Do You Have Impostor Syndrome?

Pretty much since I came of age, I’ve kind of hated myself. Yeah. One of the specific ways I’ve hated myself, or one of my self-hatred’s manifestations, has been this pervasive feeling that I’ve tricked all my friends and colleagues into thinking that I’m not a totally sh-tty, stupid human being. Every time I’m ‘on’ at a party, every time someone says something about me being smart, every time I write an article that gets good traffic, something inside me won’t let me take credit for it. Instead, I secretly believe that what I did was sh-t, but that I’ve merely conned people into believing what I did wasn’t sh-t. And sooner or later, everyone’s going to find out.

That’s f-cked up, huh? Well, it is what it is. I’m admitting it. But I didn’t know this feeling was a thing, that other people felt it too, until my friend described it to me. She felt the same way, and she’s way more accomplished than me. “Wow!” I said. “You think you’re a total fraud, too?” How ironic — I had always perceived this person as undeniably talented. LOL. Coincidentally, I had been reading a book called Love’s Executioner by a psychotherapist named Irvin D. Yalom at the time, and in the book, he describes accounts with clients in which they ‘admit’ to walking around feeling like they’re continuously tricking everyone around them into liking them. So I googled it, and found this on Wikipedia:

The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments…

Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

The impostor syndrome was once thought to be particularly common among women who are successful in their given careers, but has since been shown to occur for an equal number of men. It is commonly associated with academics and is widely found among graduate students.

So, it’s a thing.

The personal irony here is that finding this Wikipedia entry hasn’t done anything for my own complex; even now, I’m sure that I’m just barely skirting by with this write-up — this article’s employed enough tricks to affect flow, style, mastery, non-stupidity. I’m this close ([_____________________]) to being exposed. Someone will find out I faked my way through this. Somewhere out there, someone knows.

So, fellow imposters. Not to worry? There are way more frauds out there than you expected? Who, by the way — they know. They all know. There have been group email chains about how they all know. Someone in the email chain has even been tracking all the times you’ve been a fraud — they wrote them down in a list in a shared Google document and they’re all looking at it now and laughing with each other about it. Everyone is onto you, phony. We’re on to you. And we’re going to have an intervention soon, one where we all shame you for being a fraud. A big. fat. fraud.

(Just kidding.) TC mark

image – exfordy


More From Thought Catalog

  • Raymond Thimmes

    This makes too much sense. Really, it makes too much sense.

    It explains way too much in my life. 

    • Guest

      do you mean to see you are accomplished? all i see you doin is making stupid comments on this site. You have what i call “smartness symptom”. This symptom makes stupid people act in a way that others can perceive them as smart. But, deep inside they know they are stupid and insecure. If only these people believe in themselves and stop making random comments, people will start respecting them!

      • Guest


      • Raymond Thimmes


      • Grace Elizabeth

        Smart or otherwise, you’re a great designer! :)

      • Guest

        You are cute.

      • Grace Elizabeth


      • Sdref

        I disagree.

      • Grace Elizabeth

        Ooh, ouch :)

  • Pamela Ousley

    discovering impostor syndrome was one of the most clarifying things that has ever happened to me. haha. good times.

  • MK

    “All of us who have ideals about what to become suspect from time to time that we are frauds.” — one of my favorite professors in college

  • goldglass

    I have this too, or something like it. I am very unimpressed with my achievements once I’ve achieved them; if a shmuck like me could do it, how hard could it be? It’s like the Groucho Marx quote: “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

  • person

    read David Foster Wallace’s “Good Old Neon” (short story found in “Oblivion”). 

    there’s a really good description about what he calls the “fraudulent principle” and how our whole lives are basically vicious infinite cycles of trying to escape the psyche of being a fraud but JUST KIDDING you can’t

    • Brandon h

      So is this one of those cases where you think you have something unique wrong with you but it turns out that’s how everyone in america feels all the time too?

      I’m finding in this day and age even my neuroses aren’t unique. Were all mostly the same.

  • Sam J-P

    I completely get this.

    The other thing I totally get is the sense that there is no real ‘me’; that I’m simply adept into very quickly recognising how best to behave around people and then adopting certain traits and mannerisms that will best endear myself to them. I think I have a tendency to immediately guess which ‘me’ this person will like the most, so I can then accentuate / play down certain parts of my personality in order to make the other person  like me. I do this on dates, on job interviews, at parties… and I genuinely believe that any success, be it social, professional, or otherwise, is due to this chameleon-like ability to ‘be who people want you to be’.

    Anyone else get this?

    • CAMEL

      Yes! Yes I do. I can’t seem to say anything else but yeah. I do this too, and I do it both consciously and subconsciously. I’ve always felt it is a form of manipulation.

    • Maja

      OMG! OMG! OMG! There really is someone out there EXACLY like me!!! I am from Macedonia, by the way. Nice to meet you fellow-chameleon! 

    • steinlette

      I definitely do this, but then, so do most people! We all adjust ourselves to some degree to please the people we like, and I think some people just do it MORE. It’s a specific kind of intelligence that in extremes leads to some real self-doubt and confusion in terms of your sense of self, but I don’t think you’re actually creating new “yous”, just magnifying certain aspects. As long as you keep perspective on what you believe, and as long as you’re comfortable when you’re by yourself, I don’t think it will hurt you.

      I mean… who doesn’t clean the shit out of their house when relatives are coming? We behave differently when the expectations of our companions are different.

      I also think this comes from working too long in the service industry.

  • Guest

    Everyone acts in certain way with certain people. But, i thought it was always on a subconscious level. If you wanna be a convincing chameleon then in my opinion you should be so good at it that even you cannot make out that you are playing a part. Does that make sense?
    Some people fake it so bad that its obvious and irritating.  

  • Nina

    Ohh waaaah!  “I can’t ever pat myself on the back for my magnificent accomplishments”. Cry me a fucking river! I can’t stand when people are self-deprecating, but really they’re just in search of compliments and/or praise.

    This is the equivalent of people calling themselves fat out loud so that their friends/lovers reassure them they’re not.

    • Brandon h

      I don’t think you understood what he was saying. He’s saying that even if you complement him he’s not going to believe it. 

      I really don’t see how you got “fishing for complements” from that. He can’t even acknowledge his accomplishments, let alone pat himself on the back for them. 

      • Endi

        People are only replying to this so Oliver Miller comments back.

    • steinlette

      Sometimes validation of something you’re unsure of is a good thing. Just sayin’.

    • Oliver Miller

      No, that’s not what the article is about.

    • Dan Mckean

      No… it’s not. This can, and by it’s nature would be, silent and internal. Don’t you get it’s about shame? Not praise. How often do you voice your shame? Or are you an attention seeker… and hypocrite? 

  • Lady

    But…come on.  Grad students and academics ARE frauds.

    I don’t mean anyone reading this comment, of course.  The others.  Not you.:)

    • Ketsia Leste

       yeah of course, others, not me! :D

  • Maja

    I’m still not sure whether I suffer from this syndrome or it’s just an excuse, and I actually really suck. Big time. 

  • Hannah

    “So, it’s a thing.” Everything is a thing nowadays. Every – thing. Thing. I just confused myself.

  • john coffee

    Everyone wh0 feels this way is a burden on society and should simply kill themselves.


    • Joanna


  • Mike

    I have this!

  • Stephen Dierks

    why are the cuss words censored

  • Frida

    I’m embarrassed when anyone praises anything I do, for this reason.
    I just keep thinking, how could they possibly think I’m capable when I fully know there are many people better than me at everything.
    Then, when people ask me things I don’t know, I think, ‘This is it. Now they know how stupid I am.’
    Yet, I think people just remember one time they thought you were good at something and think it applies to everything.

  • florentina

    sufferers of impostor syndrome = privileged upper-middle class sheltered liberal babies
    I have no pity for you. go do some real work and get some dirt under your nails.

    • guest

      you are FABULOUS let’s go dig a fuckin ditch this weekend!!

    • Oliver Miller

      Why would anyone want an unpleasant person to have pity for them?

    • patrish

      humble hard worker > Smug, self-satisfied bitch. 
      I’d rather keep on my grind than be self-important and inflate the value of my accomplishments, which you seem perfectly content to do. 

      Good luck making friends.

    • Renee Campbell

      i’m in medical school, my family is POOR as dirt, and i wonder if my intelligence is really there or just luck. please stop with your generalization, for it is a mark of a foolish mind.

  • Ana

    When I was about 12 years old, I wrote in my diary: “everyone will discover I’m actualy not smart! they will realize I’m just a stupid little girl, I’m fooling everyone with this mask!”
    Now, after more than a decade, when I receive positive feedback on my work I cringe. “I’m not that good, I don’t deserve this”. It feels so weird when I can actually feel good about something I created, I get all sorts of doubts, and rationalizing it makes me come to stupid conclusions like “what if I’m fooling myself too?”
    hating yourself is bad. get some trust. narcissists live way better than us.

  • Anna

    David Foster Wallace tackled this in his devastating short story, “Good Old Neon.” The first sentence is, “My whole life I’ve been a fraud.” Read it. 

  • LX

    UGH. Yes. I am currently possibly up for a promotion at work, but I’m convinced my bosses are going to realize I’m actually a total failure and not give it to me. I’m just going to try and pull my shit together and pretend to be a competent person when I meet with them next week, and maybe they’ll never realize the horrible truth.

  • Renee Campbell

    ahhhhh this sums me up as i bojangle on thoughtcatalog instead of studying. i’m in med school, have boards in a month, i swear i made it through the first and second year of med school by sheer luck and now i’m afraid the boards are going to expose how utterly stupid i am.

    this has been written by a poor, not entitled to anything, minority woman.

  • ENDI

    What do you call a fake noodle?

    An impasta!

  • fanforlife

    As with age, this too, will pass.  I know from experience!!

  • ches

    I had a feeling or dream( or something )for a long time that I faked my way thru my drivers test, and that someone was gonna catch up to me and tell me it was all a mistake.

  • Imposters syndrome | Firstcoastfin

    […] Do You Have Impostor Syndrome? | Thought CatalogMay 9, 2012 … The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are … […]

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