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Imposter Syndrome: Why It Makes You Doubt Yourself

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Imposter Syndrome Why It Makes You Doubt Yourself

Do you ever get the feeling that you are not proud of yourself or everything that you have accomplished in your life? Do you often get the strong sense of being a fraud or that you have fooled everyone around you about your abilities? Or do positive things like awards, words of appreciation, appraisals, and promotions make you sad instead of happy because you then get anxious that someone will find out the truth about you and tell everyone that you are a fraud?

These apprehensive, out-of-the-ordinary, and disturbing feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, inadequacy, dread are not normal, however, they are also very common, more common than you think. All of these anxious thoughts and feelings are a part of a condition known as Imposter Syndrome which is generally associated with high achievers. So, if the constant feeling of being inadequate and a fraud accompanies you everywhere, never leaving your side, for once, then you might be more capable and successful than you think you are.

Let’s See What Imposter Syndrome Is All About And Why Do You Feel The Way You Do:

Imposter syndrome can be defined as a psychological pattern in which a person is not that confident and starts doubting his or her accomplishments, talents, or skills and has a constant internalized fear of getting exposed as someone who has been fooling everyone around them. Imposter syndrome is also sometimes known as imposter experience, fraud syndrome, imposter phenomenon, or imposterism. Even though there is more than enough external evidence of a person’s competence in the form of multiple successes and rewards, he/she is still convinced that he/she is a fraud, is fooling everyone, does not deserve all the achievements he/she has gathered for, and all the respect that he/she gets from people. People who suffer from imposter syndrome normally attribute their success to luck which is also known as the Matthew effect.

Imposter syndrome does not occur in professional lives only; it can also be seen in normal human-to-human interactions in the form of friendships and relationships. People who suffer from imposter syndrome have continuous doubts about other people and they create certain defense mechanisms because of it. As a result, they are unable to achieve healthy relationships throughout their lives. Even though early research proves that imposter syndrome is mainly present in successful and high achieving women, it can also be seen in both men and women now.

And that’s not it; imposter syndrome can also be seen in terms of mental illnesses and the ways to seek treatment for them. As a result, people who suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder trick themselves into believing that their problem is not as important as others and they do not have a mental disorder.

One surprising thing about imposter syndrome is that it has not been recognised in the DSM or ICD as a mental health problem. However, both systems of classification recognise a sense of failure and low self-esteem as very common symptoms of depression.

What Are The Characteristics Or Symptoms Of imposter Syndrome?

Now let’s move on to some of the most common and most important symptoms that can be seen in someone suffering from imposter syndrome:

1. Being Doubtful Of Oneself Or Feeling Inadequacy

Imposter syndrome causes an extreme lack of confidence in a person and, as a result, when they experience success or get rewarded with something they may find themselves thinking that they are not worthy, they do not deserve this, or that they have fooled everyone around them, and the truth is far from what it looks like.

And, yes, most people suffer from a lack of self-confidence during some phases in their lives. For example, when they are in college or when they are starting a new job, however, with people who suffer from imposter syndrome, this feeling of underconfidence is constant and very severe.

2. Showing The Tendencies Of A Perfectionist

The majority of people who suffer from imposter syndrome are perfectionists. Because of being perfectionists, they end up setting unreasonably high goals for themselves and feel guilty, disappointed, and ashamed of themselves when they fail to achieve those unrealistic goals. Their perfectionism causes them to never be satisfied with their successes, achievements, rewards, and promotions, and they end up focusing on their failures and mistakes only.

3. A Tendency To Avoid Responsibilities

On one hand, where there are people who suffer from imposter syndrome and show perfectionist tendencies, you will also find people who steer in the opposite way on the other hand.

These people have such a severe fear of failure that they start avoiding new responsibilities, new tasks, and new opportunities even if that means getting a promotion or appraisal. Victims of imposter syndrome who avoid responsibilities also find it difficult to answer questions or speak up in meetings without checking with someone else to see if they are right or wrong because they are scared of getting things wrong and this causes them to procrastinate. As a result, they avoid working on important tasks that they have to get done by hook or by crook just because they are scared of the poor feedback they might receive if they don’t do it properly.

This feeling is also known as avoidance which can be termed as the imposter twin of perfectionism as noted by a famous clinical psychologist Dr. Jessamy Hibberd in her book about imposter syndrome known as The Imposter Cure.

4. A Fear Of Discovery & Judgment

People with imposter syndrome also show a constant fear of getting discovered. Such people are not only haunted by the fear and dread of the fact that they are not good enough but also about the fact that their coworkers, colleagues, managers, and subordinates will find out that they are a double-dealing person, a cheater, and they haven’t achieved anything in their life.

This illogical fear may even lead them to illogical extremes and they might find themselves pushing their mind over the limit just so they can prevent getting exposed while at the same time they will keep refusing to accept the fact that their efforts are more than good and they’re successful because they have worked hard for it. This behavior can end up creating a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction and fear and it can damage a person’s self-esteem to no extent.

5. A Constant Denial Of One’s Own Success

People with imposter syndrome downplay their achievements more than often. They often find themselves in the middle of their self-inflicted negative self-talk that makes them feel as if they do not deserve the success they have achieved with their hard work. They tend to regard their successes as easy achievements even if they have spent days and months working on them and have put in so much effort. For example, when they are assigned a presentation on a difficult subject they ask themselves if anyone is even going to listen to them and who has given them the right to speak on such an important topic.

And even when they receive positive feedback and words of appreciation on a certain task they look for ways to dismiss it. For instance, if their presentation goes well and they get praised for the effort they have put in that certain project they think to themselves that they were just lucky and had a lot of help. They also think that if they were given that task once again they will not have that luck or the skills or the talent to achieve that same success again and will fail terribly.

Gender Differences In Imposter Syndrome

Many scientists have claimed after years of clinical experience that imposter syndrome occurs less in men as compared to women. However, with the advancement in research and experimental trials it has been found that imposter syndrome is equally present among both women and men. Women face imposter syndrome in terms of their performance in their professional and personal lives. Men, however, feel imposter syndrome in terms of not being good enough or being unsuccessful at something.

What Are The Causes Of Imposter Syndrome?

1. School Or Work Opportunities

When someone is presented with a new role, it can trigger their imposter syndrome. It has been noted that imposter syndrome is more common in people especially when they are trying out new things and are going through transitions.

As a consequence, all that pressure and their lack of experience in that field can trigger feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt in those people when they are present in their new roles and settings.

2. Family Upbringing And Dynamics

Family dynamics and the upbringing of someone can play a significant role in them having imposter syndrome. Parenting styles that involve the parents being overprotective or over-controlling can contribute to the development of imposter syndrome in their kids at a very early age.

It has been seen that people who come from families where there is a high level of conflict and how their parents behave towards them can contribute to them developing imposter syndrome.

3. Social Anxiety

Social anxiety can cause people to think that when they are in conversation with someone the other person is going to discover their social incompetence and these feelings can escalate into thinking that they do not belong there

Even though the symptoms of social anxiety can add fire to the fuel and aggravate someone’s symptoms of imposter syndrome, it does not mean that every person who suffers from imposter syndrome also suffers from social anxiety and the same goes for people who suffer from social anxiety.

What Are The Types Of Personalities In Imposter Syndrome?

1. The Perfectionist

People who suffer from perfectionism in imposter syndrome are never satisfied with their performance and they always feel that they could have done better and could have executed a project in a much better way. Instead of focusing on their strengths and enjoying their achievements they stay fixated on their flaws and keep thinking about their mistakes over and over again. This often leads to a great deal of anxiety and a lot of self-pressure that can affect their performance at the end of the day.

2. The Superhero

People who have the superhero complex in imposter syndrome always feel inadequate and, as a result, they keep pushing themselves to work as hard as they can. This often results in them overworking their mind and their body and the consequences are not very nice.

3. The Soloist

Soloists in imposter syndrome tend to be very individualistic and they like to work on their own instead of working in teams. Their concept of self-worth is often driven by their productivity which is why they reject any offer of help or assistance from their teammates. Soloists believe that saying that need help from someone will show the other person that they are weak or incompetent for the job.

4. The Natural Genius

The natural genius in imposter syndrome is an individual who has set excessively lofty goals for himself or herself. These people set themselves up for disappointment when they set unrealistic goals for themselves. As a result, they feel crushing disappointment when they do not succeed on their first try and have to try again.

5. The Expert

The experts in imposter syndrome are always on the verge of learning something new and they are never satisfied with their level of understanding. As a result, they keep striving to learn more and more but they never achieve the satisfaction that they want to. And even though they are often highly skilled at their jobs they underestimate their own expertise and skills.

How Can Imposter Syndrome Manifest Itself At School, At Work, At Home, And In Relationships?

1. At School

Students who suffer from imposter syndrome might hesitate or avoid speaking up in class, taking part in discussions, or answering questions because they are scared that their classmates or their teachers might think they know nothing and are clueless about the topic.

2. At Work

People who suffer from imposter syndrome and work in professional workplaces often associate their success with sheer luck instead of priding themselves on their own abilities and their work ethic. This more than often holds them back from asking for appraisals or applying for promotions that they deserve all too well. Surprisingly, these extremely competent people also think that they have to overwork themselves and do overtime in order to achieve the highest standard they have set for themselves.

3. At Home

Parents often suffer from imposter syndrome because they often feel like they are incapable, clueless, and totally unprepared when it comes to raising a human being. If these feelings, that most new parents struggle with, go unchecked it can interfere with the way they bring their child up and might end up messing with their child’s life.

4. In Relationships

Imposter syndrome can destroy relationships by affecting them adversely. People with imposter syndrome often think that they do not deserve the affection of their significant other and are always scared that their partner is going to discover that they are not that great to be around and might leave them. As a consequence, because of their self-inflicted fear, they end up sabotaging their relationship and end it before the other person can even think of ending it.

These feelings of self-doubt that stem from imposter syndrome can cause a lot of stress, anxiety, and fear in people. Because of this, they end up sabotaging their relationships, their friendships, their equation with their colleagues, and their performance at school. Imposter syndrome has also been connected with several other problems such as reduction in job satisfaction along with a decline in job performance while increasing burnout which then leads to depression and anxiety.

How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome?

The very first step which is to recognise that you have imposter syndrome is the most important and the hardest part of overcoming it. Many people have this misconception that if they try to implement self-importance in their lives and act boastfully, they will be able to overcome their imposter syndrome but unfortunately, that is not the case.

Here are some tried and tested six strategies to help you overcome your imposter syndrome:

1. Acknowledge That You Have Imposter Syndrome

The very first step to solve every problem is to acknowledge that you have that problem and why it is occurring.

The best way to acknowledge that you are feeling the symptoms of imposter syndrome is by keeping a journal and noting down everything that you feel. So, for instance, whenever you experience feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, or guilt, note those feelings down and be specific about the triggers or the stimuli that are making you feel that certain way. The reason why this works is that when you see your thoughts written out on paper you are able to see how harmful they actually are and how you need to challenge them.

And keep in mind that even though feelings are important they are still merely feelings at the end of the day and they do not necessarily depict reality. So, even if you are feeling unqualified or inadequate or like a fraud does not mean you actually are.

For instance, you can write in your journal that you gave a presentation to a group of people or you conducted a project with your teammates and although you won the first prize and everyone was very impressed with you, you, however, did not feel happy. Once you write down what you feel and what made you feel that way, what was a trigger, and how you can challenge it; you can start working on it.

One way to deal with your feelings is by using cognitive restructuring which helps you counter automatic negative thoughts by writing positive statements that neutralize that negative effect of the thoughts you have. So, for the above example, you can write that you are a capable, confident, and competent professional and you are successful because you know what you are doing and you have the skills to be successful.

2. Talk To People Around You Like Friends And Family

One amazing technique to handle your emotions and come up with a way to challenge them is by reaching out and talking to people you absolutely trust such as your best friends, your family, and even colleagues.

You might be surprised to know how many people around you feel the same way you do and can relate to how you feel and what you’re going through. Listen to them and share with them how your fears are unfounded and what triggers them and let them help you come up with a way to challenge them and solve them.

3. Come Up With A Quick Response Plan

Imposter syndrome is not that easy to get rid of. As a matter of fact, it can take you a long time to keep it under control, so it is better to come up with a quick response plan that helps you deal with particularly stressful moments.

For example, if you are in the middle of a presentation and your negative thoughts try to take over your mind, you are going to need a quick response plan. For example, you can confirm those negative talks by separating yourself from the emotional power of that negative voice.

One great way to go about this is by thinking of yourself in the third person and asking yourself why did they do that instead of going why did I do that. Thinking in third-person perspective helps you get a more objective perspective of the situation and why you are feeling thoughts that you are feeling and what is triggering them.

You can also try countering those feelings by taking on more risks. So, you can prove yourself wrong by doing more challenges and countering the negative self-talk that you are not good enough. This may seem counterintuitive at first but when you take calculated risks and succeed in those challenges you basically shut down the critic inside you.

4. Get A Clear Understanding Of Your Weaknesses And Your Strengths

Self-awareness plays a very important role in building up someone’s confidence. The same is the case with imposter syndrome. As you become more self-aware, you get to know more about your weaknesses and your strengths and, as a result, your confidence starts to build up. Do a self-analysis and write down all the things that you are best at and all the things that you are not that good at and try working on the latter.

Once you get a clear understanding of your weaknesses and your strengths you will not have to spend so much time stressing about the fact that you are not qualified for a task or you are incompetent or you do not deserve your success. Your friends are going to play a very important role in this step as well because you are going to need a support network who is going to motivate you and help you gain trust in yourself and your abilities, so you can fight the negative critic inside you.

5. Overcome Your Perfectionism

Your body, mind, and soul need a break once in a while. Being a perfectionist, you deprive them of the breaks that they need and the best way to overcome perfectionism is by taking regular breaks, focusing on the bigger picture, and using relaxation techniques to keep your mind at peace.

Teach yourself how to set realistic, achievable, and challenging goals instead of setting unrealistically-high goals that you are not able to achieve. However, at the same time teach yourself that mistakes are a part of life and if you make a mistake, it does not mean you are not competent or you are a fraud.

Try to change your course of thinking by teaching yourself that when you make mistakes it also demonstrates your ability to take risks and push yourself to try new things. As a result, you will not see your mistakes as something to be ashamed of, instead, you’ll start treating them as learning experiences that will help you perform even better. This will help you overcome your imposter syndrome over the long run.

6. Take Ownership Of Your Wins And Your Successes

People with imposter syndrome find it really difficult to accept rewards, praise, promotions, or appraisals as mentioned above because they think they are not deserving of the things they have achieved in their life. People that have imposter syndrome like to attribute their success to external factors such as their luck or help from others whenever something goes well.

However, when things go wrong they put all the blame on themselves and say that it was because of their own mistake that they lost.

In order to overcome imposter syndrome, you are going to need a strong internal locus of control. A strong locus of control is going to help you believe that your life is driven by your own actions, decisions, and choices. As a result, you will start taking responsibility for your achievements as well as your shortcomings, instead of giving the credit for the former to external help and taking the blame for the latter. So, the next time you give an awesome presentation to the board and they praise you for your effort, give yourself a pat on the back and acknowledge that it was your talent and your skills that made you succeed.

7. Do Not Forget To Celebrate Your Successes

Try keeping a record of the positive feedback that you received from your boss for your recent presentation in your journal as well. Every time your inner critic starts the negative self-talk, go back to those phrases and good remarks and think about the time when you succeeded because of your skills.

This will help you counter the negative inner voice in your head and give you a much-needed boost of confidence to go on with your day with positivity.


Keep in mind that imposter syndrome is nothing but a self-fulfilling pattern of thoughts in which a human considers himself to be a fraud, an incompetent person, and someone who does not deserve the success he or she has attained in his or her life. However, it is not impossible to overcome it.

Best of luck.

Overcome your imposter syndrome and counter the negative critic inside you! One of the best ways to defeat your inner critic is by taking the help of a professional. One good example is someone who is proficient in Psychology. Even a Psychology tutor can guide you about the techniques you can use to defeat imposter syndrome.

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Austin has 10+ years of experience in teaching. He has researched on thousands of students-related topics, issues, and concerns. You will often find him writing about the common concerns of students, their nutrition, and what is beneficial for their academics and health both.