Replacing the lies of imposter syndrome with God’s truth

By Pauline Doerksen

One of the things that makes us uniquely human is the ability to think and reason in our mind. We can process things that are going on with imaginative pictures and possibilities. How many times have you caught yourself staring off into space as you soak in the wonderful indulgence of daydreaming? We longingly think about something that we are looking forward to or we replay a delightful conversation. There is hope-filled anticipation of what is to come and there is joy in remembering what once was.

Being created with this ability reflects the magnificent design that God spoke into being. In its purest form, it has the profound ability to connect us with our Creator and move us to respond with love towards him and the rest of his creation. It cultivates peace and contentment.

Conversely, this same ability is the arena in which we fight debilitating battles. Scripture speaks very boldly about the importance of protecting this part of our being, and to do so with tenacity!

  • “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me – everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)
  • “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm . . . Put on salvation as your helmet.” (Ephesians 6:13,17, emphasis added)

Our minds, just like the rest of our bodies, are susceptible to numerous illnesses and malfunctions. We have come a long way in identifying and developing helpful care when our minds are not well. And we continue to learn and develop ways to do what we can to try to maintain health in this area. This can range from developing personal techniques, greater understanding and self-awareness, to seeking professional medical help when it is necessary.

Understanding imposter syndrome

Recently I attended a conference that highlighted various workshops showcasing mental and emotional health from a Christian perspective. During one of those afternoons, I found myself taking in a workshop on imposter syndrome. I had heard the term before, but I had never explored what it involved. I had my own preconceived ideas of what it might be about; however, I was caught off guard by the correct explanation of it. As I sat there listening, I thought, Wait a minute, this sounds way too familiar!

  • Do you ever feel like you are a fraud at your job? In your relationships? In your faith?
  • Do you ever think that you are not good enough at what you do? At who you are?
  • Do you ever worry that if others really knew you, they wouldn’t think you are good enough? Faithful enough?
  • Do you find it difficult to accept compliments because you think you don’t deserve them?
  • Do you think that any good that you do or any success that you have is a fluke or just good luck?

These kind of thoughts and feelings are signs of imposter syndrome.

One writer defines imposter syndrome this way, “Impostor syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary”1.

I also heard a therapist once say, “When you feel that none of your success is actually earned but that it’s all a fraud and they will eventually be found out.”

John Piper had an anonymous young woman phone in to a live Q&A show who stated her struggle with imposter syndrome in her professional life and was looking for help and for healing. He had an interesting comparison to help understand the damage that this syndrome can cause. He stated:

“I would call the imposter syndrome a kind of professional anorexia. In other words, what anorexia is to the body, imposter syndrome is to your competence. With anorexia, a ninety-pound, eighty-pound, 25-year-old woman (it might be a man, but it’s almost always women) stands in front of a mirror and sees an overweight woman. With the imposter syndrome, a competent, successful, responsible, helpful person stands in front of the mirror and sees an incompetent, irresponsible, unhelpful, fraudulent employee. The challenge in both cases is to overcome the illusions and live in reality with Jesus Christ at the center.”

Knowing you are not alone

Going back to sitting in that workshop, feeling caught off guard with how familiar this all felt, I could feel the tension rising. How could I continue to sit through this without allowing anyone around me know that this was my struggle? That’s right – my struggle/syndrome was confirmed! What I learned next was both shocking and liberating. According to the American Psychological Association, nearly 70 per cent of U.S. adults may experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime and 25 per cent of those same adults struggle with this syndrome on a regular basis. These are American statistics, but I would expect that Canadians are not that far off. This is way more common than I expected. If I convert those stats to my own province of Manitoba with a population of 1.4 million people, that leaves me with approximately 25,000 fellow Manitobans who struggle with these same kind of thoughts.

I am definitely not alone in battling these thoughts and if you are reading this and finding these things to a little too familiar, you are not alone either. Now that we have that settled, let’s see how we can move forward with some freedom from these things.

How to move forward

The more I read and learn about this, I have brought it down to my own “Coles Notes” version:

  1. STOP
  2. ACKNOWLEDGE what you are thinking and feeling
  3. Replace it with TRUTH

It sounds so simple and so elementary, doesn’t it? Please do not hear that it’s no big deal or that it’s an easy fix. Those thoughts and feelings can come on strong, can be relentless and can feel overwhelmingly debilitating at times. I would also expect that for some, it may require the help of a trained professional to gain any victory.

At the same time, I cannot ignore the realization that once again our scientific understanding is catching up with what Scripture has been teaching us all along.

What we can learn from Scripture

Let’s look at Philippians 4:8-9 again and let it settle in with our own modern-day language:

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (as paraphrased in The Message)

“His most excellent harmonies” – I love that! We all have a part, we all have strengths, we don’t need to be perfect to belong. We belong because Jesus says we do. And he says he will equip us to do what he has called us to.

The facilitator at this workshop challenged us with some very practical things that we can do to fill our thoughts with what Philippians tells us to:

  • Create a “Me List” – this is like a brag book! Write down what you do well.
  • Practise positive self-talk.
  • Own your accomplishments.
  • Accept that it’s okay to make mistakes!
  • We want to get to the point of looking in the mirror and saying, “I see someone I love!”

These things are not to give us space to boast and become prideful of what we have done. We are celebrating and claiming what Jesus has done in us. Ephesians 1:4-5 tells us that we are loved, chosen, holy, set apart, adopted and united with Christ! Those are our Heavenly Father’s words, not mine.

If you would like one of our therapists to help you dig deeper into exploring more about imposter syndrome, please reach out to our Clergy Care Network at 1.888.525.3749 or learn more at ClergyCare.ca.


1 Ellen Hendriksen, “What is impostor syndrome?Scientific American, May 27, 2015.


Pauline Doerksen and her husband, Sam, are the program directors at our Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

© 2023 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.