Imposter Syndrome

What is Imposter Syndrome and How to Conquer It

Imposter Syndrome is a phenomenon in which people doubt their accomplishments and feel like they are a fraud, despite evidence to the contrary. People with imposter syndrome often feel that no matter what they do, they are not good enough and will be exposed as undeserving and unworthy.

Has a part of you ever felt like you didn’t earn your success? Or like you don’t deserve rewards or acknowledgment of your accomplishments? Do you worry you only got to where you are through luck and that you’ll soon be exposed to ridicule by your peers or coworkers? Have you gotten a raise or promotion only to feel you don’t deserve it, instead of feeling proud for all the work you did to earn it?

You’re not alone, in fact it’s estimated that 70% of people share these feelings as a result of imposter syndrome.

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What is Imposter Syndrome?

Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who observed that a large number of high-achieving women experienced these feelings of self-doubt, defined the term in 1978.

When someone has imposter syndrome they are convinced that they do not deserve their success and instead believe luck got them to were they are instead of their own effort and skill. They feel they are only pretending to be skilled or knowledgeable and dread being found out.

This syndrome can lead to feelings of anxiety, shame, and self-doubt. While Imposter Syndrome is more common in women, it can affect anyone.

Even the most accomplished people can feel this way. People with these feelings not only feel bad about their accomplishments, they feel like they can’t pursue opportunities and projects they’re interested in.

They won’t have the confidence to ask for a raise or promotion. They might stay at a crappy job or in a toxic relationship because another job or person will see them for the fraud they think they are and reject them.

Related: How to Stop Negative Thoughts and Self Talk

The Five Types of Imposter Syndrome

Expert Dr. Valerie Young explains in her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It that there are five types of impostor syndrome.

Perfectionists

Perfectionists set unreasonably high expectations and beat themselves up if they make even a tiny mistake. They feel like failures if they don’t get 100% on a test or fail to do a job perfectly. They may wait for the “perfect time” to start a project and never end up starting it at all. The slightest criticism can crush their self confidence.

Experts

Experts want to be, well, an expert in their field. If they are not certain they know the right answer they won’t speak up in class. They don’t apply to job postings unless they meet 100% of the listed requirements. They may procrastinate starting a project until they know everything about the subject.

Natural Genius

Natural geniuses may have had other skills come easily to them, like getting A’s in school, and then be stumped when they aren’t good at something new on the first try. They feel ashamed if it takes them a long time to finish a task or acquire a skill. If something doesn’t come naturally they feel like a fraud.

Soloists

Soloists like to do things independently. Asking for help feels like admitting defeat. They want to accomplish things on their own and if they can’t they feel like failures.

Superman/Superwoman

These people are the overachievers and workaholics. They have a lot of insecurities and work to cover them up by being the best. If they aren’t working they feel like they’re falling behind. External validation is very important to them.

Imposter Syndrome

Where does imposter syndrome come from?

There is no single cause of imposter syndrome; instead, it is likely the result of a combination of factors including childhood experiences, social conditioning, and self-criticism.

If your parents had very high standards you might have come to feel you could never really measure up. Entering a new and unfamiliar role or phase of life can also trigger it, like starting college or a new job.

It can also be neurological and linked to anxiety.

Some people may be more vulnerable to developing imposter syndrome than others, but there is no set formula for who will experience these feelings and to what degree. It is particularly common among millennials and those in high-pressure careers such as medicine, law, and academia.

How do you beat Imposter syndrome?

Get some perspective

Recognize your feelings for what they are. Feelings aren’t always fact, they don’t always reflect reality. Imposter syndrome comes from limiting beliefs about yourself, so assess your beliefs.

Ask yourself, do these beliefs that you aren’t really good enough to deserve your success help you? Write them down, then write down the things you’ve done to prove them wrong.

Don’t react to these beliefs or beat yourself up for them, simply observe them and confront them with reality and a healthy dose of compassion. Then you can begin to move on. Thank you, next!

Realize that most of your peers feel this way too. You are not alone in feeling like a fraud. If you talk to your friends about it you’ll find they feel the same way. The person you thought had it all together probably feels just as lost as you do.

A study by LinkedIn found that women apply to 20% less jobs than men because they feel they must meet all of the requirements, and are less likely to ask for a referral. Men however will apply to jobs for which they only meet 60% of the requirements.

So ladies, just this once channel mediocre men. If they can do it so can you. You are more than capable and you are NOT a fraud! You miss 100% percent of the shots you don’t take.

Learning to change your limiting beliefs can be difficult, this free worksheet can help get you started.

limiting beliefs free pdf printable

Create a game plan!

Come up with a strategy that you’ll use the next time you feel like a fraud.

Write down some positive affirmations that you’ll repeat to yourself the second you catch a negative thought. Here are some examples of how to change your imposter syndrome thoughts with empowering ones:

  • “I don’t deserve my success” → “I worked hard for this and I am worthy”
  • “I’m not talented enough to succeed” → “I can learn anything as long as I put in the time and effort”
  • “I didn’t do it perfectly” → “I did my best and can learn from the experience”
  • “I don’t know what I’m doing” → “I trust myself to do my best, I can learn what I don’t know”
  • “If I ask for help I’ll look stupid” → “Asking for help will make me learn this the right way”

Here are some more affirmations for self-confidence that you can use to shift out of an imposter syndrome mindset.

Make a deal with a friend or partner to call each other for a pep talk when needed.

Have a list of reasons why you’re awesome that you can read when you need to. Put it on your phone, write it in your journal, and/or tape it to your mirror. Read it often.

If you compare yourself to people on Facebook or Instagram, consider muting or unfollowing those people. Remember that people usually only show their best sides to the world, you aren’t seeing the full picture online.

Realize it takes time to change these beliefs. You didn’t develop them in a day, and they won’t vanish right away. Keep at it.

Read my posts about How to Stop Negative Thoughts and Self Talk and How to Change Your Limiting Beliefs for more ideas.


I hope this post has helped you. You are not a fraud, you deserve all your success, and you are amazing!

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6 Comments

  1. Wow, this is so me! I’m so glad I came across this post. I’m definitely a perfectionist and allow it to stop me from pursuing things that I don’t feel confident enough about knowing how to do perfectly. I love how you said that I didn’t become this way over night and to keep trying to change the behavior. Thanks!

  2. My impostor syndrome has played out during public speeches, job negotiations and when I received my first book deal — prompting me to ask, “But why would anyone pay money to read what I have to say?” My editor, a woman, didn’t miss a beat: “I often wonder the same about my editing!” she said.