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Beating Imposter Syndrome

Picture of Faith Chukwuka

Faith Chukwuka

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Do you feel like a fraud, like you don’t know what you are doing in your job, or you don’t deserve the recognition you receive?

You may be one of the many people affected by imposter syndrome. Although impostor syndrome is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), as a disorder, it is not uncommon.

According to a study in The Journal of Behavioral Science, an estimated 70% of people experience feeling like an imposter at some point in life.

Imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a fraud; you feel that at any moment people will realize you are a fake and that you don’t belong where you are. You believe you only got where you are through dumb luck and not due to no skill or ability of your own. 

Social anxiety and Impostor syndrome may overlap. Social anxiety disorder (SAD) can lead to a sufferer feeling like their inadequacy will be found out in social settings but everyone with imposter syndrome doesn’t have SAD.

The cause

There is no one definitive cause of imposter syndrome, some psychologists have identified several factors they believe can play a part in its development.

Personality traits like being anxious or neurotic have been linked to the syndrome. Even factors like your background, family dynamic and childhood memories have been linked to it. For instance if as a child, no matter how hard you tried your parents were never satisfied with your grades. If at every A you heard, it could have been an A+ or you had a sibling who always got the spotlight, they were great at sports and you could never measure up. 

It has also been linked to factors outside of your family unit, like being a victim of institutionalised racism or discrimination, which steals your sense of belonging. When you feel like you belong it builds confidence, but when you feel like you don’t, it fosters feelings of uncertainty. 

These occurrences could create a feeling of being the imposter later in life. This happens because you begin to internalize the idea that you aren’t good enough and you think that you would only be worthy of or receive love if you achieve, and it progresses into a cycle. 

How it shows up

Imposter syndrome shows up in your life in numerous ways. These are a few of the types of imposter syndrome that have been identified:

  • The perfectionist: You are never satisfied with your work or achievements and feel that you could have done better. Rather than focusing on your strengths, you downplay them and instead focus on your flaws or mistakes. This leads to you living under constant self-pressure and high levels of anxiety. As a leader, you are prone to micromanaging or difficulty delegating and when you do you often feel disappointed with the results.
  • The superhero:You feel inadequate and therefore feel the need to push yourself to work as hard as possible. You feel like you haven’t earned your title, or stay later than your co-workers and even after completing your task find it hard to leave.  
  • The expert: You are constantly trying to learn more and are never satisfies with your level of understanding. Although you are very likely highly skilled, you underrate your expertise. This can be you not applying to job postings unless you meet every single educational requirement or doubting when people call you an expert in your field.
  • The natural genius: You set extremely high goals for yourself and feel crushed when you don’t achieve them on your first try. You may be accustomed to excelling without much effort or are often called “smart”.
  • The soloist: You prefer to work alone and your sense of self-worth stems from your productivity. Therefore, you often reject any assistance that is offered, and you believe that asking for help would mean you are weak or incompetent. You feel that you need to accomplish things on your own and that you don’t need anyone’s help.

How to overcome imposter syndrome

The first step to overcoming or working through imposter syndrome is acknowledging that you have it. Then acknowledge your thoughts and put them into perspective. Instead of engaging in the thoughts just observe it and ask yourself, does this thought help me or hinder me. 

Ask yourself the hard questions, here are some you can begin with. What core beliefs do I hold about myself? Do I believe I am worthy of love as I am? Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?

Becoming comfortable confronting some of your deeply ingrained beliefs about yourself can help you overcome imposter syndrome. It may be difficult because you do not realize that you hold these beliefs. You can use these techniques to help you: 

Talk about it

Talk to people you trust about your feelings; these feelings tend to fester if you hide them and you may be surprised to hear that others feel the same.

Help others

When you see someone else who seems awkward, alone or uncomfortable in a social setting; talk to them, bring them into the group or conversation. The more you help others the less you will focus on yourself and your confidence will begin to build.


Take a realistic assessment of your abilities, write down what you are good at and have accomplished; then compare it with your self-assessment. 

Take baby steps 

You won’t make the change overnight, focus on doing things well instead of aiming for perfection and reward your small accomplishments.

Reduce social media use

Spending too much time on social media can sometimes create feelings of inferiority. Trying to keep up with what you see on social media by creating a fake image that you can’t achieve makes you feel like more of a fraud.

Push through it 

When you feel like you don’t belong, do not give in to the feeling. Instead, keep going after your goals and tell yourself I refuse to let this stop me.

If you often find yourself feeling like you don’t belong or are a fraud or imposter, consider talking to a therapist. Don’t beat yourself up because researchers have also found that imposter syndrome isn’t all bad.

Many people have feelings of inadequacy and it often causes them to put in the extra effort. This extra effort leads to the “imposters” outperforming their peers. You may have never realized that you can live without fear and anxiety, but it is possible.

Have you ever felt like an imposter, if so, how did you cope? We look forward to hearing about your experience. 

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