Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? More specifically, have you ever wondered if you were included, accepted, or invited, by mistake? Have you worried that the school admitted you by accident, or your boss overestimated your abilities, or that your church thinks you’re a better Christian than you actually are?

One of my earliest memories of this particular fear was during my freshman year of college. It was the first week of school, and I sat in an auditorium with my classmates, while the university president described the amazing accomplishments of our incoming class. There were team captains, class presidents, community organizers, valedictorians, and even a girl who swam the English Channel. Yes, The English Channel.

I, on the other hand, hadn’t done any of that stuff. I will never forget turning to the student next to me and whispering, “Uh, WHAT?” and then silently panicking, “How did I get into this school?”

This anxiety—that you don’t belong, that you’re not good enough, that somehow you tricked the admissions office, your employer, or your spouse, into choosing you, and that sooner or later they’re going to figure it out. This fear has a name. It’s called The Imposter Syndrome. And it’s very common.

It’s also very powerful.

Imposter syndrome is the reason we quit early, before we have the chance to disappoint. Imposter syndrome is the reason we never step fully into our call, because we feel like a fraud. And imposter syndrome is what keeps us from being vulnerable to others, because we’re too afraid of being found out.

Imposter syndrome is the silent killer of one’s calling. It hides in the shadows of our insecurities, shaming us with lies about our inadequacy. Most of us struggle with it at one time or another, totally unaware that the classmate right next to us, the co-worker, pastor, mother, or wife—might feel exactly the same way we do.  

Imposter syndrome is not based on truth, which is one of the reasons we should resist it; but that’s not the only reason. In Luke 5, Jesus reveals his identity to Peter by filling his nets with fish. Peter had toiled all night long with nothing to show for it, until suddenly his nets were bursting.

When Peter witnessed this miracle, his eyes were opened. He fell on his knees and plead, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” (v. 8)

In that moment, Peter felt exposed, ashamed and unworthy. He knew the many, many ways he fell short, and his response was to hide.

But here’s what’s interesting. Jesus doesn’t respond with encouragement. There’s no, “Oh honey, you are perfect just the way you are!” or “You don’t have to feel ashamed around me! I’m Jesus!”

No, Jesus doesn’t coddle Peter. In fact, he hardly acknowledges Peter’s fears at all before shifting the focus entirely. Instead Jesus replies,

“’Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!’ And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.” (v. 10-11)

These words cut to the heart of imposter syndrome and its fallout. The core problem isn’t that you feel bad about yourself. The core problem is this:

Imposter syndrome is a distraction from action.

Imposter syndrome stalls and disables you. Fear and inadequacy are like weights around your ankles that prevent you from running full speed. Imposter syndrome does this by keeping your eyes fixed on your inadequacy. As long as you’re preoccupied with your inability, rather than God’s ability, you will live a life of fearful restraint and small goals. You will never plunge deep into the waters of faith.

In other words, imposter syndrome stands between you and following God’s call. It convinces you that you’re not good enough, or able enough, to which Luke 5 reminds us, “It was never about you in the first place.”

How, then, do we disarm the power of Imposter Syndrome? I think 2 Corinthians 10:5 has one answer:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

When imposter syndrome takes hold of you, you take hold of it. Make it obedient to Christ, who died on the cross to justify your belonging. By the blood of Christ, you belong—you belong in the church, you belong in your calling, and you belong anywhere else on this planet that God wants you to be. So don’t look at the people around you, don’t look at your shortcomings, and don’t even look at yourself. Just look at Jesus, and move.   

Sharon Hodde Miller

Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, and mom of two boys. She recently completed her Ph.D, which focused on cultivating the gifts of women in the church. Sharon is a regular contributor to Her.meneutics and connect with her Twitter.

Join the discussion

Amy March 11, 2016 at 12:41am

SO so good! Thank you for sharing!

Karsta March 6, 2016 at 4:28am

Thank you God :)

Marisel March 1, 2016 at 8:44am

Excellent and on point! Thank you. Imposter syndrome is disproportionately an experience of professional women and women of color since they are often blazing a new trail and have faced additional societal barriers that diminish their identity and self-esteem. That is why our identity in Christ must trump all in our public and private spheres. Addressing these topics that often occur in the marketplace demonstrate the relevance and power of God's word to people who may not readily here its practical application. I am glad to see this addressed here as I have addressed it in my book Lean Into Grace: Power Up for a Fierce & Fearless Life. Again, thank you.

Christine February 29, 2016 at 12:43pm

Read this article 2 separate times. Thank you for speaking honestly and candidly. I agree, especially when you wrote, 'As long as you’re preoccupied with your inability, rather than God’s ability, you will live a life of fearful restraint and small goals. You will never plunge deep into the waters of faith.'

This was actually something brought up at my Bible study on Thursday. If we're distracted, not focused, and not tuned in to what God is saying or where he's leading us, we can miss a whole lot of opportunities... opportunities not only to grow deeper in our faith, but in his Word, and in being blessings to other people.

Also - fear, worry, and anxiety all have a way of making us hesitate, to doubt taking risks or leaps of faith, I know I've felt unsure about certain decisions that I've taken in the past. I believe firmly God just wants our hearts, our attention and for us to trust him 100% in all areas of our lives! He knows what we need, and has plans waiting for us, greater than anything we could ever dream or imagine!!

Abigail February 29, 2016 at 2:42am

Praise God for this revelation! A powerful reminder that you can do all things in Christ. Know who you are and who is in you. The enemy is a liar.

Lienna February 28, 2016 at 12:07pm

I was struggling with this syndrome so bad and didn't even realized it. Thank you so much! Much needed help and encouragement.

Dinna February 28, 2016 at 8:40am

WOW. I have always felt like I don't belong. Thank you!

Beth Andrews February 28, 2016 at 5:26am

Are you sure you don't live in my head? I can't express how completely this resonates with me - LOUD, ringing bells! I have always, always felt like I don't belong no matter where I am. With family (especially my in-laws), in church, in my small groups, at my job, in the grocery store - it never stops. It's crazy because I am 1. a seminary student thinking "thank God I do this online so they can't see through me; 2. a Bible teacher standing before classes for 15 years thinking, "if you only knew the 'real me' you would run out this room" and 3. A Bible Study and devotional writer hoping for an opportunity, but doubting that I have anything of value to say. Oh yeah, I feel like an imposter, even before God. In the deepest part of my heart I think "God only tolerates me, He really couldn't accept, much less welcome a loser like me. " What do I do with this? I'm pressing on with seminary and with teaching wherever God allows, and I'll keep writing for the handful of folks who read my words. I figure, if I keep going, maybe, one day I'll have enough knowledge and experience under my belt that I will feel the part. And I'll trust more in His mercy and grace and less in my abilities. Thank you for this message and for speaking right into my heart.

Joan February 28, 2016 at 5:05am

Thank you so much. I was dealing with this for a week allready. Such an eye opener. Thank you.

Beth February 28, 2016 at 3:24am

Just this week I shared with someone that I felt like I was not good enough and not whole "enough" to continue using my gifts. I actually said I felt like an impostor and questioned that I had anything of worth to contribute. Needless to say, reading this provided a much needed antidote to the lie. This truth is the light that dispels the darkness. Thank you and thank God for setting us free from such bondage to the deceptions of the evil one.

Debbie Groder February 28, 2016 at 3:00am

Wow, just wow! Thank you so much for this! I have been so paralized these last few weeks by this Imposter Syndrome. Feeling so inadaquate, incapable, and wondering what in the world God sees in me to choose to place where I am. But, as this article states, it isn't about me (and that is ok), but about obedience. I can do this through Christ who strengthens me! Thanks again, and blessings to you!

Gretchen February 28, 2016 at 1:46am

Thank you!

Audrey walker February 28, 2016 at 1:21am

Thanks for writing this,
( on the other her hand) my boss told me one one day not to speak in a meeting,because I was always giving my good ideas to other... Love when I see propel women in my mail box.

Ianna February 28, 2016 at 1:04am

Oh wow! Thank you so much. This was definitely timely and an answer to prayer. It was as if God was speaking directly to me. Now it's time to get on with what God called me to do...confidently.

Sharon Miller February 26, 2016 at 8:13am

Thanks for sharing these comments, y'all! You are each AWESOME and I'm so glad it encouraged you!!!

Jan Smythe February 26, 2016 at 7:44am

"BRAVO!" As Mrs. Crawford says from Downton Abbey. It's a message that needs to be shouted over and over! If only I had heard it when I was 30, 40, or even 50! But alas, I'm 61 yrs and I'm just now able to stand with the crowd of popular kids and know without a doubt that I'm good enough because Christ says so! It's freedom to be me and use my gifts without excuses. Keep it comin! Jan in Texas

Sharon February 25, 2016 at 1:49pm

Great read.

Reymi Rios February 25, 2016 at 10:02am

Wow!!! I Needed this!

Diane February 25, 2016 at 2:58am

This is an incredible read for me ! You have spoken Gods message for me today ! Your article edified me and has given me so much to ponder on today during my tug of war of inadequate feelings! Bless your beautiful soul, dear friend.
Thank you !

Ashley Ellingburg February 25, 2016 at 2:31am

I feel like this article was written for me. I am on a personal journey right now. God is dealing with some things in my heart and it has not been easy. I've been confronted with bitterness, anger from my past, fear of being hurt, rejection, feelings of inadequacy (which was addressed in this post).... All these things have been locked away in a little dark room in my heart because they have been too painful to deal with. Now, God is doing some house keeping so that I can step into that next level with him. Never have I ever felt so vulnerable and uncomfortable but I know this process is necessary. Through this post he has revealed to me that this "imposter syndrome" is something that I suffer from and it must also be addressed. I'm ready to let it go and let him work me through it. It has held me prisoner almost my whole life and I'm ready to live a life of freedom in Christ Jesus. Thank you for being obedient to the Spirit.

Kim Hannie February 24, 2016 at 3:49pm

Wow, what a powerful article. I could so relate to this article, never quite feeling good enough. I am learning that the only way to fight this syndrome is to fight back with the word of God.