Deep in the heart of many people is hidden the sense of being a fraud, an imposter: and the constant fear of exposure. Along with this fear goes a certainty that they’re less qualified than their peers, despite advanced degrees, honors, awards, promotions or professional acclaim and success.
This feeling is more common than you think. According to one survey, two out of five successful people, working in a wide variety of careers, suffer from this dreadful fear. Richard Burton once said that inside, he felt he was just a poor boy from a Welsh mining town, and did not really deserve all his fame.
As a therapist, I know the feeling of being a fraud also runs rampant among those who’ve never really made it professionally: in fact, it’s often the main reason they fail.
How does this fear manifest? When I suffered from the Fraud Syndrome, the morning prior to teaching a workshop I’d awaken with a deep feeling of dread, pulling me deep down beneath the covers.Even though I was a terrific teacher and knew my material cold, my body would be heavy with guilt and fear, sure that I would fail. I was positive I lacked the skills or expertise I claimed. I feared the moment my ignorance would be revealed, and the audience or group members would be filled with scorn and disgust, even through this had never happened. Even if I managed to pull the wool over my student’s eyes and they liked my workshop, the truth would be I’d fooled them into believing I was something I wasn’t. I was sure I was a fraud. Thank God those days are over! Since I resolved the self-doubt that caused behind my feelings of fraudulence,I’m comfortable and confident in my authenticity in all ways. Are you?
I knew a fabulous musician and composer who suffered horribly from this fear, to the point it crippled his career. He said that even when he was on stage in Paris before thousands of cheering people who loved his music, he’d shrivel in his skin, knowing he’d duped them. In fact, he felt that if they loved his music, that only proved their lousy taste, their ignorance of what fine music truly was. The result? His certainty he was a fraud pushed him off stage into obscurity, failure and penury. Many talented people never get this far, even through their work is admirable. They often hide behind alcohol or drugs, trying to dampen the pain of feeling never good enough, the shame of feeling a fraud.
Then there are those who do succeed highly in their given professions, but constantly watch their backs for the moment when they’ll be confronted with the truth of their incompetence. They never feel prepared or skilled enough, causing constant erosion of confidence and a surfeit of anxiety. Less than perfect success riddles them with despair, even though colleagues and public may hold them in high regard. Many of these folks become workaholics, overachievers who never own their success. Each success is perceived as a fluke or only the result of Herculean effort. Thus the more they accomplish, the more their feelings of fraudulence increases.
Where does this belief come from? Many sources. It may be the outcome of a childhood where another child was considered more intelligent or talented than you, and you felt you could never measure up. Or a parent or teacher told you told you that you were never good enough. If you got high grades by cramming before exams, then promptly forgot all you studied, there’s a good chance you’d grow up feeling a fraud for those high grades you got.
Some people mistakenly think that their charm, good looks or social skills are the reason they succeed, despite achievements that prove otherwise. Others, who’ve fought hard to rise out of poverty or terrible home conditions, may feel they always wear a secret inner brand of inferiority. This is especially true for first generation achievers: those who are the first in their families to get college degrees, be financially successful, or are publicly recognized for excellence in their work.
How to overcome “the Fraud Syndrome”? Just bringing this feeling out of the closet, and discussing it with others who feel the same way or who love you, may be the catalyst you need for healing. Facing the reality of your skills and accomplishments without minimizing or discounting them, can be a true wake-up call. Learning true love and appreciation for yourself may resolve this fear.
For others, more intensive therapy may be needed. But as always, change begins with understanding and facing your dilemma, then taking the action needed to bring the healing you need. For without action there is no change.
Gail Raborn CHt.: is a Clinical and MedicalHypnotherapist, Interactive ImageryTherapist, Certified Psychotherapist, Intuitive, Writer, and Public Speaker. She offers sessions in her office, by phone, and through home visits in Santa Rosa,CA
For a Complimentary Session, call: (707) 827-3615