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Ask A Therapist: I Feel Like An Imposter!

Q: No matter what I’m doing, or which role I’m fulfilling, I feel like a fake. This includes my low-stress job, friendships, even parenting. I feel that I don’t belong and it’s only a matter of time before others find out, which scares me. I believe that this has been going on for several years, but I only recently became aware of it. I know that I felt this way the entire time I was in college, but I thought that it was because I hated my major. I don’t feel like my child is really mine, even though I remember giving birth to her. I’m afraid that if I talk to anyone about this that they will take her away. I’m currently being treated for depression, but I feel like I’m going to explode trying to bottle everything up. What is going on?

A: Thanks for writing in for help. I imagine it’s incredibly painful, confusing, and frightening to wonder if you’ll be exposed as a fake. There is a name for the experience you’re describing — “imposter syndrome” or “imposter phenomenon.” While imposter syndrome isn’t an official mental health diagnosis it has been studied and written about by many psychologists. It’s the inability to “digest” and internalize your own life and accomplishments. Several famous individuals, like Jodie Foster, have expressed similar experiences of feeling like they don’t belong, they don’t deserve the life they have, and that they will be exposed as a fraud. The imposter syndrome is also commonly experienced by many graduate students. It is a stressful way of feeling about your life and may be connected to or contributing to your depression.

You mentioned that you’re currently being treated for depression. I’m unclear as to whether that means you’re taking medication or you’re in therapy. If you’re not in therapy, please look into individual and group therapy, in particular. I think it would be very helpful to hear that other people experience similar feelings. You may enjoy reading this PsychCentral article Feeling like a fraud, and the book “How To Feel As Bright And Capable As Everyone Else Thinks You Are” by Dr. Valerie Young available at her website Thanks again for writing in and best to you on the road to accepting that this is your life, you’ve created it, and you deserve it.

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW


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