Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Steps you can take to shake the feeling that you're an imposter


Ever felt like you're a fraud, that your peers were somehow all smarter and more creative than you? In this encore presentation of NPR's Life Kit, reporter Diana Opong looks at the factors that contribute to experiencing this feeling called the imposter phenomenon.


DIANA OPONG: Before you can work through feeling like an imposter, you have to be able to identify it. And that right, there is tip No. 1.

ANDREA SALAZAR-NUNEZ: One of the most validating things to do is to name it because so many times, especially for people of color, women of color - like, we're gaslighted, dismissed, ignored when we bring up these things.

OPONG: That was Dr. Andrea Salazar-Nunez. She's a staff psychologist at the University of Washington Counseling Center. Now that we've named this feeling, let's examine where it came from and exactly what it means to feel like an imposter.

SUZANNE IMES: The imposter phenomenon is a feeling by many high-achieving people that they're not as intelligent, as creative, as able as other people think they are, and they live in a constant fear that somebody is going to find that out.

OPONG: The voice you just heard was Dr. Suzanne Imes. She's currently a practicing therapist in Atlanta, Ga. Dr. Imes actually coined the term imposter phenomenon since it's not a syndrome in the medical sense. What we see, hear and read can intensify this phenomenon, especially for people of color.

IMES: If you're in a context where you're in a minority, you're more likely to feel like an impostor.

OPONG: For tip No. 2, it's important to acknowledge the societal impact that influences this feeling. Dr. Salazar-Nunez explains why we should consider cultural context when it comes to the imposter phenomenon.

SALAZAR-NUNEZ: Part of the work that I do is putting things into context, historical context, because that brings a great awareness of where everything fits, right? So what may feel hysterical - when you put it in context, it may look more historical.

OPONG: You've named it, and you are taking into consideration how various societal systems can amplify this feeling. But now what? Well, this is a good time to move on to tip No. 3 - taking stock of your true talents. A technique that Dr. Imes uses with her clients involves making a list with three columns.

IMES: And in the first column, I'm not so good at, in the second column, I'm medium good at and the third column, I'm very good at. And you write all the things you can think of.

OPONG: Dr. Imes often shares her own worksheet with her patients. Directions, she's not too good with, but...

IMES: I also like to tell them I'm very good at pingpong.

OPONG: One thing I wanted to know is if this feeling will ever go away. Can I be cured of this?

IMES: Do you ever get over it? Are you ever cured? No.

OPONG: OK, not exactly the answer I was hoping to hear, but it's not all bad news. Dr. Imes says the imposter phenomenon will start to wane as you get older.

IMES: When I was younger, I had to achieve, achieve, achieve. I have three master's degrees and a doctorate. That is ridiculous. But I'm 76 years old, and I still love being a psychologist and therapist. Well, OK, I know how to do this, so I have to do it or I should do it. No, I don't have those shoulds the way I used to.

OPONG: Getting older has never looked so good. For NPR News, I'm Diane Opong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD'S "DANSE CARRIBE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diana Opong