You’re Not a Fraud: Impostor Syndrome is Telling You That You Are

Archive for the ‘Therapy’ Category

You’re Not a Fraud: Impostor Syndrome is Telling You That You Are

Posted on: February 6th, 2021 by Kim Koehler, LCPC

“I don’t belong here.” “I am not worthy of this opportunity.”“My thoughts on this are stupid.”“I am an impostor.” These are some of the common trains of thought that come from someone experiencing Impostor Syndrome.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome is a specific type of cognitive self-doubt, whether it be doubting your own intellectual abilities, talents, or worthiness of your position. Impostor Syndrome can make you feel like an outcast, or an outlier in a group. With the state of uncertainties in the current world, I’ve been hearing clients discuss Impostor Syndrome more than ever. So many people in my personal and professional world have discussed the fears of losing a job, but these fears being supplemented by statements such as “I’m not seasoned enough” or “losing me wouldn’t be a great loss.” This is also a common theme amongst students, wondering if the input they provide in their Zoom classes is substantial enough, or if their classmates are more easily retaining information than they are because of how much more intelligent their classmates must be. We can also see Impostor Syndrome in our relationships, when we start comparing ourselves to our partner’s previous partners, or wondering what they see in us compared to some of the other people they have been with. Impostor Syndrome has always been there for many of us, whether we have known how to label it or not, but it does not have to stop us from fulfilling our goals and dreams.

Who develops Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is not exclusive to any group of people. Although it is most commonly found in individuals who grew up with high achievement standards, many very successful people have had to overcome their self-doubt and validate their capabilities.  Some well-knownexamples of these include CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz; Tom Hanks; Maya Angelou; Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University, Valerie Shears Ashby; David Bowie; Tina Fey; and Serena Williams. All of these individuals can be seen to many as the best at what the do, the most intelligent in their fields, or the most awarded in their sport – yet still they have been outspoken on what it would feel like if everyone were to discover that they were a fraud, or that there were others out there more deserving of the opportunities they have earned. In our everyday lives, feeling like a fraud or finding others to be more deserving can come out in many ways. For many people in the work force, feeling like an impostor can mean that they do not want to accept compliments or praise about their performance, because they are still comparing themselves to others who they perceive are at a higher level. Feeling like an impostor can also create a spiral effect, where those feelings of inferiority or imagining yourself to be a fraud, can cause you to put extra time into perfecting your work or craft, which leads to not participating in enough self-care or recognizing your contributions. I have heard from several individuals who have been passed up for a promotion, that following this they poured their time into work, seeking to be the best in their division, and as a result grew tired, burnt out, resentful, and ignored some of the most important things in life like family, friendships, and hobbies. Even when it comes to hobbies and extracurricular activities, those feelings related to Impostor Syndrome can surface. You may start dictating your goals for improvement by comparing yourself to the work or abilities of others, which becomes de-motivating and causes you to stop your craft. For example, if you start learning to play the piano, and begin to truly enjoy learning and setting goals for yourself to improve, that’s great! However, when you begin to watch videos of other talented pianists, or have friends who are able to play really well, and start to think to yourself things such as ‘I’ll never be as good as my friend,’ ‘I’m not good enough to play in front of other people,’ or ‘I just can’t learn fast enough,’ resulting in you to totally give up on learning, the sting of Impostor Syndrome may start to be getting to you. It is important for you to know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do about yourself, and although the world around you applauds your accomplishments, it is up to you to buy in to the belief about how strong, capable, and intelligent you are as well!

What helps in combating impostor syndrome?

  • Redefine what being successful means: Those with impostor syndrome often fall into the theme of chasing the destination and not enjoying the journey. When we are so focused on achieving milestones that we feel will increase our status or better others perceptions of our capabilities, we don’t recognize the hard work we took to get there. Ask yourself: am I living a life that is dictated by being the best, or am I living a life where I am the best for myself, but thriving to continue learning and growing? Many people also often get caught up in the fears of being a rookie at their craft. Why are you rejecting yourself because you aren’t at the same level as a colleague who has been at your company for ten years? Why do we let the comparison to others successes stop us from doing what we truly love? You are learning and are growing every day! You are writing your story on the ladder of success right now, and if you focus too much on the end product, you ignore all the steps you took and triumphs you have had on the way to getting there.
  • Focus on why you belong and the myths your mind is making up:The job, school, program, group, or organization you belong to, did not select you because you are the worst at what you do. You are an important part of these and you were chosen to be there for a reason! When Impostor Syndrome comes creeping in, it’s helpful to ask yourself about the validity of the claims it’s making against you. A common negative thought, such as ‘I don’t belong here’ can be negated often simply by asking yourself, ‘what’s my evidence for that?’ followed by ‘what’s my evidence against that?’ For example, if you are selected for a promotion at work, the evidence that supports this is that clearly you have excelled at your job, managers and supervisors admire your work, and you have built a good reputation in your company. In the astounding majority of cases, you would not be chosen for a promotion if your company wanted you to fail, if they thought there were better candidates for the position, or if you were not viewed as valuable and knowledgeable in your life of work.
  • Practice mindfulness and self-gratitude:A part of being mindful is not just focusing on your faults or deficits, but giving yourself time to celebrate your successes in the present moment that they are happening. Reflecting on that promotion, high grade on a test or homework, or personal achievement in a hobby or sport can help remind you why you deserve to be where you are. Work on trusting yourself and those around you by remembering why you are at this point in life, and the things you do every day to keep yourself or your organization growing. There are so many ways you can do this; whether it be through daily mind and body scans, meditations, journaling, or repeating a mantra to yourself about how capable you are. The important thing is that you take some time once in a while to appreciate yourself and all the hard work you put into life, without negatively comparing your struggles or successes to those of others.
  • Talk to someone about it: I promise you, you are not alone in feeling like an impostor. Talk to your coworkers or social supports to normalize making mistakes, not knowing the answer to something immediately, or if you just need to build comraderies with others to openly discuss your feelings about your role. Talk to trusted professionals, supervisors, your therapist, or family members about how they built their confidence in their roles and what helped them along the way. We are all trying to give our best every day, and you are doing an awesome job at it!

The View from This Side of the Couch

Posted on: November 26th, 2019 by Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

“How do you do this job? I’d get so sick of listening to other people’s problems all day.” As a psychotherapist, I have heard this comment numerous times in the 14 years I have been working. Providing counseling is a tough job, sure, but it is interesting and rewarding. We get to be your secret keepers. We get to hear the good stuff: “I am pregnant.” “I am going to propose.” “I just got a promotion.” And we also get to hear the hard stuff: “I am cheating on him.” “I hate her.” “I hate myself.” “Life would be better without me in it.” And as we are guiding, challenging, listening, and supporting our clients, we have the utmost respect for the struggles and challenges that our clients and everyone face. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 43.3% of American adults received treatment for mental health issues in 2018. Thank goodness there is less and less stigma about therapy these days. Companies are supportive of their workers taking time for therapy. Partners can see couples counseling as an opportunity to work on communication and trust versus the last stop on the way to a divorce. Yet despite all the understanding and positive messaging about the benefits of therapy out there, it still can be a bit confusing. Here are some common questions and answers to help you understand the perspective we have sitting across from you.

“What is a psychotherapist versus a psychologist versus a psychiatrist?”
It can be really confusing with all these titles and letters after our names. At Tobin Counseling Group, we are all considered psychotherapists and none of us prescribe medication. Some of us have master’s degrees in psychology or social work. We may have a LCSW or LCPC or LMFT after our names, which means we are licensed in Illinois as (respectively) a clinical social worker, professional counselor, or a marriage and family therapist. Other psychotherapists here have a doctorate in psychology or a PsyD, which means they are psychologists. A PhD or a PsyD in psychology confers the title of psychologist, which equates to being able to do psychological testing as well as psychotherapy. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who prescribes medication. A psychiatrist can also provide psychotherapy.

“What are you writing?”
Don’t worry, we aren’t writing down our grocery list or working on the Times’ Saturday crossword over here (plus let’s be real, we’d need more than your session to tackle that). When we sit across from you, especially in the first session, we are writing down notes and your answers to assessment questions. We want to make sure we have a good understanding of your symptoms, history, and goals so we write down things you say or themes or patterns we are hearing. After that initial session, some therapists take notes and some do not. These are our process notes and often include key words to help us remember things you have said or themes we want to come back to later in the session. Some therapists write down names of family members they want to remember or other important things you reference. If we are asking you to do homework assignments, we may also jot this down to make sure to check in with you later.

“Why do I always cry when I sit down on the couch?”
Well, let’s be honest, you don’t always cry. But yes, there is a fair amount of crying that we see happening on our couch. But guess what, the therapy couch is the absolute best place to do it. We are always fully stocked on Kleenex. And here’s the thing: Crying is not a bad thing. We are so programmed to avoid negative emotions—there are few places where it feels safe to cry, especially in front of another person. So crying happens because it is okay to allow yourself to cry and we are often talking about difficult issues, sometimes sad issues. It is also okay to laugh and feel good during therapy. We get to feel the whole range of emotions and that happens during therapy sessions. Which is a good, positive thing, tears included.

“Why does therapy work?”
Therapy is a different way of talking. We are listening in a way that is likely different than what typically happens for you in your everyday life. A lot of times people reference feeling heard in therapy or feeling much lighter after going. There are few interruptions in our room. We are not staring at our devices or distracted by other people when you are speaking. Our main job is to show up for you in a therapeutic way to listen to what you are saying and help you. We are nonjudgmental and are in your lives only in the therapy room. So we are safe. With some exceptions to confidentiality, what happens in the therapy room stays in the therapy room. (There is a reason that was such a good advertising slogan for Vegas!) It feels good to know you can express a thought or feeling and it doesn’t leave our office. Keep in mind, we can’t tell you what to do (this is another question we often get!). But we can challenge your thoughts or help change your behaviors. We try to validate and encourage your emotional expression. We also explore ways to cope better than perhaps the current choices you are making. We are also not “just listening.” We are trained professionals who are using skills and techniques, like cognitive behavioral therapy, to help you.

“Can we be friends?”
Our relationship might feel pretty intimate; as we said before, we get to hear all your deepest secrets and inner thoughts. But therapy—and specifically this therapeutic relationship—works because of boundaries. We are professionals and this is a service we are providing to you that you are paying for. It is different than a personal relationship. We aren’t nor can we be friends with you, but at the same time, we do like you and care about you. We see your strengths and likely have a far more balanced perspective of you and your circumstances than you do of yourself. We cannot be friends with you on social media or connect with you on LinkedIn. We don’t Google you or try to find out more about you and you should do the same with your therapist. Our relationship has to exist in a professional way for therapy to work and feel safe for you and us as your provider. If we see you in public, we will wait for you to acknowledge us first. This is not a harsh social move or a matter of us snubbing you. We simply want to protect your confidentiality; if you wave or say hello to us, we will respond, but it is up to you to make the first move. Chicago is a small world so it is possible we will run into each other, but just as we have agreed to keep your secrets, how we know each other stays between us.

“What do you really think of me?”
We are all clients. Any therapist should have been in therapy during their training or may currently be in therapy. Remember that part above about this being a hard job? We couldn’t help and support you if we did not have support ourselves. So we can relate to and understand you. What we really think of you is that you are a dynamic, interesting person who we are invested in learning about and understanding as deeply as we can. We may get frustrated with you sometimes and we have to be patient. You probably make us laugh sometimes in session as well as cry along with you. We have so much respect for you and your story and we are trying to help you in the ways we know how to help. We want to do right by you.

Whether you are new to therapy or not, it is okay to have questions. It is even more okay to ask your therapist your questions. We will uphold boundaries and yet do our best to give you answers. A good fit matters when it comes to relationships but especially in the therapy office. If you don’t feel like your therapist understands you or your expectations are not being met, talk about it. And know there are a lot of sources of support out there so you don’t need to feel stuck if the relationship with your therapist is not working for you. The biggest question to ask yourself when you go to therapy is if you feel heard and understood. If we are doing that, we can make progress. And with that, we will look forward to seeing you at your next session.

Healthy Living Starts Now

No matter your obstacles, you don’t have to face them alone. We offer comprehensive support so you can regain control and rebuild your life. To learn more about our services or to schedule a free 20-minute consultation, please call (312) 346-5156



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