U-M Counseling and Psychological Services

The Imposter Syndrome or Phenomenon (IP)

  • “I completely didn’t deserve to get in.  I have no idea why they picked me.”
  • “My advisor has no idea who I really am; any day now, he is going to figure out what a fraud I am!
  • “Yeah, I had a chapter in that book.  But it’s no big deal.  The editor of the book needed someone at the last minute to fill in a gap.”

The Imposter Syndrome, sometimes knows as the Imposter Phenomenon or IP, can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy, particularly around one’s academic or professional abilities.  

The feelings persist even in the face of information, which indicates the person’s validity and successes.  This is because the Imposter Syndrome is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

The Imposter Syndrome can be divided into three sub- categories:

  • Attributing success to luck:  the tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons and not to your own internal abilities.
  • Feeling like a fake: the belief that one does not deserve his or her success or professional position and that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. This goes together with a fear of being "found out", “discovered” or "unmasked".
  • Discounting Success: a tendency to downplay or discount success.

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