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Do you feel like a Fraud?

Neha got a promotion at the company she had been working at for less than a year. She is a hard working and high achieving individual, who changed her career from art direction to marketing. She was constantly compensating for her lack of experience in the field by working overtime and over-preparing for every single project that was given to her. It was easier for her to internalise her failures but never could she own up to her successes. When the promotion came, she struggled to acknowledge and accept it. She felt like a fraud for not having the qualification, experience or competency for the promotion she was given. This subsequently led to her feeling anxious and distressed, which kept growing by the day till she had a burnout and quit.

You are not alone

How many of us feel uncomfortable with receiving acknowledgement for the work we do or even complimented for the way we look or behave? There is almost a sinking feeling out of the fear of being exposed or judged. On the other hand, it feels comparatively easier to process any criticism or wrongness pointed out to us. Strange, but true.

Most of us have experienced the feeling of being a fraud at some point in our lives. We have panic attacks about our inadequacies or lack of qualifications. We ask ourselves, “Why did they hire me?” or “Did they hire me for any reason?” In relationships, we start distancing ourselves when someone starts to get close to the truth of us, which as per our standards might be inadequate. “What if who I truly am scares him/her away?” or “What if they find out that I am not this confident and secure person I show myself to be?”. In a state of quiet torment, we wait for them to expose us as cheaters and show us the door.

For the majority of us, these “feelings” are short-lived. They’re most common right after we’ve been promoted, taken on a new role, come into a new job where we’re seen as a minority, or entered a new relationship. For some of us, these feelings become more persistent and start to impact performance, mental and physical wellbeing.

What is an Imposter Syndrome (IS)?

The term imposter syndrome was first coined by psychologist Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in her clinical study of professional women in 1978. For people suffering from imposter syndrome, the symptoms include: Self-doubt, confidence insecurity, fear of being discovered as an imposter, and a desire to be accepted in the workplace. Any successes and accomplishments can lead to anxiety for them. Women and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to imposter distress because of the hierarchical and masculine cultures.

Understanding the Imposter Syndrome

Although impostor syndrome is a widely studied, prevalent, and widespread phenomena, its actual prevalence is unknown. Despite a lack of formal definition (in DSM-V criteria), there are certain common attributes identified in people with IS.

One of characteristics in people with IS is setting exceptionally high standards for self – be it at work or relationships. These standards are not only high but most of the times impossible to achieve. Not being able to reach such goals, inadvertently leads to self-criticism and a sense of failure.

Another contributing factor to IS is the inability to receive. These are the individuals who are comfortable gifting, giving and contributing but when it comes to receiving, they perceive it as either an obligation, pressure or fakeness. This is understandable, given their perception of self can only be validated by them and no one else. If they were to receive from others, it would make them at par with them, which is average and failing from the high standards they have set for themselves.

Closely related to this is a fear of success. How many high achieving individuals do we know of that peaked and then left or quit? Fear of success is more common in them than fear of failure. They are aggressive in their competencies yet the moment it is their time to shine, they drift away. They quit right before they hit success. Sounds familiar?

Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome

There are self-help guides on overcoming the IS, which provide immediate and temporary relief. For a more long lasting solution, in-depth work on self is required to identify the root cause for feeling like a fraud at work or in relationships. It is multifaceted, to say the least. Inner Child Therapy and Family Constellation Therapy helps to get a clarity on this and heal those parts of us.

A few quick steps to start with are:

  1. Acknowledgements: Start to acknowledge yourself more for even the smallest of the achievements through the day. Show gratitude to yourself for the work you did or how you behaved even if it seemed wrong. Honor the time, effort and space you put in.
  2. Knowing: Ask yourself before any difficult task/project/relationship: What do I know about this that no one else does? The question will help to take you away from striving to meet an unrealistic expectation of yourself. It will bring more ease in your body, work and relationships.
  3. Contributing to others: Helping others with IS will give clarity, courage and support in dealing with your own IS.

Hope these insights give you a bit more clarity on the Imposter Syndrome. If you’d like to discuss more, feel free to reach out to us at

Sonali Mittra 

(Sonali Mittra is a certified Inner Child Therapist, Family Constellation facilitator, Access bars and body process practitioner, and leadership coach)

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