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How to Recognize and Deal with an Imposter Syndrome

imposter syndrome

You are convinced that your achievements are nothing and everything you reached is just luck. When somebody praises you, you are sure that you don’t deserve the compliments. You don’t want anybody to see your shortcomings and painfully respond a criticism.

Have you ever felt like this? Have such words ever stormed your brain? If yes, you are not alone.

Michelle Pfeifer, a famous actress and producer awarded many accolades, once said, “I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a big sham.”

Professor of Psychology in California Gayle Matthews is convinced that 70% of successful people feel the same way. This phenomenon is called an imposter syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a constant feeling that you are a “fraud”. Such people always doubt their capabilities, knowledge, and accomplishments and they, mostly, think they don’t deserve all they have achieved. They perceive their success as good luck and continue to think they are not as good as others think.

What Does It Feel Like?

People who suffer from impostor syndrome have low self-esteem, fail to enjoy praise and undervalue their professional achievements and skills.

An imposter syndrome feels like an inner voice in your head that whispers, “My success is not so valuable, it is just an accident”, “I do not deserve praise”, and “There are a lot of real professionals, I’m not one of them”. It causes stress, anxiety, low self-confidence, shame, and, in some cases, even depression.

What Can Make You Feel Like an Imposter?

Frequently, you can feel like an imposter when you don’t know your strengths and don’t consider them when choosing and building your career. However, even if you have chosen your profession right, there are certain cases when the syndrome is likely to turn on:

  • Changes. When you decide to change something, for example, change your profession, accept a promotion, take up a new position or a new project, you exit a comfort zone and face uncertainty. This makes the imposter syndrome more likely to occur.
  • Stereotypes. Stereotypes suppress self-belief and devalue success. If you think that you are worse than others, you fail to build confidence and progress.
  • A high level of responsibility. The increase in the level of responsibility turns on feeling like an imposter too. Pressure and doubts increase when you do something very important.
  • Previous failure. If you had a great failure in the past, e.g. dismissal or project failure, it will be much harder to tame your inner imposter. You should treat your failures as lessons that make you stronger, wiser and more experienced.

Who Suffers from Imposter Syndrome?

1. The Perfectionist

Perfectionism and imposter syndrome are often intertwined and go hand-in-hand. It happens because perfectionists set big goals for themselves, and if they are not able to reach it, they feel overwhelmed and experience major self-doubt. If you feel like you must be 100% perfect 100% of the time, you must be one of the perfectionists suffering an imposter syndrome too.

2. The Workaholic

Workaholics or “supermen”/ “superwomen” often push themselves to work harder and harder. Often, this is not because they find purpose and meaning in work, but because they want to prove to themselves that they are good enough and able to manage a heavy workload. Thus, if you stay late in the office and feel stressed about having a lot of free time, this may be due to imposter syndrome.

3. The Expert

People who feel a strong need to know every piece of information about the subject they are going to present or a project or business they are going to start are called “experts”. They would only speak up when they are 100% confident in their response and wouldn’t apply to a job posting unless they meet every single requirement.

4. The Natural Genius

According to Young, “natural geniuses” feel shame about their ability to learn something slowly. This is because they set the bar extremely high, just like perfectionists. natural geniuses are used to doing things very quickly, so when they have to put in an effort, their inner alarm goes off. As a result, they are not willing to try something new and avoid challenges.

5. The Soloist

These people feel that asking someone for help is a big shame and reveals that they are unsuitable for the job. Thus, they prefer to accomplish tasks on their own and fail to overcome a lack of trust, which is a basic team dysfunction.

How to Deal with an Imposter Syndrome?

Here are 7 steps that will help you get rid of feeling like an imposter:

1. Find the aim

It is quite hard to lose this feeling, that’s why you need to set a goal and move systematically to it. A goal will motivate you to overcome your fears and doubts. What’s more, you can make it one of your goals to learn to speak freely in front of the audience, to recognize your mistakes, to ask and give feedback.

2. Raise your self-esteem

Take a strength-based approach to develop confidence and self-esteem. No one else can do this for you. Only when you know, appreciate and develop your strengths, you can stop feeling like an impostor.

3. Keep track of your achievements

Know your strengths and weaknesses and invest in personal and professional development. When you develop a strong competence in one sphere and have achievements to be proud of, you won’t feel the need to justify your knowledge about every other thing too.

4. Let yourself be wrong

It is okay to make mistakes. Learn to treat failures and losses as lessons and opportunities to learn. Most of our mistakes are not as fatal as we tend to think and we can correct them easily. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from acting.

5. Analyze the example of successful people

Look at the people you look up to. Did they achieve all their success at once? Were they afraid to try a new thing or accept someone’s help? Has criticism detracted from their achievements? Have their example in mind each time an imposter syndrome does not let you act.

6. Get curious about your feelings and thoughts

Try to be very attentive to your feelings and thoughts. Learn to recognize the moments when you feel scared to act or doubt your capabilities and ask yourself why you can feel this way. This is the first step to getting control of your thoughts.

7. Balance your positive thinking

Don’t fall to the extremes thinking that every doubt is a sign of an impostor syndrome. Excessive positive thinking can make you overlook the hurdles and overestimate your abilities. Learn to balance your positive thinking by getting a realistic perspective.

Imposter Syndrome F.A.Q

How do you deal with imposter syndrome?

Dealing with imposter syndrome isn’t easy. However, there are some things you can do in order to overcome its negative impact on your psychological well-being and quality of life.

According to APA’s recommendations, in order to overcome imposter feelings, first, you need to learn the facts. For instance, look for evidence that your success requires hard work and dedication to achieve.

Moreover, you should share your feelings with others and listen to what they say because you need objective information about your achievements.

Keep in mind that you should share some information about your failures too. But if none of this works, just learn to accept your imposter’s feelings.

How do you know if someone has imposter syndrome?

If you notice that someone lacks the ability to realistically assess their competence and skills, they might have imposter syndrome. However, it can be much more complicated than that.

In fact, if someone has imposter syndrome, they don’t accept their success and, instead of enjoying it, attribute it to some external factors. This means that they think they can’t meet their own expectations even when they are actually very successful.

As a result, people with imposter syndrome never feel satisfied.

What does imposter syndrome feel like?

Imposter syndrome feels like you don’t have enough competence and skills to achieve your goals and succeed. Even when you actually get the desired result, you might think that it happened because of some unexplained luck, external factors, or because someone else helped you.

In any case, you want to succeed so badly that you never feel fulfilled, even when you get what you need. As a result, people who have imposter syndrome constantly feel anxious.

Is imposter syndrome a mental illness?

Even though imposter syndrome is a very common mental health condition, it’s not recognized as a mental disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Therefore, it can’t be considered a mental illness, but psychologists and counselors still work with people who struggle with imposter feelings.

What are the five different types of imposter syndrome?

According to imposter syndrome expert Valerie Young, there are five different types of imposter syndrome:

  1. Perfectionists – They set excessively high goals and experience self-doubt if they have trouble reaching it.
  2. Superwoman/man – They push themselves to work overly hard because they’re dedicated to the validation that comes from the working process.
  3. Natural Genius – They’re naturally good at achieving success and judging themselves if they can’t make it on the first try.
  4. Soloists – They always refuse others’ assistance, even when they need it.
  5. Expert – They think they don’t know enough and fear being exposed as being unintelligent or inexperienced.

What causes the imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is the result of multiple factors. In particular, it can be a result of personality traits such as neuroticism or perfectionism.

Besides, anxiety disorders are associated with imposter syndrome, meaning that if you have any type of anxiety disorder or have a tendency to be anxious, you’re at risk of developing imposter syndrome.

Another important factor is genetics. Families that value achievements and demand hard work from their kids often lead them to develop imposter feelings.


The very first step to getting rid of an imposter syndrome is revealing your strengths. Thus, every time you find yourself in a situation that can exacerbate the impostor syndrome, you have a valuable toolbox that will help you to talk your inner imposter. High5Test strengths finder is a reliable personality test that will help you to get started.

Remember, most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. The important part is not to let that doubt control your actions and take away opportunities.

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