Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a pattern of thinking that makes us believe that our expertise or skills are not good enough, and leads us to doubt our abilities and feel like a fraud. This condition disproportionately affects high-achieving individuals, who end up feeling undeserving of their accomplishments, and like they “just got lucky.”

Imposter syndrome was first conceptualized by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in a 1978 study that focused on high-achieving women. In their findings, Clance and Imex stated that “despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience imposter syndrome persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.” While much of the early literature focused on imposter syndrome in women, recent studies have found no differences in the rates at which women and men experience this psychological condition. Furthermore, a meta-analysis revealed that imposter syndrome is more prevalent in ethnic minorities, and is a strong predictor of mental health concerns in this population (Bravata et al., 2020).  

Imposter syndrome is not a formal clinical diagnosis, but it is a real psychological condition that affects millions around the world. This condition leads to an erroneous thought process, and is commonly experienced as someone steps into a new role, such as a new job or academic program. This syndrome may result in increased self-criticism and lower self-confidence. In some cases, it may lead to missed opportunities and stalled growth in one’s professional career. On the more severe end of the spectrum, imposter syndrome may interfere with a person’s mental health, relationships, and overall functioning. 

To understand and minimize the effects of Imposter Syndrome, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of this condition.

Signs of Imposter Syndrome 

  1. You feel like everyone in your profession has it figured out except you.
  2. You believe you just got lucky with your accomplishments (i.e., it was not because of your own hard work).
  3. You are highly critical of the smallest mistakes you make.
  4. You are never satisfied with your work and often feel like it could be better.
  5. You think that your contributions to meetings aren’t of value, so you often stay silent.
  6. You put a lot of pressure on yourself to achieve your goals, or have perfectionist tendencies.
  7. You fear people will find out you don't have what it takes to succeed in your work.
  8. Your self-worth is contingent on your achievements.


How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Luckily, there are a few approaches we can take in order to overcome imposter feelings. Below are three strategies that can help:

1. Evaluate and Challenge Your Beliefs with Facts

Most negative emotions can be managed by addressing cognitive distortions (or unhelpful thoughts) that reinforce these feelings. When you notice these thoughts arising, try to take a step back and evaluate them objectively. What facts can you identify to support these negative thoughts? What evidence do you have that you are competent and deserving of your role? As you do this, challenge your internal dialogue. Our brain formulates unhelpful thoughts when we experience imposter syndrome. When you notice an unhelpful thought, try to reframe it into an alternative, more realistic thought supported by facts. 

2. Celebrate Your Wins

Often, individuals who suffer from imposter syndrome tend to minimize or disregard their accomplishments. Take time to acknowledge and celebrate your wins, big or small. In addition, try to reflect on how far you have come and the effort you put in to get here. It also helps to keep records of positive feedback you have received from your supervisors and colleagues as a concrete reminder of your successes.

3. Understand That Perfection Does Not Exist

Let go of the need to be perfect in everything you do and say. This does not mean you have to lower your expectations—it just means adjusting them to be achievable and realistic. In addition, practice forgiving yourself when you make mistakes or experience failure. It helps to reframe failure as a learning experience that allows one to grow and improve.

We hope you find these strategies helpful as you navigate new roles and continue to grow. If you are experiencing imposter syndrome that feels unmanageable and debilitating, it might be helpful to consider seeking professional help from a licensed psychotherapist in your area.

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