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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Do You Have the "I am a Fraud" Syndrome?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 15th 2009

Joe was a successful business guy climbing up the corporate ladder and receiving accolades from his colleagues for all the good work he has done. On the outside, Joe was seen as the golden boy. However, on the inside, Joe had this sinking feeling that he didn't deserve the accolades and was fooling everyone around him. There was a voice inside Joe's head that told him he was unworthy and this façade could come crashing down anytime as soon as they all discover it. Sound familiar?

Joe suffers from the "I am a fraud" syndrome. This one hasn't made it into the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) yet, but it's real and widespread.

What is it about so many of us that allows for the feeling of unworthiness and shame?

In her Audio book Radical Self-acceptance, Tara Brach says many of us are in a trance of unworthiness

Let's consider for a moment that all of us are made up of multiple personalities or personas. One way to understand this is to see how your personality changes when at work versus at home with your partner versus with your parents and/or other family.

These personalities are all sitting around a round table in your head. We'll call them "the committee."

There is one wounded person in the committee that is a part of you, who stands for the feelings of shame. The other's in the committee see this one as a "weak link" and try as best they can to suppress the feeling and judge it to get it away. The only problem is that there are no doors to the committee room and so they're all stuck in there together. The more they suppress and judge, the worse the shame gets and they all are exposed to it.

We might hold the logic that if we are to be a healthy whole person; everyone in the committee needs to feel accepted. They all want to feel understood and loved, including the one that feels shame and the one's that fear the shame.

So, when you notice the "I am a fraud" syndrome arising, it might be a good idea to shift your perspective for a moment and notice that there is a part of you that is feeling vulnerable.

Can you identify that part of you in the committee? What does that part of you need?

Often times it needs to be understood and cared for. Paying attention to it, without judgment, or with mindfulness is a good first step.

In other words, we're shifting our relationship to it, from seeing it as a threat, to a part of ourselves that needs healing.

This is something to continue to practice over and over again and will lead to greater calm, ease and a sense of harmony within you.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interactions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

LISTEN - Paul - Oct 18th 2013

I really don't think we are doing anyone any good by constantly labelling and then justifying the existance of so many states of mind. They are all just feelings. You are leading the impressionable people (of which there are many) into thinking that their shortcomings are all illnesses or "conditions" and by doing this we are basically telling them "hey, you can't help it. your brain is just wired up wrong - have some counselling or meds." It is getting ridiculous. It will stop people trying to improve themselves in areas where they are lacking skills.

The next "condition" will be an anxious state of miund where the sufferer is scared of all of the different illnesses being found/created by doctors and physicians all too eager to make their mark on Human Science by having their name next to an "illness" in giant volume of fear mongering bullshit.

Good Day

Good explanation - Alison - Jun 26th 2013

I am struggling with this in relation to personal relationships and it is triggering obsessive compulsive rituals such as having to touch the doorknob 10 times to dispell/distract unwanted thoughts. I destroy myself with the fraud theory every 20 minutes. "Romantic interest" which i have avoided most of my life, has stirred this up at present...:(   good advice here, will try to take an active roll in changing my thinking

Right! - Deepa - Jul 9th 2012

I have got exactly this feeling. I feel this feeling traces back to our childhood. Being a child i had been misjudged by my father of my doings several times and he gave severe punishments for it. This made my self esteem so low and made me feel i am not worthy of anything. 

Interesting - Symora - Dec 24th 2009

I liked the visual representation of the committee - and shame doen't say much but in a few words can make the others feel really bad!  Shame has a lot of rules, almost more than is possible to live up to.... 

Great topic - kariane - Dec 18th 2009

Nice advice. Shame should not be confused with guilt. Guilt is a healthy response to an inappropriate behavior or lack of behavior. Shame is guilt's counter-productive counterpart. Shame leads to feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem. Very important to deal with. Great article.

Interesting - Cool - Dec 17th 2009


Link should be fixed shortly - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Dec 16th 2009

Hi there, 

The link should be fixed shortly, please try it again soon,

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Online Behavioral Change Program Link - - Dec 16th 2009

doesn't work, but I noticed it's in beta, so maybe it's just not ready yet?

I like your post.

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