How do I stop feeling like a fraud?

It can happen to anyone who notches up achievements in life – at some stage, many people feel unworthy of their success.

They may tell themselves they've just been lucky, and fear that one day they’ll be unmasked or found out.

Does this feeling sound familiar? It describes a condition called "imposter phenomenon" and teachers are one of the groups that suffer with it.

The idea of an “impostor phenomenon” was introduced by Dr Pauline Rose Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes in 1978. Their study focused on the experience of high-achieving women who felt they were intellectual frauds.

This problem has since been debated by psychologists and business mentors. It's often linked to perfectionism and fear of failure, and can have consequences on how we handle our careers and relationships.

False pretences

Feeling like a fraud can have an impact on the way we relate to the world.

The good news for those who recognise these thoughts is that they’re not alone – and there are positive steps they can take to get their impostor feelings under control.

Click on the labels to see how dwelling on negative or critical thoughts can influence our behaviour.

Managing your thoughts

A major part of feeling like a fraud or impostor is listening to – and believing – our own inner critic. Many psychologists use a talking therapy called CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help people manage these feelings.

Chartered counselling and health psychologist Linda Papadopoulos offers some practical tips to help when we feel like a fraud.

How did I get here?

Have a think about why you may feel like this.

Feeling like a fraud can sometimes have its roots in childhood. Constantly praising a child when they haven’t necessarily earned it may mean that, as an adult, they don’t always trust praise, even when it is deserved.

Some of us feel we have to strive to live up to high expectations, either from early success or from family or community. We may also try to create an impressive social media persona, or look at others’ profiles and feel we can never live up to their glamour.

Those of us who feel like a fraud are in good company. Many well-respected academics, business people and celebrities have publicly said they can relate to this, including writer Maya Angelou and actresses Emma Watson and Kate Winslet.

Left: Kate Winslet. Middle: Emma Watson. Right: Maya Angelou.
Kate Winslet, Emma Watson and Maya Angelou have talked about feeling like frauds.

Learn more about this topic

Teachers open up about Mental Health
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Confessions of a teacher – Behaviour
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