What Is Imposter Syndrome And How To Overcome It

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do you ever feel anxious at work because you believe you are a fraud—that any day now, your boss and coworkers will figure out that you don’t belong and you really don’t know what you’re talking about? If this situation sounds familiar, you may be experiencing the symptoms of impostor syndrome (IS). While impostor syndrome can be frustrating and exhausting, there are steps you can take to overcome and change these negative beliefs about yourself so you can move through the world more confidently.

Do you need help overcoming imposter syndrome?

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome describes difficulty recognizing one’s own skills, knowledge, expertise, and achievements. The International Journal of Behavioral Science notes that the impostor phenomenon was first identified by Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance in 1978. Clance and Imes noticed the impostor cycle first in women who were high achievers and in women of color. 

Impostor syndrome often results in an individual doubting themselves and their abilities and engaging in negative self-talk, such as telling themselves they don’t deserve success. Perfectionism and striving towards unattainable standards are also common in people with IS. Although impostor syndrome is commonly discussed in relation to an academic or professional environment, people can experience impostor syndrome in virtually any setting, from situations requiring artistic skills to those involving parenting abilities.

Impostor syndrome is not a clinical, diagnosable disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). But, although there is no official diagnosis for IS, it is estimated to affect up to 82% of people at some point in their lives, negatively impacting self-confidence and self-esteem.

Impostor syndrome may lead to emotional distress, anxiety, burnout, and avoiding opportunities for future personal growth. According to a study titled “Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: A Systematic Review,” impostor syndrome, along with comorbidities such as anxiety and depression, could impact work performance as well. 

Here are some common signs of impostor syndrome:

  • You think your accomplishments or academic achievements are caused by luck or external sources, not your own strengths or hard work

  • You believe anyone could do what you do

  • You think you’ve succeeded only because you had help

  • You discredit or minimize your own achievements and believe you are a phony

  • You think people are just being nice when complimenting you, and that they don’t really mean it

  • You have perfectionistic tendencies

  • You believe failure is not okay or not an option

  • You use minimizing language like “kind of” or “pretty sure,” so you don’t have to commit to statements and risk being incorrect

Overall, if you frequently worry that you don’t really know what you’re doing and are afraid others will eventually find out, you may be experiencing impostor syndrome.


Who can experience impostor syndrome?

Research indicates that impostor syndrome can impact anyone, with some studies showing that it affects women more than men and other studies demonstrating that it affects men and women equally. In her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, author Valerie Young identifies five common types of people who may be prone to experiencing impostor syndrome:

  • “Perfectionists'' may feel like they’re failing if they don’t succeed at everything they set out to do. If they aren’t getting everything right, they tend to question their abilities overall.

  • A “natural genius” may have to work harder in some areas when they’re used to things coming naturally, which can cause them to feel like a fraud.

  • Someone who is an “expert” in their field may feel they have to know everything there is to know about a subject—or else they’re a fake.

  • A “superhero” type may feel they need to be the hardest worker and succeed in every area of life, and that they’re a failure overall if they fail at any one thing.

  • “Soloists” tend to not ask for help from others because they think that if they can’t do everything on their own, they’re an impostor.

Ways to overcome impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome may hold you back from going after what you want, and it can cause anxiety or other mental health concerns. If you’re trying to leave impostor syndrome behind and build more confidence in your own abilities, some of the following tips may help.

Avoid comparing yourself to others

Sometimes, it may seem like others are succeeding with little effort while you work hard just to keep up. Social media may help to perpetuate this illusion. But the truth is, you don’t know what others are thinking, feeling, or experiencing. They might actually be putting in just as much effort as you—or more. Or, they might grapple with impostor feelings too. Plus, it can be helpful to remind yourself that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.

As it turns out, there’s actually no such thing as an overnight success. From an outside perspective, it may look like a business or person succeeded quickly and with little effort—but in most cases, they didn’t. Accepting the fact that there will always be things you don’t know about others’ successes may help you put less pressure on yourself.

Adjust your view of failure

Many people who experience impostor syndrome fear failure above all. This view can lead a person to avoid taking risks or trying anything new, and it can make them question everything whenever they do fail at something. To shift this outlook, it can be beneficial to adopt the growth mindset, which means believing that you can improve almost any ability with practice and patience—and accepting that failure is an essential part of getting better at something. 

Document your successes

Learning how to recognize and acknowledge the successes that you experience in life can make a big difference in helping you overcome impostor syndrome. This approach can take a few different forms and may be a completely one-on-one practice. For example, it can be beneficial to practice acceptance when someone acknowledges your success or accomplishments, rather than deflecting or minimizing what you’ve achieved. You might also find it useful to keep a written record of positive feedback you’ve received in the past, from kudos from a customer to praise from your boss. Looking back at the concrete proof that you’ve done well can help you in times when you are experiencing self-doubt.

Practice positive self-talk

Experts have found that using a healthy dose of positive self-talk—especially when you refer to yourself by your own first name rather than using “I”—can improve confidence and emotional control abilities. In contrast, speaking harshly to yourself will generally only make you feel worse. Focusing on shifting your internal monologue to one of self-compassion can help you feel more authentically confident in your own skills and knowledge and improve your self-worth.

Speak with a therapist

There are times when it can be difficult to overcome a challenge like impostor syndrome on your own, and constantly feeling like a fraud can have a negative impact on your mental health and wellness. In this situation, speaking with a therapist can be helpful. A therapist can assist you in addressing the root cause of why you may feel the way you do and help you identify strategies you can use to overcome these beliefs over time. 

Research suggests that therapy conducted online can be as effective as therapy conducted in person. If you’re having trouble finding a provider in your area, have a busy schedule, or would simply prefer to speak with a mental health professional from the comfort of your own home, online therapy is an option to consider. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the challenges you may be facing.


The constant, nagging feeling that you’re a fraud or that your success is based on external factors can take a toll on your mental health. The tips outlined here can help you start to overcome feelings of impostor syndrome, as can meeting with a licensed mental health professional.

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