Imposter Syndrome



  1. What is imposter syndrome? 
  2. Is imposter syndrome a mental disorder? 
  3. Are women more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome than men? 
  4. How common is imposter syndrome?  
  5. What are the different types of imposter syndrome?  
  6. What are the symptoms of imposter syndrome?  
  7. What are the risk factors?  
  8. Is it possible to diagnose imposter syndrome, if so, how?  
  9. How is it treated?  
  10. How can you overcome imposter syndrome?  


What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is an internal experience commonly experienced by people who are often well accomplished and feel undeserving of their success. It is the conflict between your self-perceptions and how you anticipate others perceive you. It is the inability to recognise your own achievements, crediting them to good timing, luck, or other external factors. Pressure and personal expectations can become crippling as the person fears that others will discover they are undeserving or unworthy of the opportunities they have.  

Is imposter syndrome a mental disorder?  

Imposter syndrome is not a mental disorder and is not classed as a medical condition by the World Health Organisation. It is commonly referred to as a mental “phenomenon”, a pattern of thoughts and feelings that many of us develop in response to the circumstances we are in. 


Are women more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome than men?

The term imposter syndrome first used by psychologists in 1978 and it was thought to affect highly successful women. Since then, studies have shown it is in fact equally prevalent in both sexes. In fact, it affects people of all backgrounds, from students to executives.  


How common is imposter syndrome?  

Imposter syndrome is extremely prevalent and up to 70% of people can be affected at some point. 


What are the different types of imposter syndrome? 

Imposter syndrome behaviour can take a number of forms, and researchers who coined the term identified a number of types, including: 

  • Perfectionist: someone who sets excessively high goals for themselves, focuses mostly on their flaws, and feels like a failure when unable to meet their goals completely. 
  • Soloist: someone who refuses to ask for help for fear of looking like a failure 
  • Expert: someone who strives to know everything that can be known about a topic before starting a task 
  • Superman/superwoman: someone whose drive to excel leaves them burnt out and unable to fulfil other roles and relationships 
  • Natural genius: someone who is used to things coming naturally to them, so if they struggle, they feel like a failure.  


What are the symptoms of imposter syndrome? 

The core of imposter syndrome is the inability to internalise success. Someone with imposter syndrome will attribute their success to luck or the mistakes of other people, and success fails to affect their self-confidence. Success can even lead to increased fear of being found out, as the person’s new responsibilities are seen as unmanageable. 

Other common symptoms are overachieving, sabotaging your own success, doubting your ability, and setting unrealistic goals resulting in more disappointment when they’re not achieved.  

What are the risk factors? 

According to research, the phenomenon occurs in people of all backgrounds, ages, and genders. There is no one cause of imposter syndrome, but there are some common factors among those who experience it.  Such factors are:  

One’s family up bringing: If someone’s parents were controlling, overprotective, over-critical, high-achievers, or perfectionists, it can increase their chances of experiencing imposter syndrome.  

New academic or career achievements and opportunities: Undertaking a new role can be overwhelming because of the pressure to success coupled with lack of experience, causing uncertainty about one’s capacity and adequacy.  

Personality type: If a person is a perfectionist, has low self-esteem or is prone to suffering from other mental health conditions, they are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. 

Social anxiety: Feeling out of place in social settings, symptoms of social anxiety, can fuel the feeling of imposter syndrome, as if you don’t belong there and everyone will find out. 


Is it possible to diagnose imposter syndrome, if so, how?   

Since imposter syndrome isn’t a mental health condition, there is no clinical way of diagnosing it. Recognising imposter syndrome requires some self-reflection. You must consider, for example, if: 

  • You are ashamed of small errors or flaws in work that reflects you. 
  • You are unable to celebrate achievements and credit them to external factors. 
  • You are sensitive to criticism, no matter how small. 
  • You fear others will find put you’re a fraud
  • You frequently downplay your skills and expertise.  

If so, then it is likely you experience it.  


How is it treated?   

Various forms of treatment including psychotherapy and group psychotherapy have been found to be helpful in overcoming the thought processes that make up imposter syndrome. The specific thought processes to tackle depend on what kind of imposter syndrome you have, and what motivates you. In addition to face-to-face therapy, there are a growing number of online resources aimed at helping people overcome imposter syndrome. 


How can you overcome imposter syndrome?   

Although most people believe achieving success will relieve them of imposter syndrome, that is certainly not the case. Seeking success and feeling undeserving of it is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. The most important step in overcoming imposter syndrome is being able to recognise the negative thoughts and learning how to change one’s mindset.  

  • Acknowledge achievements  
  • Remind yourself that you’ve earned your position  
  • Don’t compare yourself to others, focus on yourself 
  • Share your feelings with others 
  • Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, especially at the beginning  
  • Reduce social media use 
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