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Do You Feel Like An Impostor? A Fraud? A Phony?

Do You Feel Like An Imposter? You're Not Alone!Do you ever feel like you’re “faking it” — at work, at school, or at home? Like you’re not qualified to be there, but by the grace of chance or luck, you are?

And do you feel like one day someone’s going to “out” you? Reveal you as a fraud? Point a finger at you and identify you as an impostor?

I remember my very first day of teaching business students at my local community college. The class? Introduction to Marketing.

Was I qualified? Well, yeah. I’ve got a master’s degree and several years of experience working for a marketing and advertising company. I’ve also taught college classes online before.

I know how to write lesson plans. I know how to put together activities and lectures that fulfill student learning objectives. And, despite that pesky anxiety disorder I deal with, I’m pretty good at speaking in front of a crowd.

But still, on that very first late-summer day, standing in the bright classroom on the second floor of a gigantic academic center, I felt like an impostor — like they’d chosen the wrong person to teach. Surely I wasn’t smart enough or qualified enough for this. I should be sitting at a desk, not standing behind the podium.

Appropriately enough, there’s a term for this feeling: the impostor phenomenon.


From Dr. Pauline Rose Clance’s website (with spacing added for clarity):

Most people who experience the Impostor Phenomenon (IP) would not say, “I feel like an impostor.” Yet, when they read or hear about the experience, they say, “How did you know exactly how I feel?”

And how do they feel? Even though they are often very successful by external standards, they feel their success has been due to some mysterious fluke or luck or great effort; they are afraid their achievements are due to “breaks” and not the result of their own ability and competence.

They are also pretty certain that, unless they go to gargantuan efforts to do so, success can not be repeated. They are afraid that next time, I will blow it.

Can you imagine the anxiety that impostor phenomenon (also called “imposter syndrome”) might cause?


Consider Clance’s last sentence above — have you ever felt like you succeeded at something difficult, but only by the hair on your chin?

What kind of thoughts and behaviors might follow that feeling of undeserved success? Might you feel insecure about your own abilities? Might you avoid taking chances as a result? Might you begin to over-work yourself so that you feel like less of a phony?

Might you continue to feel like a fraud who is just barely making it?

Gosh — even typing out those last few questions made me feel uneasy.

(On that note, let’s pause for a brief interlude of Summer’s Uncensored Thoughts: Wow, I have a blog? On a psychology website? Why do I deserve this? I can’t write. I don’t belong here. Everyone else here can write well, but I can’t.)

Well, I guess it’s clear why those questions made me feel so uneasy.


But it’s not just me who feels this way. I know at least one other blogger who understands the impostor phenomenon intimately:   my fellow PsychCentral blogger Margarita Tartakovsky, who felt like a fraud during grad school:

I felt like the program made some exception to accept me, that I really didn’t deserve to be there, that I wore my stupidity on my sleeve and that soon the professors and powers-that-be would find out and kick me out…

…[e]ven when I received high grades and positive feedback and praise, I still felt a gnawing discomfort that I just didn’t belong in such a smart place.

I also wasn’t the only one. My cohort and I talked regularly about feeling like our department had a made a mistake in admitting us. We worried about keeping up, regularly questioned our intelligence and abilities and felt insecure all-around.

In my next post, I’ll take you even further into others’ experiences with impostor phenomenon.

Until then, Clance offers a test on her website that allows users to gauge the extent and severity of their impostor phenomenon symptoms.

Where do you fall on her scale? Which situation in your life — work, school, or something else — makes you feel like you’re not quite good enough to belong?

Photo: Aftab Uzzaman (Flickr)

Do You Feel Like An Impostor? A Fraud? A Phony?

Summer Beretsky

Summer Beretsky enjoys writing about her experiences with anxiety, panic, and Paxil. She had her first panic attack as an undergrad at Lycoming College and plenty more while she worked toward her M.A. in Communication from the University of Delaware. She contributes to the World of Psychology blog here on PsychCentral and has written for the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @summerberetsky.

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APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2014). Do You Feel Like An Impostor? A Fraud? A Phony?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Mar 2014
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