How do I get over "imposter syndrome"?

I'm dealing with imposter syndrome in graduate school. I know that by all accounts I am a phenomenal graduate student, and that I am well-published. I am well liked by students and faculty alike. And yet I cannot shake the feeling that I'm going to be found out as a fraud.

How can I get over this feeling?

Samantha  Osborne
Samantha Osborne
Encouraging and Compassionate

It sounds like you are on the right track. Recognizing these nagging thoughts of self- doubt as "imposter syndrome" is a huge step in the right direction.  From what you have written here, it appears that you are able to challenge your own thoughts and provide yourself with evidence that counteracts the imposter syndrome.   Continuing to remind yourself of what you have accomplished and looking at the facts at hand can help diminish doubt.  Remember, many successful people battled imposter syndrome on the way to the top (and still manage it).  It might be helpful to read some of their stories so that you don't feel alone.  "The Cut" has a great article on "25 Famous Women on Imposter-Syndrome and Self-Doubt".   Business Insider has a great article about men and the imposter syndrome too.  

Remember, if you jumped through all of the hoops to get into school and get published-- you belong. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Marianne Cook, EdD, LICSW
Marianne Cook, EdD, LICSW
Psychotherapy for Higher Education

Impostor syndrome is such a common experience in graduate school and other high-pressure, competitive settings. I am glad to hear that you have some sense of your accomplishments, but I understand that it can be quite hard to internalize and truly believe them. Here are a few suggestions for overcoming impostor syndrome:

  • Check your standards. Impostor syndrome is often connected to perfectionism, and you may be holding impossibly high standards for yourself. Do you believe you need to know everything, excel at everything, or be liked by everyone in order to succeed in graduate school? If so, nothing you accomplish will ever measure up to your ideals. Try shifting your focus away from achievement and onto development: what are you learning about yourself and your research, and how are you growing as a person and a scholar? This can help you appreciate yourself as a work in progress -- which all of us fundamentally are.
  • Own your uniqueness. It can be easy to compare yourself to peers based on number of publications, fellowships, conferences, etc. But you are not a number. You are the only person in your program with your specific background, interests, and point of view. The more you own what makes you special and distinct from others, the more you're likely to feel that you have something to contribute to your program and to your field.
  • Celebrate your successes. Positive psychology has demonstrated that we can retrain our minds by paying more attention to positive information. I recommend keeping a success journal and jotting down anything (large or small, concrete or abstract) that you feel proud of. Aim to make a few additions a day to it. You may find that through pointing out these daily victories to yourself, you start to accept more positive feedback and believe in yourself in a deeper way.
  • Talk to trusted peers and mentors. Impostor syndrome flourishes in silence. If you have an advisor or colleague you can open up to, you will likely find that this person has experienced similar feelings, and that can be tremendously reassuring, because it shows you that impostor syndrome is a common phenomenon, not a manifestation of your inner unworthiness.
A therapist can be an excellent resource on your graduate school journey to help you examine, challenge, and let go of your self-doubts. I wish you the best of luck in graduate school and beyond!
The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Couples and Family Therapist, LCSW

First step is to remove the label of your behavior as a syndrome and instead understand the reasons for it.

"Imposter syndrome" sounds like a name someone made up to write a book and have lots of people buy it bc it gives the feeling they know themselves by calling themselves this name.

Instead, consider your own unique qualities including your fears of being recognized as adding value to people's lives.

If you were told growing up that you're worthless, or if your chosen career goes against family advice and expectations, or if you simply are a shy person, then these would be the starting points to understand your reluctance to believe in yourself.

The more you understand yourself and trust the truths you find as to who you are, the less you will feel fraudulent.

Good luck in your career work!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Rossana Magalhaes
Rossana Magalhaes
Couple & Family therapist

It would be very helpful to identify with you eventual pattern where the imposter syndrome is more or less present. Are there specific situations where you've noticed the feelings of "I'm going to be found out as a fraud" becoming more strong? It seems that shaking this feeling is very important to you. In my opinion, before shaking that feeling, we need to get closer to it and understand its roots. If you would like to get closer to the feeling, you might consider asking yourself questions such: "What is the trigger for this feeling? How does it feel in the body? What is the thought process I engage with after noticing this feeling? All the best. Rossana Mag.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor

What you described is so common for graduate students.  When I was in graduate school, I felt the same way and continue to at times now even though I'm licensed!

One of the things to know is that it's good to a certain degree to experience some self-doubt.  It's what pushes you to keep learning in your field and grow professionally.  When you are in graduate school, you're really at the beginning of that journey so of course you aren't expected to know everything or to feel like you have mastered what you've learned.

Do you have a professor you are comfortable discussing this with?  Or maybe a fellow student you feel a connection with?  It can be helpful to discuss these concerns with people that might understand what you are going through and can offer some guidance or make you feel less alone in it.

Something I do to quiet that "imposter voice" is make sure I'm not giving attention to comparisons.  That's a one way ticket to feeling incompetent.  Even comparing yourself to others in graduate school is unhelpful because what we think people know and what they actually know can be distorted based on how confident we feel in our own abilities.  Look at your accomplishments and the things you have truly learned.  You obviously put in some incredibly hard work to make it into graduate school.  How much credit are you giving yourself for what you already have done or know?

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Candice Conroy, LMHC
Candice Conroy, LMHC
Find relief from anxiety, depression, and trauma.

Imposted Syndrome is often linked to feelings of shame - shame about our own inadequacies, our imperfections, the limits of our knowledge or abilities. It's based on the belief that in order to be valuable, you must be perfect. Often times, the standards for this are so unrealistic, that when we really look at them, we can cognitively see that it's impossible to achieve. Here are a few of the common beliefs that typically underlie Imposter Syndrome:

  • I must know everything there is to know about this and have no gaps in my knowledge
  • I must be perfect at every task the first time I try
  • I must never make mistakes
  • I must always appear confident and never let on that I have any doubts

So in order to appear valuable, you must hide your imperfections. The only problem is that this behavior does a few things that actually keeps you stuck in Imposter Syndrome. 

  • Hiding things you're ashamed of (such as your lack of knowledge in a new area) only reinforces the emotional feeling that this is "bad" or "wrong"
  • It keeps you from having the experience of others knowing you're not perfect and still accepting and valuing you anyway
  • It keeps you from asking for help or information when you might need it, making it more likely your performance will actually suffer
  • It can cause you to come off as not needing support or guidance, so that will be given to others who acknowledge their imperfections and limitations openly
In order to decrease the feeling of Imposter Syndrome, it can be helpful to take small steps such as asking for help, information, or clarification when you need it; acknowledging the limits of your experience of knowledge; and taking every practice as a learning experience rather than a test of whether or not you deserve to be there.
The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Dr. Timothy Paul
Dr. Timothy Paul
'man'; Online - "Natural Health Consultant and Coach"
"Imposter Syndrome" is a basic effect is a dishonest cause.

Basically, there is a fundamental lack of honesty in some important parts of your life (my guess would be relationships) that has led to this sense of dread and guilt.

I wonder where the dishonesty be...
If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call...  (more)If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room. All written by 'i': 'man'; is [My] Property;
Emily Forsythe
Emily Forsythe
Helping clients be their most authentic selves

I'm sorry you're feeling this way. You've probably read articles already about impostor syndrome, but still didn't get the answers you were looking for; you probably know that lots of people feel this way, that it happens to lots of successful people in professional settings. Not helping, right?

Think about people who succeed at big tasks: an Olympic athlete has a defined goal that they need to meet: cross the finish line, say, faster than anyone else. That success is remarked upon, and - until someone does the event better than they did - they are 'the best.' Grad school, however, is not so great at discrete goals and celebrations of success. You got a good grade on an assignment, but what about the next one? You and 6 other people in your class probably got the same grade, so does that make you a success or average? 

It falls to you, then, to identify ways you are sure you've succeeded. If your grades and peer admiration aren't hallmarks of success enough, perhaps pull your measuring tool inward: measure your achievements against your own progress- ie: I got a 93 on my last assignment, I got a 97 this time! You might find those feelings fading soon~ 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

Submit your own question

More Answers