Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome: It’s a persistent psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments or feels unworthy of their position.



Imposter Syndrome is bred by what therapists call “cognitive distortions.” It sounds like a fancy term, but in short, cognitive distortions are thinking errors. They often tell us that if we risk change we will fail, lose, be embarrassed, be wrong, etc. They can make us feel really bad about ourselves! We ALL have cognitive distortions-they are part of the human experience. Unfortunately, these distorted thoughts can influence our core beliefs about ourselves.
Some common cognitive distortions involved in imposter syndrome are:
1. Overgeneralization: We conclude that what happened to us once will occur over and over again. This will include lots of statements with “always” and “never.”
2. Jumping to conclusions: When we immediately jump to a negative conclusion without considering the facts of the situation.
3.Filtering: When we pick out the negative details of an experience.
4. Catastrophizing: This is expecting the worst (e.g., “What if there’s a tragedy?”
“What if they all laugh at me?”).
5. Black and White thinking: When we interpret events in absolutes as either extremely good or bad.
6. Should’s: When we believe there is a rigid code of conduct to live by. We feel judgement when others fall short of these rules and self critical when we do (e.g. I should be further along in my career by now).
7. Emotional reasoning: When we accept our emotions as evidence for the truth. The person who engages in emotional reasoning assumes that their unhealthy emotions reflect the way things really are (e.g. “I feel it, therefore it must be true”).
People who don’t feel like impostors are not necessarily more intelligent or capable than the rest of us. When those triggering moments come up, they simply think different thoughts. The only way to stop feeling like an impostor, is to stop thinking like an impostor.



Try this process to combat Imposter Syndrome: Build your awareness of the thoughts. Use a non-judgmental approach, almost as if you are observing yourself. Describe the experience without being personally critical.
1. Describe the Situation
2. Identify the thought—State the thought that you are having
3. Identify the Cognitive Distortion—Determine if it is a cognitive distortion and which
distortion it is.
4. Identify the feeling—Identify the feelings that come up when you have this thought.
5. How does it validate negative core beliefs—How does this distortion feed the negative
core belief that you are an imposter?
6. Consider replacing with thoughts that are empowering—Use a growth mindset
1. Describe: I didn’t get the job that I interviewed for
2. Thought: “I knew this would happen.” “I shouldn’t have said that thing.” “I’ll never get
3. Cognitive Distortions: Overgeneralization, Shoulds, Catastrophizing
4. Feelings: Sad, disappointed, ashamed, embarrassed
5. Negative Core Beliefs: I am an imposter, I am not good enough, I can’t do this
6. Replacing Thoughts: “I can learn more marketing terminology before my next interview.” “I will work toward growing my network and connections.”
This process slowly erodes cognitive distortions because it helps us 1. build an awareness of our personal self-talk, 2. encourages us to examine the facts, and 3. reinforces the truth that thoughts and feelings are never permanent.
Remember to:
Surround yourself with supportive people. Be gentle, compassionate, and patient with yourself. And always be in the process of awareness.

Lisa Wilmore, LPC