Imposter Syndrome: “I Hope They Never Find Out”

Written by Karen Loethen, LCSW

You’re taking calls on the weekend, working late, working harder than the next person, and still…what if they find out? What if they find out that you’re flying by the seat of your pants much of the time? What if your mask slips and they discover that, inside, you’re a phony?

What if they find out that you’re not sure of yourself, that you have so much more to learn, that your hard work is an attempt to cover up that gnawing sense of inadequacy inside. It’s good luck, good timing, undeserved…when will someone tap me on the shoulder and call me out? What if I really don’t belong here? Tomorrow it could all fall apart with one huge failure, one that I’m fully expecting. The other shoe WILL drop.

Studies show that men and women, even in the upper echelons of business, super stardom, and other areas of extreme success, experience Imposter Syndrome. Some estimates report that a staggering 70% of us, at some time in our careers, experience enough self-doubt from Imposter Syndrome that our mental health is negatively impacted. Does this high level of distress suggest some cultural phenomenon that needs further study? Perhaps.

Some experts report that living in families or in lifestyles that hold accomplishment as the goal for life can set up even the most qualified people to feel like utterly false performers just waiting to be discovered. Some employers that stress perfection and an unhealthy fear of failure seem to produce symptoms in even the best employees. This intellectual self-doubt can seriously erode a perfectly capable human being’s belief in their abilities and in themselves, especially in times of high stress or high demand.

The good news is that, with some real support, education, new and improved coping skills, and some personal work, you can break the cycle of Imposter Syndrome and reduce its impacts on your psychological health, and ultimately, on your entire sense of self. If you feel like you are not good enough or don’t belong in your arenas of success, please don’t abide by a code of secrecy. Open up and talk to your loved ones. Conversations with people who care about you can release feelings and help solidify your self-worth. Individual counseling or therapy is also a great outlet and tool to work on your self esteem, which is often at the root of Imposter Syndrome. You deserve to feel proud of yourself, your accomplishments, and your core self.

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