What Is Imposter Syndrome And How To Overcome It

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell

Do you ever struggle at work because you feel like you are a fraud? Do you feel that you have to work hard every single day just to keep up with the expectations that you think others have of you? Or, do you feel like any day now your boss and coworkers are going to figure out that you really don’t know what you’re talking about? If this describes you, you may be experiencing the symptoms of imposter syndrome. While it can be frustrating and exhausting to deal with, there are things that you can do to overcome and change his feelings in your life.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

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Imposter syndrome is appropriately named. It’s used to describe the feeling that someone struggles with when they have a hard time recognizing their own accomplishments. They feel like, at any moment, those around them will figure out that they are a fraud, and they don’t really know what they act like they do.

They explain away the accomplishments that they’ve experienced as “luck.” And, they struggle under the pressure of feeling like they have to keep up with the charades that they started. They may struggle with feeling like they’re not up to the same level as those that they’re working with.

Here are some common signs that may show you’re struggling with imposter syndrome:

  • Feel like you’re a fake
  • You think that you just get lucky.
  • Believe that anyone could do what you do.
  • Think you’ve succeeded just because of having help
  • Believe your connections and network are why you have gotten to the level you’re at
  • Think people are just nice to you when complimenting you and that they don’t really mean it
  • Struggle with being a perfectionist
  • Believe failure is not OK.
  • Use minimizing language like “kind of” or “pretty sure,” so you don’t commit to anything.
  • Discredit your achievements

Overall, if you struggle at work or in business with feeling like you don’t really know what you’re doing and are afraid others will eventually find out, it may be Imposter Syndrome.

Who Experiences Imposter Syndrome?

In the past, it was believed that only women experienced imposter syndrome. However, research shows that there isn’t a real difference between the number of men and women that struggle with it.

As shared in TIME, the Valerie Young book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, identifies potential patterns of those that suffer from imposter syndrome:

  • “Perfectionists” that feel like they are failing if they don’t succeed at every single thing that they set out to do. If they aren’t getting everything right, they question their ability.
  • The “Natural genius” starts having to work harder in an area when they’re used to things coming naturally to them. This can cause them to feel like a fraud.
  • Someone who views themselves as an “expert” in a field. They can get stuck feeling like they must know every single thing there is to know about a subject or else they’re a fake.
  • “Supermen” and “superwomen” feel that they need to work hard to succeed in every area of life.
  • “Soloists” will not ask for help from others. They think if they can’t do it all on their own, then they’re an imposter.

How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome

If you experience imposter syndrome, there are some strategies and tips that you can use to address them.

Avoid Playing The Comparison Game

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If you spend all your time comparing yourself against others, it can be easy to start to feel like you’re a fraud. It can look like others are succeeding with little effort while you have to work extra hard to keep up. But the truth is, you don’t know what others are thinking, feeling, or experiencing unless they’re honest with you.

Forbes shared an article explaining that there are no such things as overnight successes. From an outside perspective, it may look like a business or person succeeded quickly and with little effort, but the reality wasn’t like that. When you accept this reality, it can help you to stop putting so much pressure on yourself.

Change How You View Imposter Syndrome

It may be easy to think that imposter syndrome is a bad thing. However, it can actually be a good sign in your life.  If you experience imposter syndrome, it could mean that you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. If you are only doing things that you know how to do well and with ease, then you wouldn’t struggle with thinking that you weren’t capable of doing it.

So, instead of viewing imposter syndrome as only a bad thing, think of it as a good sign that you are growing in your life. This may be able to help you shift your focus to learn how to overcome it instead of feeling stuck in it.

Learn How To Take Constructive Criticism

If you struggle with imposter syndrome, it may be difficult for you to accept constructive criticism. It’s important to remember that constructive criticism is a way that you can improve yourself and your skills. But if you are offended anytime you receive it, it won’t be able to benefit you in the same way.

There are always things that we will need to be working on and improving in life. So, there’s no reason to be offended if somebody is providing you with feedback that can help you to grow. As you receive constructive criticism going forward, you may want to try to view it as a good thing that is helping you instead of someone pointing out what you are doing wrong.

Change Your View Of Failure

If you struggle with imposter syndrome, you may suffer from a fear of failure. If you view failure as a bad thing in life, it can cause you to do everything you can to avoid it. However, everyone fails at times.

Failure does not need to be a final result in your life. You may fail at something, but you can use the information that you learned during that time to move forward in a more successful way. The most successful people in life have also failed on their journey to success. Some of them believe that if you’re not failing at things, then you’re not really trying to grow. Choosing to view failure as a stepping stone to success can help you to overcome the feelings of imposter syndrome.

Create A Plan

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If you feel like you’re always “flying by the seat of your pants,” you may experience imposter syndrome more often. Constantly trying to figure things out as you go along can leave you feeling like you don’t really know what you’re doing.

If you are stepping into a new role at work or in your life or taking on a new project, it can be helpful to create a plan to follow as you go. This doesn’t mean that you might not need to adjust the plan from time to time. But having a simple direction to follow can help you overcome that feeling of not knowing what you’re doing.

Document Your Successes

Learning how to recognize and acknowledge the success that you experience in life can go a long way in helping to overcome imposter syndrome. There are many different strategies that you can use to help in this way.

For example, if someone is congratulating you or acknowledging the success that you have experienced and what you have accomplished, say thank you instead of deflecting their compliment. It’s not uncommon for people with imposter syndrome to try to excuse away the success that they have experienced in life. Doing so can make it difficult to overcome imposter syndrome.

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It can help to keep a record of any compliments that you have received from your accomplishments. This could email from happy customers or jotting down something kind that your boss said to you. When you’re having a day that you’re really struggling with the feelings of imposter syndrome, you can look back through these past compliments and acknowledgments to see the success that you’ve had and the way you have helped people.

Another thing you can do to overcome imposter syndrome is to document the successes that you have each day. At the end of your workday or before you go to bed at night, write down at least three things that you succeeded at doing for the day. They may be small things, or they may be larger things. It doesn’t matter what they are, it’s just an activity that can help you start to view and accept the things that you are accomplishing in life.

Talk To A Counselor

There are times in life when it can be difficult to overcome a challenge like an imposter syndrome on your own. The reason that you struggle with it could be deep-seated issues that you may not even recognize as a problem in your life. If you are constantly feeling like a fraud and imposter, afraid that you’ll be found out, it can have a very negative impact on your mental health and wellness.

If you’re continuing to struggle in this area, it can be helpful to talk with a licensed therapist. They can help you address the root cause of imposter syndrome in your life, and they can also teach you additional strategies that you can use to overcome them.

If you have avoided talking to a therapist because you have a busy schedule and don’t feel like you can fit it into your day and still get done the things that you need to, working with an online therapist at BetterHelp could be an effective option for you. It allows therapy to fit into your schedule and doesn’t require you to have any commute time of going to a session.

Imposter syndrome is real and something that many people struggle with. But it doesn’t need to continue to be a defining part of your life. You can overcome it.


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