common amongst people who achieve, but the prevalence is not known.”

Those who experience imposter syndrome often believe they are just ‘lucky’ or may even feel like a ‘fake.’ However, Shah says it’s important not to confuse these feelings of fakeness with an actual imposter.

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“I think this is the biggest mistake people make – believing that this syndrome has something to do with an actual imposter. Imposters are people who are pretending to be someone else, whereas those with imposter syndrome are not.”

Can therapy help?

Many of us seek therapy to deal with personal traumas and illness, but Shah says psychotherapy can help those experiencing imposter syndrome by:

  • Acknowledging what the facts are to help build overall confidence
  • Keeping a diary or log of achievements to reinforce positive thinking
  • Reframing thoughts to be more positive and emphasizing that they are the primary source behind their achievements
  • Relieving anxiety

Additionally, those with imposter syndrome often hide their achievements – Shah says therapy can help bring reason to counteract negative thinking.

Helping a loved one

Friends and family members are often the first to know when someone close to them is experiencing imposter syndrome. So what is the best way to help?

“Family and friends can encourage the person to accept compliments. Because there is a lot of anxiety associated with imposter syndrome, reinforce the fact that they have the intellect and ability to achieve their goals,” he said.

Many public figures and celebrities have also experienced imposter syndrome symptoms. Shah says it can happen in any environment – academic or professional, or even in relationships.

“This exists and there are a lot people who suffer from it. Luck can happen once or twice, but not multiple times. Concrete facts that prove achievements show success was attained because they have worked hard and done well.”

Dr. Shah is a professor and executive vice chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor. Learn more about the Baylor Psychiatry Clinic or call 713-798-4857.

-By Nicole Blanton

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