What is Imposter Syndrome and how to fight it?

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Do you have a feeling of non-belongingness or feeling like a phony? Have you ever felt your friends and colleagues are going to find out that you are a fraud and you don’t deserve your position or accomplishments?  These feelings refer to internal experience and named as Imposter Syndrome.  Though this definition is in the context of intelligence and achievements, it is also linked to the social context and perfectionism.  It can affect people of every age, social status, gender, work background, degree of expertise, and skill level without any discrimination.   

In simple words, the idea of incapability or underestimation of one’s self talent and qualification and the idea that the success has come due to luck only, not because you deserve it, called imposter syndrome.  According to an article published in The International Journal of Behavioral Science in 2011, an estimated 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome or Imposter Phenomenon as it is sometimes said by the psychologists, at any point of life. 

The term Imposter Syndrome was first described by Dr Pauline Rose Clance, a psychologist along with Suzanne Imes, from her observations in a clinical setting in 1978.  Initially, the imposter phenomenon was thought to be limited to the professional women but this feeling is widely experienced.  Later in 1993, Clance in association with Joe Langford published a paper regarding research and finding of the wider reach of imposter syndrome.  Dr Pauline Rose Clance also created an imposter syndrome test which includes a questionnaire to assess the person.           

Signs of Imposter Syndrome

Some of the most common characteristics of imposter syndrome might include:

  • Self-doubt
  • Berating your own performance
  • Feeling of overachieving
  • Attributing your success to other factors such as luck, favored circumstances, etc.
  • Fear of being caught as a fraud and not living up to the level of satisfaction
  • Sabotaging your own achievements and success
  • Inability to accept genuine praise or compliments
  • Setting very challenging goals and on falling short even by 1%, then feeling disappointed
  • You feel like an expert and feel to know everything before starting a project.  You don’t apply for a job if you don’t meet each and every criteria of the position.
  • You don’t speak up in class or a meeting being afraid of looking stupid for not knowing something.
  • You feel like a superman or a superwoman and push yourself harder to do excellent in all aspects of life- at work, as a partner, as parents and many more.  While doing all this you may feel stressed if you are not accomplishing something according to your own expectations.
imposter syndrome
Image Credit: Wannapik

Cause of Imposter Syndrome

Now the question arises here why do people experience an Imposter Syndrome?  There could be no single answer to this query.  Some experts connect it to personality traits such as anxiety and neuroticism while others believe in family and behavioral causes. Certain factors can contribute as a cause for the syndrome such as any childhood incident, comparison to other children leaves an irremovable impact. 

Entering into a new position or role can lead a path to imposter syndrome as lie starting a college or the first job might give you a feeling that you don’t belong there or less capable of achieving it.  Sense of belonging makes you feel confident.  The more likewise people are with you, the more you will feel confident.      

Coping with Imposter Syndrome

To get past the syndrome you will have to ask some hard and firm questions to yourself which might include:

  • What are the core beliefs about me that I hold firmly?
  • Is it necessary for me to be perfect for others to approve me?
  • Do I believe that I am worthy and loved of whatever I am?

Once you get your answers to these questions and find about having imposter syndrome, you must immediately take action to overcome imposter syndrome. The first step to overcome it to acknowledge your thoughts and beliefs you hold about you and put them in perspective. Most people sometimes experience self-doubt, and that’s normal. The main point is not to let that doubt control your actions. If you want to delve more deeply into these feelings, we recommend seeking out a professional psychologist, rest you can follow some techniques given below:

  • Talk and share your feelings: Focus on accepting your feelings instead of fighting the feeling of not belonging. Talk to your friends and trusted people, if you don’t, these core beliefs will grow if kept hidden or not discussed.
  • Focus on others: It might seem counterintuitive; you must try to help others who are feeling in the same way. As you do this you will feel confident about your own abilities.
  • Never Compare Yourself: Stop comparing yourself to others. If you do so, you will always find faults with yourself and this might fuel the feeling of non-belonging.
  • Genuinely Assess your abilities: If you have a core belief of your incompetence, genuinely assess your abilities. Write down your skills and accomplishments and compare them with your assessment.
  • Limit social media uses: Overuse of any social media platform may trigger the feeling of inferiority. Try to limit the uses of social media and stop portraying yourself who you not are in reality. 
  • Start with baby steps: Focus on doing things reasonably well and reward yourself for action and small achievements, don’t try to be perfect all the time. 
  • It can’t hold you back: You must believe that no matter how strongly you feel that you don’t belong, you should not make it a barrier in the way of pursuing your targets. Keep going nothing can stop you.


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