Imposter Syndrome

Insecurity, Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt
Curated By
Keiko McCullough

Keiko McCullough is a doctoral student at Indiana University Bloomington studying Counseling Psychology. Keiko graduated summa cum laude from the University of Akron with her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2015. Her research interests, broadly, focus on the intersections of race, gender, and new media. She additionally studies men of color and masculinities, Asian American mental health, positive psychology, and feminist issues.

They Might Be Thinking:

  • Everyone is so much smarter than me.
  • How did I get here? Soon they’ll realize the mistake they’ve made and I’ll be forced to leave.
  • What if people find out I’m not as good as they think?
  • My peers are so well-spoken. I could never sound like that.
  • I need to be much better than I am now.
  • I don’t know if I can do this.
  • I’m the only person here who feels lost. 
  • Other people can definitely tell I am incompetent sometimes, even though they don’t mention it.
  • My ideas are terrible compared to my peers.
  • I have to keep working and doing things perfectly or something bad will happen. 
  • I am only here because I got lucky.

Words That Might Be Encouraging:

  • I remember that you achieved X, Y and Z. What did you do to make those things happen? (Highlight the actions they took, noting that it wasn’t all “just luck” or due to some external force.)
  • I’ve noticed that you are very hard-working and your efforts are a big reason for your success. 
  • I imagine it would be very difficult and anxiety provoking to truly believe you got here because of luck or a mistake. 
  • I wish that you saw the talents that I see in you (provide examples of their talents). 
  • Your desire to keep growing as a person is a clear strength, and I also think you are enough as you are.
  • You deserve the position you have (provide reasons why).
  • It sounds incredibly exhausting to deal with this underlying self-doubt every day. 
  • One day, I think you will clearly see how gifted you really are. 
  • What can I do to better support you when you feel this way?
  • Thank you for sharing this with me. I don’t see you as a “fraud,” but I can see that this is very real for you.

Words That Might Be Discouraging:

  • Why are you so worried? You’re a superstar!
  • I don’t know why you’d feel this way. You’re doing so well. 
  • Maybe people aren’t watching you as closely as you think. 
  • You’re so impressive! There’s no way you actually struggle with this. 
  • Maybe you HAVE just been lucky. Either way, just be happy to be where you are! 
  • You sound a little paranoid. 
  • You’re here now, so just try to make the best of it. 
  • Your lack of confidence won’t help you. 
  • Maybe you should try harder to prove yourself.
  • You can do this. Just don’t stress about it. It’s fine. 
  • You’re joking, right? 
  • People aren’t out to get you. 
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