Imposters Syndrome. What is it? Symptoms, causes and how to handle it.

Imposter Syndrome

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Do you feel like a fraud?

Imposter Syndrome is something that happens to a lot of us during the course of our lives, particularly in the work place. It can lead you to have thoughts at work such as:

‘I don’t have the right skills for this job’

‘They’re going to find out I can’t do the job and fire me’

‘I’m making too many mistakes because I’m a fraud’

Do you have thoughts similar to this? If you are then you’re likely experiencing something called Imposter Syndrome. They can be uncomfortable thoughts that plague you quite often. They bring along with them a whole sea of emotions, from anxiety to fear and dread.

All of these emotions of dread and self-doubt, whilst thinking of yourself as a fraud or not being able to do your job properly are all part of the Imposter Syndrome phenomenon. 

Unlike healthy nerves, or anticipation to do well, Imposter Syndrome can harm your mental well-being. It can lead you to have lasting anxiety, trauma and a belief that you do not deserve to progress in your career. A lot of people who experience Imposter Syndrome have said they haven’t taken the chance when it comes to levelling up their career or going for their dream promotion.

Let’s look into Imposter Syndrome further and see what the symptoms are, the types of Imposter Syndrome and how to manage it effectively.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent and qualifications.

Imposter Syndrome was first identified by two psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. In their paper, it was theorised that women were uniquely affected by Imposter Syndrome.

Since then, research has shown that both men and women suffer from imposter feelings. Clance later published a second paper to acknowledge the fact that it was not just limited to women, as well as creating an Imposter Syndrome test.

When experiencing Imposter Syndrome a person cannot internalise their successes. They are often left doubtful and not confident. They also struggle to experience the joy and happiness of their success as they are focused on their feelings of inadequacy and are ultimately waiting to be exposed as fraud.

Humility vs Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is a lot different to humility. Humility stems from an accurate assessment of your abilities, and where your flaws are or gaps in knowledge about a problem. Humility is a healthy emotion to have. It allows for an individual to spot where they need to sharpen their skills and act accordingly. With the world changing every hour of every day, being able to handle a problem that may be more complex than you first thought is a vitally healthy skill to have.

Imposter Syndrome on the other hand stems from a person’s low self-esteem and overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. Whereas humility is all about the assessment of the situation, Imposter Syndrome is focused on self-assessment, which makes them feel like they do not belong there at all.

Imposter Syndrome can also cause people to think that time is running out, and soon they will be found out for being a fraud. It’s as if they have been putting on an act, and they feel like they can’t do it much longer, leading to severe consequences.

Am I alone?

A lot of people suffer from Imposter Syndrome, so if you are having any of these feelings, be comforted to know that you’re not alone. Shame plays a big part in thinking you’re on your own, with many people being embarrassed to talk about how they are feeling. It’s a good idea to talk with your peers, you might be surprised how many people can relate to what you’re going through.

Causes of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is more common when trying something new, or feeling pressure to achieve.

In the first study back in 1978, Clance and Imes believed that the imposter mentality comes from a range of factors such as early family dynamics, gender stereotypes and culture.

Today, we see people of all ages, genders, social classes and cultures experience Imposter Syndrome. The list of causes is a growing one, but the top main factors are:

Family Dynamics & Early Childhood

It is well documented that a child’s early life dynamic and experiences have an impact on how they grow into adulthood. Family expectations and putting a high value on success and perfection can stay with children their whole lives, making them more prone to Imposter Syndrome as adults.

Cultural Expectation

As well as family expectations, culture plays a part in how we are raised. Each culture puts its values on things such as education, career, and success differently. Cultures that adopt an unhealthy perfectionist style of parenting can create self-conscious adults.

Personality Traits

Some of our personality traits are just who we are. Traits such as perfectionism or shyness all can cause us to develop Imposter Syndrome.


Comparison can encompass all the points above. Whether it’s comparing ourselves to our peers, or being compared to others by our family or community, feeling like we are not achieving things as quickly as our peers can lead to feeling down and anxious.


You might find yourself doubting yourself often, so are unsure whether these are healthy feelings or Imposter Syndrome. Here are some of the characteristics of it:

  • Undervaluing Yourself
  • Self-sabotage 
  • Continuous fear of not living up to expectations
  • Burnout
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Negative Self-talk
  • Self Doubt
  • Anxiety
  • Distrust in your intuition and capabilities

In the workplace, Imposter Syndrome symptoms can include:

  • Taking on extra work to make sure you’re ‘doing it all’
  • Shrugging off accolades
  • Not applying for jobs unless you meet the entire criteria.
  • Having irrational thoughts before a job interview, or not turning up at all.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

Dr Valerie Young, an expert on Imposter Syndrome and a co-founder of the Imposter Syndrome Institute released her research showing how Imposter Syndrome can be broken down into 5 basic types.

Over time people might see themselves being part of more than one, but generally, these are the core types:

The Perfectionist

This type of Imposter Syndrome involves thinking that anything less than perfect is bad. Unless what you did was perfect, you could always have done better. You will also believe that other people will start to think you are not capable of the job.

The Expert

Although having a thirst for knowledge is a good trait to have, ‘the expert’ feels like an imposter because they don’t know everything there is to know about a particular subject. Because they feel like there is more to learn, they don’t feel like they are knowledgeable in or have reached the title of ‘expert’

The Natural Genius

This stems from cultural and family upbringing. A child who has constantly been praised for achieving things the first time or without struggle can often develop Imposter Syndrome when faced with something that they are not naturally competent with. If something takes longer than usual to master, or you don’t get something right the first time around, the feeling of being a fraud can come to the surface.

The Soloist

If you have to ask for help to achieve a certain milestone, this can cause you to have these feelings of being an imposter. You believe that by asking for help, you don’t have the right abilities or level of knowledge.

The Superhero

This type of Imposter Syndrome is the belief that you should be the most hard-working and reach the highest achievements possible. Anything less than this and you feel like a fraud.

Examples of this in the workplace:

So now you know what Imposter Syndrome is and what the symptoms are, you might be wondering what that looks like in the workplace. Some examples of Imposter Syndrome are:

  • You have had a new job for the past couple of months, but because you have not mastered everything that was asked in the initial job description, you feel like a fraud. You don’t like to be referred to as your job title because you feel like you haven’t done enough.
  • You have been nominated for an award, but at the ceremony, you don’t feel like you should be recognised for your achievements. Some people fail to show up at the ceremony because they feel like they will be outed as a fraud.
  • You struggle to promote the business that you have started. You look at your competitors and peers and feel that you don’t have the same level of skills. This makes you feel like you’re not worthy of having customers and that ultimately people will realise how bad you are at your craft.

How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Dealing with your own mental wellbeing and emotions can be tricky. It requires you to put work into reframing your mindset and your thinking. If you want to stop feeling like an imposter, you must train your brain to stop thinking like one. Here are our top 5 tips on how to reframe your thinking to overcome Imposter Syndrome:

Talk about it.

It’s good to have a strong support network around you. This allows you to be open about the way you are feeling, without being judged. Opening your communication to your peers and family can make you feel more at ease with your feelings. It also allows for them to be open to you about their experience with Imposter Syndrome. It will be such a relief to know you’re not the only one.

Find out what’s to blame.

We are all human beings, we make mistakes. We must look at our mistakes and figure out which ones are our fault. For example, someone is constantly making mistakes at work. They started to document all the mistakes and found that it was a piece of software that was causing those mistakes. The person was far more competent than what they believed they were. If you feel like you’re making lots of mistakes, try documenting them to see if you can spot where the real problem lies.

Collect Positive Feedback

Start a Word Document or a folder in your emails to document all your achievements and positive feedback. When the negative thoughts of being an imposter start to take over, have a read of these documents. It’s proof that you are doing a fantastic job and are capable in the role you’re doing.

Rethink being scared.

Did you know that your body can’t tell the difference between being excited and being scared? Tell yourself you’re excited when you start to feel scared. Over time you will believe these thoughts and will feel a lot better when approaching a task.

Nobody is perfect.

There isn’t one person on the planet who is perfect, it’s physically impossible for human beings. Making mistakes is the best way to learn and grow. It’s so important to recognise the mistake, learn from it and do better next time. Instead of obsessing over your mistakes and spiralling into feelings of dread and anxiety, ask yourself ‘What can I learn from and how do I do better next time?’

Other tips on how to deal with it:

  • Celebrate your successes.
  • Have some self-compassion.
  • Share your failures to learn from them.
  • Accept things as they are.
  • Get a life coach or a mentor.

To overcome Imposter Syndrome, recognising your worth and capabilities is only one-half of it. Employers should also put the effort in. Leaders and management should spend time prioritising employees’ mental health and general well-being just as much as their work performance and skill set.

Employers must recognise where there are opportunities for investing in mental health and wellbeing, and spend time to plan an individual’s growth strategy so that they feel like an integral part of the team.

Remember to look at the positives. If you are having feelings of Imposter Syndrome, you must have had some success in your life that you are putting down to pure luck. Try to turn the feeling of being lucky into gratitude and be proud of the things that you have achieved so far.

If you feel like these emotions and feelings are getting too much to handle and are having a massive impact on your day-to-day life, you should speak to a mental health professional, who can help you overcome these feelings. Alternatively, you could get in touch with Samaritans.

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