Finding success isn't always just sunshine and butterflies. Sometimes there's big helping of self-doubt that creeps in along with it. If you've ever felt like a phony who fooled everyone into believing you were accomplished, don't beat yourself up about it. More than likely, you're just experiencing impostor syndrome. And that snotty little voice in your head is more common than you might think.

You've Been Exposed

Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the name impostor syndrome in 1978, describing it as "phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement." While these people "are highly motivated to achieve," they also "live in fear of being 'found out' or exposed as frauds." At first, Clance and Imes believed it was only an experience had by women, but a 2011 study found that—hooray!—everyone can get this irritating and unwarranted self-doubt.

Maybe you've felt some of its characteristics:

  • Belief that you are not skilled or accomplished, despite evidence to the contrary
  • Having difficulty believing or internalizing praise
  • Feeling like you've "faked" your way to success
  • Fear of being out as a fraud

According to the American Psychological Association, minorities may be more likely to feel like a phony. Differing from your peers at all can be a handy launch point for self-doubt, after all. Growing up in a household that put a strong emphasis on achievement may make you more susceptible to it, as can embarking on a new endeavor. Any grad students in the building?

You're In Good Company

Step one in combatting the annoying nag of impostor syndrome is to acknowledge its existence. That feeling is a common psychological occurrence, and probably not a real deep, dark secret waiting to be exposed. Take comfort in the fact that people as generously talented as Maya Angelou have felt it: "I have written 11 books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out.'" Even Albert Einstein has described having it: "The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler." Besides realizing you're alone in your suffering, you can combat impostorism by recognizing your expertise, slowly learning to celebrate your hard work, finding a mentor, and reframing the way you look at achievement. And here's a little something from us for the road: You rock.

Watch And Learn: Fascinating Content About Common Psychological Occurrences

What's Impostor Syndrome?

Key Facts In This Video

  1. People who suffer from imposter syndrome struggle to internalize any kind of praise or accomplishment. 01:01

  2. Imposter syndrome is very common, and people tend to recognize it in others far more easily than they recognize it in themselves. 03:31

  3. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help to treat imposter syndrome. 05:13

We've All Felt The Impostor Syndrome

Written by Curiosity Staff February 16, 2016

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.