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Feeling Like a Fraud

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

If this describes you, you’re not alone...

“I’m successful in my career, but if anybody saw what my house looks like they’d know what a phony I am.”

“They think I’m terrific but if they knew how long it took me to accomplish this, there’d never be any accolades."

“I’ve achieved a lot; so what? If you saw me running around like a crazy lady, trying to get my kids off to school on time, you’d know I’m nothing special.”

Some people feel like a fraud, no matter how much they’ve achieved. They are hard on themselves and worry about being exposed as a fake. They do this in several ways:

  • Setting a standard so high, it can never be reached. Hence, no matter what they’ve achieved, it’s still not good enough.
  • Being so busy that they just move on to the next thing that needs to be done without ever acknowledging what they’ve achieved.
  • Being hard on themselves when they mess up, instead of simply acknowledging their human fallibility.
  • Believing that their achievements don’t really count if they aren’t successful in all areas of life (marriage, kids, friendships, tidy household, beauty, clothes, etc. etc. etc.)
  • Judging their successes as flukes. Don’t know how it happened; just damn lucky.

If you struggle with persistent feelings of self-doubt, I hope these strategies will help you combat the litany of self-destructive lies you tell yourself...

  1. Accept that you have had some role in your successes.
    Even if you can’t let go of all of your feelings of being an imposter, take one step at a time. Admit that you have done something right. Maybe, just maybe, you had something to do with the success of your company’s latest project.
  2. When you receive a compliment, accept it.
    Yes, your first response may be, “Oh, she’s just saying that to be nice.” But you can combat that inner voice. So, tell yourself that it’s fine for you to accept compliments from others. And if you can do this, you just might find it easier for you to give a compliment to yourself.
  3. Admit that you struggle with perfectionism. When people never think their work is good enough and are consistently plagued with self-doubt, they’re measuring themselves against an impossible standard. So, admit that you’re not perfect. And recognize that you don’t need to be. Letting go of your over-the-top expectations for yourself and your impossibly high standards will go a long way toward helping you feel grounded in reality.
  4. Learn to take your mistakes in stride, viewing them as part of the learning process.
    If your mistakes are triggering mental panic, stop. Take a deep breath. Tell yourself, it’s okay. We all make mistakes. That’s how we learn. Creative work is never 100% flawless. Mistakes must be made. Einstein said that, “The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas.” So, have new ideas. Make mistakes. Regret them, if you must, for the moment. But then let go. And move on to the next challenge that will needs to be addressed.
  5. Defeat the defeatist voices in your head.
    Chase away those demons in your head that keep telling you, “Sure you did X, but you’re not smart enough to do Y.” If you can’t get those voices to shut up, reframe your thoughts by using one little word – AND. When you’re dejectedly thinking, “I have no idea how to approach this project” (and feeling like a complete fraud) think, “AND I will …..” When you finish your sentence with an AND clause, you’ll notice that a solution awaits you. An AND clause denotes connection and resolution. Maybe you need to connect with more data, with an authority on the subject, with research on your topic. Whatever it is, you’ve got the go ahead. So, get going. And don’t let those defeatist voices in your head be in charge.

Be a fraud no more. Believe that you got to where you are today because you put in the work that got you there. You deserve to be there. Yes, people may find out you don’t know everything. That you’ve made mistakes. But, nobody is going to find out that you’re a fraud or a phony. Because you’re not.

Copyright © 2018: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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