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8th April, 20215 min read

What is imposter syndrome and how can you overcome it?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 07/04/2021
Medically reviewed

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Do you ever think you’re not good enough for your job? That your achievements have come about because of luck and not merit? Do you sometimes feel you’re just not worthy of the good things that happen to you?

If you’ve just answered yes to any of these questions, you may have imposter syndrome.

Read on to learn what imposter syndrome is, why it happens and how you can overcome it.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is when you feel overwhelming self-doubt, are insecure about your ability and feel you don’t deserve the things you’ve achieved. Simply put, you feel like a fraud who’s about to be found out.

Most of the time, imposter syndrome happens in relation to work or your professional life. It can affect anybody no matter their background – even the most famous, talented and successful people.

Although it’s not recognised as a mental disorder, imposter syndrome is very common. It’s thought that around 70% of people will go through it at least once in their life.

There are a number of ideas around what causes imposter syndrome, including family dynamics, cultural expectations, individual personality traits and comparison.

What are the signs of imposter syndrome?

If you have imposter syndrome you may feel you don’t deserve the promotion you’ve just been given, you were only offered your new job through luck, or you may think you were given a pay rise by mistake, for example.

Here are some of the signs you have imposter syndrome:

  • always doubting yourself
  • not being able to see your true ability and skill
  • not believing your success was due to your own hard work
  • feeling you haven’t achieved enough
  • worrying you won't live up to expectations
  • overachieving
  • self-sabotaging
  • setting unrealistic goals and feeling bad when you fall short
  • thinking it’s luck, not talent, that got you to where you are
  • feeling anxious or depressed
  • not believing positive feedback
  • over-preparing
  • not trying because you’re scared to fail
  • not trusting other people

Types of imposter syndrome

It’s believed that there are 5 types of ‘imposter’:

The expert: This person is never happy with what they know about something. They’re always looking for more information and trying to learn more.

The perfectionist: A person with this type of imposter syndrome has high levels of anxiety and doubt. They focus on what they’ve done wrong rather than on what they’ve done right.

The soloist: This person prefers to work alone and doesn’t like to ask for or accept help. They worry they won’t seem good enough and will always try to prove themselves.

The natural genius: A natural genius type is very good at learning new things. But they feel shame and embarrassment when they find something too hard or can’t do something.

The superhero: These people don’t feel good enough so they push themselves to do more and work harder all the time. They juggle many responsibilities at once.

How to overcome imposter syndrome

There’s no formal treatment for imposter syndrome, but there are some things you can do to help manage feelings of self-doubt:

Talk about it

Like with most things, it always helps to talk about it. Sit down with a friend, family member or trusted colleague to explain to them how you’re feeling. They may be able to help you see things in a different way, so you feel more positive about how you’re doing.

Think about your abilities and expertise

When you think something like, “I’m not skilled enough to be in this job”, remember times when you succeeded and tell yourself you are good enough. Try keeping a journal with notes on positive feedback you receive and read these back to yourself whenever you start to doubt your ability.

Remember that no one is perfect

Although you may feel like the only one who fails, know that you’re not alone. Learning to accept that things sometimes go wrong will help increase your resilience and improve your self-esteem and self-worth.

Challenge negative thoughts

When negative thoughts pop into your head, ask yourself if they’re really true. For example, when you start a new job you may think, “Everyone will work out that I don’t know what I’m doing”. Respond to this by thinking, “We all have to start somewhere and I’m learning every day.”

Reach out to someone who can help

If you feel you can’t manage your feelings of imposter syndrome alone, reach out to your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to help you find ways of coping and may suggest other ways to overcome self-doubt.

Key points

  • imposter syndrome is when you feel overwhelming self-doubt
  • it can affect anyone, even the most famous, talented and successful people
  • there are typically 5 types of imposter syndrome
  • it is possible to overcome imposter syndrome
  • talk to a healthcare professional if you feel imposter syndrome is negatively affecting your life
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