Imposter syndrome. This is the term that many clients have brought up over the years. Though it was coined in 1978 by two psychologists, it is only recently that we have begun to hear a surge of people describing themselves as suffering from this syndrome. While it is unclear how this concept has recently flourished, it seems that many people believe they suffer from imposter syndrome. Likewise, it is a term that is applicable to many, whether they have heard of it or not. As such, it seems fitting to write about and explore this topic.


Imposter syndrome is defined as a phenomenon where individuals experience a significant inability to internalize their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”

Essentially, imposter syndrome means that a person does not feel confident in taking ownership of the things that they actually have accomplished. Likewise, impostor syndrome can make a person feel as though they are pretending to be someone or some thing. Despite evidence that confirms that they are in fact competent, fulfill a certain role, title, etc., those who experience this syndrome do not believe they deserve their successes or that they have actually achieved them.

At the core of imposter syndrome are feelings of inadequacy. This type of chronic self doubt leads to a sense of fraudulence that overrides any objective evidence or external proof of success or competence. Many successful people experience imposter syndrome so there is no automatic correlation with low self-esteem, though this is, of course, a plausible link. Likewise, individuals who tend to be perfectionistic are at risk of experiencing imposter syndrome.

When a person has imposter syndrome, any attempt at proving the person’s success is quickly dismissed, and they often excuse away their successes as being something attributable to timing, luck, or that others simply believe they are more intelligent and competent than they actually are.

Sometimes imposter syndrome can also develop from cognitive dissonance. Perhaps you are now in a role that you never exactly imagined yourself in, or that you are surprised you are now in. For example, many new parents cannot believe they are parents, even when they are objectively the parent. They may feel as though they are the babysitter or nanny, and perhaps feel a slight disconnect with their new title or role, when in fact they actually are the child’s parent.

Now that we have described what imposter syndrome is, let’s be clear about what imposter syndrome is not.

Imposter syndrome is not a mental illness or a mental disorder.

Rather, most psychologists identify imposter syndrome as a reaction to events or situations.


Signs of feeling like an imposter include:

  • perfectionism
  • discounting or negating praise or admiration
  • fear of failure
  • undermining or undervaluing one’s own achievements
  • working too hard or too often

The key aspect of imposter syndrome is the feeling of being a fake, or a “phony.” This feeling starts with and exacerbates a persons tendency to doubt themselves.

If imposter syndrome goes unaddressed, individuals who possess it can go on to develop other anxiety difficulties, increased stress, low self-worth or self-confidence, depression, self-doubt, guilt, and shame.


One of the best treatments for addressing this difficulty is cognitive behavioral therapy. This is because cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, helps a person to identify and then challenge their thinking and beliefs. Additionally, it is suggested that a person who has imposter syndrome keep an ongoing list of their accomplishments that are objective in nature so that they can begin to reflect on their accomplishments and connect those accomplishments to reality.


At Tampa Therapy, we are trained to identify negative and maladaptive thinking, and can help you to sort through your thinking, beliefs, and self-esteem in ways that can better your life. You deserve to feel and believe in your accomplishments and success. We are committed to providing therapy and counseling services in a comfortable, relaxing, encouraging, and non-judgmental environment to yield the most realistic and best outcomes.  Give us a call or email us today to schedule an appointment.


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