Feeling Phony? What You Need to Know About Impostor Syndrome

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Have you ever felt like you don’t deserve to be where you’re currently at, and that people at work and school think you’re more competent than you actually are? Do thoughts like “I feel like a fraud” and “I’m not skilled, I’m just lucky” cross your mind often? If so, there’s a good chance you might be experiencing a phenomenon called impostor syndrome.

Impostor syndrome is when a person doubts their skills or capabilities, even if there is proof that they really are proficient or skilled. Someone with impostor syndrome may often experience intense feelings of fear and anxiety that they will be exposed as phony or fake and that they don’t deserve any success that they achieve. Impostor syndrome tends to be more common among high-achieving people and individuals with perfectionist tendencies.

Here are some characteristics and traits that occur in people with impostor syndrome, according to psychologist Pauline Rose Clance(1):

1. The need to be special or be the very best:

Impostors tend to have a history of high achievement. You may have been at the top of your class in your school years, but upon changing environments like moving to college or starting a new job, you suddenly feel like you’re no longer special. Not being the best at something can make people feel like frauds and can lead to being dismissive of what’s already been achieved.

2. Constant denial of competence and dismissal of praise:

Impostors find it difficult, if not impossible, to accept positive feedback. Compliments tend to get brushed aside, and any confirmation of competence and skill will usually be met with thoughts like “I’m just lucky” and “It’s not that good”. These shows of denial and dismissal are also not dishonest: impostors really do believe in the things they say and think.

3. Intense fear of failure:

Failure is an impostor’s worst fear. If you experience impostor syndrome, chances are that achievement-related tasks will make you feel extreme amounts of anxiety and stress. You put off doing things because there’s an underlying worry that you won’t do things perfectly, and making mistakes can cause you to feel guilty and ashamed. There’s also a tendency for impostors to overwork themselves to extremes, just to make sure that mistakes are avoided at all costs.

4. Fear and guilt about success:

Those with imposter syndrome feel guilty about being different, and are also scared of success because they think that they will be asked to do more things and will be expected to do greater things. They fear greater responsibilities because they think that those responsibilities will truly expose them to the fraud that they are.


If these characteristics seem a little too familiar to you, you may already be experiencing impostor syndrome. The good thing about impostor syndrome is that there are strategies (backed by science!) that you can try out to lessen these feelings:

1. Acknowledge and accept your feelings.

One of the first steps to coping and dealing with impostor syndrome is to acknowledge and accept your feelings. Recognize that these feelings are normal and that many successful people experience them.

2. Reframe negative self-talk.

Impostor syndrome is often fueled by negative self-talk, such as “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve to be here.” Reframing these thoughts into more positive and realistic ones can help reduce feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. A study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology in 2020 found that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs and replacing them with more positive and realistic ones, can be an effective treatment for impostor syndrome.

3. Focus on your strengths.

Impostor syndrome can lead to a tendency to focus on perceived weaknesses and failures. Focusing on your strengths and accomplishments can help build confidence and reduce feelings of self-doubt. A study published in the Journal of College Counseling in 2020 found that a strengths-based approach to counseling, which focuses on identifying and utilizing one’s strengths, can help reduce feelings of impostor syndrome among college students.

4. Practice self-compassion.

A 2021 study on impostor syndrome found that self-compassion can buffer the negative effects of impostor syndrome on career development and well-being. Self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness, recognizing one’s shared humanity, and practicing mindfulness. It can help individuals develop a more positive and accepting attitude towards themselves, which can help combat feelings of self-doubt. Developing self-compassion can involve treating oneself with kindness, recognizing one’s shared humanity, and practicing mindfulness.


Impostor syndrome can be a tricky thing to process and understand on your own, especially when those thoughts have become automatic to the point where you’re not consciously aware that they’re bringing out so much stress and anxiety. If you’re having trouble dealing with these thoughts on your own, speaking to a skilled therapist can help you unravel the factors behind and the triggers for your feelings of impostor syndrome. It’s important to remember that feeling like a “fake” won’t last forever, and you’ll be able to take pride in your own skills and success with enough work and self-compassion.

Ready to take the leap and heal from impostor syndrome? Book a therapy session with one of Mind You’s therapists today! You can speak to our licensed psychologists through our Mind You app, available on the Play Store and the App Store for iOS, or visit https://mindyou.com.ph/public for more details.

If your organization is interested in availing of mental healthcare support, reach us at letstalk@mindyou.com.ph or visit www.mindyou.com.ph.

If you are an individual looking to book therapy sessions, visit www.mindyou.com.ph/public for more details.