Imposter Phenomenon Treatments

Many highly successful people can list the main goals and processes that led to their major achievements. However, those with imposter phenomenon often feel like they are only successful because of luck, charistma or circumstances unrelated to their own work and abilities.

Although it is not a recognized psychological disorder, imposter phenomenon (sometimes known as the imposter syndrome or fraud syndrome) is a recognized mental health issue. Several books and many articles have been written on the subject, and scientists have been reearching imposter phenomenon since 1978, when Clance and Imes first formallly classified this mental condition.

Imposter Syndrome Causes

Often, a person’s upbringing will contribute to the development of imposter phenomenon. For instance, if you were labeled the “jock” in your family, and your older sister was labeled the “brain,” you may have felt inadequate in your academic endeavors.

In some cases, families can’t adjust to changes in members’ “roles” and still cling to old ideas about each person’s strengths and weaknesses. This can occur even though evidence suggests different conclusions. In other words, even if you have been academically successful while your sister made different, “not-so-scholarly” choices, you might still feel like a jock that’s tricking everyone into thinking you’re smart.

On the other hand, maybe you were your parents’ pride and joy. They seemed convinced you could do no wrongbut eventually, as you grew, you discovered differently. This discovery can lead to a need to cover up your own ability to make mistakes, so your parents (or other important people in your life) never find out how fallible you really are.

Imposter Phenomenon Treatments

Over time, imposter syndrome can cause people to avoid challenging themselves, become less productive and possibly fail at their chosen careers. While “imposters” may view this as evidence of their inadequacies, those with this condition are fully capable of succeeding as long as they learn how to change their outlook and self-image.

Many people find it beneficial to speak to a counselor about their imposter phenomenon problems. Because effective treatment for imposter syndrome requires some critical self-examination, talking to someone experienced with this condition can help you understand and overcome it. Two dominant counseling strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome are:

  • The behavioral approach: A therapist who takes a behavioral approach will likely give you “homework assignments” to take risks, so you can address your fear of failure. She may also ask you questions about your early childhood to find out what sort of experiences led to your feelings of inadequacy.
  • The cognitive approach: This approach usually involves looking at your own thought processes to find out why you idolize intelligence or success and refuse to acknowledge your own accomplishments. Your therapist may help you come up with some different definitions of intelligence. She may also help you address some of your underlying assumptions, like the idea that making a mistake means there’s something wrong with you.

You can overcome imposter phenomenon if you actively recognize and avoid negative or destructive thoughts. Once you recognize these thoughts as you have them, you will learn how to match them against with reality to see the flaws in your thinking.

For instance, consider the thought, “Everyone else is smarter than me.” If you catch yourself thinking this, ask yourself, “Really? Is everyone smarter than me?” The thought can then be rewritten as, “Just because I feel dumb doesn’t mean that I am dumb.”

Over time, this type of critical thinking can help you change your reactions to failure, fear and anxiety. While imposter syndrome isn’t easy to overcome, you can successfully change your destructive thoughts with counseling, active self-work and support from peers and family.