What is Imposter Syndrome, and How Does it Impact Me?
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What is Imposter Syndrome, and How Does it Impact Me?



Gain an understanding what Imposter Syndrome is, and how it may be wrenching your self-confidence.


With this information, you will be better equipped to identify and remedy unnecessary fears of being a fraud. 






What is Imposter Syndrome?


Do you secretly doubt your abilities and worry you don’t know as much as your colleagues? Do you chalk your successes up to luck rather than your talent? If you answered yes to these questions, you may be struggling with Imposter Syndrome.


 Imposter Syndrome is defined as having a persistent sense of incompetence and the belief that one’s achievements are just a result of good fortune. Imposter Syndrome can make us feel like a fraud in our own life, says the article Conquering Imposter Syndrome


Dealing with imposter syndrome involves dealing with the negative thoughts of being exposed as a fraud. Below, we go into more depth about Imposter Syndrome, and hear from people who suffer from this incredibly common experience. 




What does Imposter Syndrome feel like? What are imposter syndrome symptoms?


Imposter syndrome provokes anxiety and can lead people to chronic self-doubt. People struggling with Imposter Syndrome experience feelings of being a fraud and personal fear, despite having adequate credibility. 


Many people fear they will be discovered as incompetent. Due to this fear, people with Imposter Syndrome may not vocalize their thoughts and beliefs for fear of being discovered as a fraud in their field. 


On the other hand, people who experience Imposter Syndrome may overly assert themselves and their expertise to avoid this same fear. 


This is unfortunate because people with Imposter Syndrome often have a natural genius and are highly talented but struggle to view their achievements objectively.


Those people may also have underlying mental health struggles as well. Thus, overcoming imposter syndrome can involve a complex range of problems, and require an array of solutions. 




What causes Imposter Syndrome?


A study found that two types of family upbringings were correlated with Imposter Syndrome, specifically in women. 


The first family dynamic is when the woman has been told (directly or indirectly) that she is the “sensitive” one in her family. As a result, she can never prove that she is as bright as her sibling, regardless of what she accomplishes intellectually.  In turn, the woman continues to seek validation for her intelligence.


A second family dynamic conveys to the woman, in her childhood, that she is superior in every way. She is perfect in the eyes of her family.  


The woman, however, begins to have difficulty in school and other areas and realizes she cannot live up to her family’s standards. She begins to doubt her family, as well as herself. She then concludes that she must be unintelligent.


The thoughts of successful women may be unfairly influenced by these childhood experiences, leading to a lack of confidence.




What Triggers Imposter Syndrome?


It’s important to identify what triggers your Imposter Syndrome, so you can effectively cope with feelings that arise as a result. In a study of  Imposter Syndrome, Hutchins & Rainbolt (2016) identified a series of events which trigger feelings of inadequacy and other related secret thoughts of successful people. These included: 

1- Questioning one’s expertise. This can include self-talk such as, “Do I know enough? Do I belong here?” 

2- Comparing yourself to colleagues and feeling as though they are more competent than you, even if you do not have evidence to support this assumption.

3- The pressure to produce high quality work can lead to performance anxiety and unattainable expectations of yourself.

4- Experiencing successes, such as promotions

5- Negative feedback from bosses or colleagues




How do you treat Imposter Syndrome?


Own your successes. 


Failure to acknowledge your own success is self-defeating, and people suffer from this lack of self-acknowledgement.


It can be helpful to intentionally spend five minutes each day writing down five things you did well. If you find this difficult, ask a friend or colleague to assist. 


Remind yourself of the facts.


Imposter syndrome thrives on misinformation regarding your achievements. Take time to challenge beliefs you have that negate your success. For example, if you are thinking, “I don’t deserve this promotion,” challenge this thought with facts that prove you do deserve the promotion. 


Perhaps say “I met my productivity each month over the last year. I have never missed an appointment or meeting.” 


Talk to yourself kindly.


Get in the habit of positive self-talk rather than putting yourself down. Talk to yourself with the same encouragement and compassion as you would a friend.


You can also save emails and cards from others that acknowledge your abilities. When you feel your confidence waver you can also remind yourself of your successes in other areas of your life, such as, “I’m a great friend.” or “I’m a hell of a cook.” 


Find social support.


Imposter Syndrome thrives off of secrecy. Share your worries and concerns with trusted friends, colleagues, family members, etc. Many other people will share similar difficulties and would appreciate your openness and support.


Ask the person you confide in to help you acknowledge your strengths and objectively evaluate your performance.


Know what to avoid.


A common and understandable response to Imposter Syndrome is to work harder and longer. However, there this creates long-term risks such as burnout, stress, insomnia, work-life conflict and poor job satisfaction (Hogan et al., 2016).




Is Imposter Syndrome a weakness? 


Imposter Syndrome may feel uncomfortable and you may feel anxious as a result, but it is not a weakness. Imposter Syndrome is common and can be cured with some hard work and skills. Naming and facing your insecurities is brave, not weak. 




How common is Imposter Syndrome?


People often feel alone in their struggles with Imposter Syndrome. However, studies have shown that up to 70% of people can be affected by Imposter Syndrome at some point in their life. Further, it is extensively documented that people who pursue high achieving careers are more vulnerable for developing Imposter Syndrome. 





Is Imposter Syndrome a Diagnosis?


Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon that was first coined in the 1970s by psychologists Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes to describe feeling like an academic or professional fraud. While those with imposter syndrome have feelings of self-doubt and often anxiety, it is not listed in the DSM as an official diagnosis. 


Talking with a someone about mental health medication may also be a good way to tackle Imposter Syndrome. ALL IN has mental health medication experts on staff.





What’s the opposite of Imposter Syndrome?


The opposite of Imposter Syndrome is self-confidence. Knowing your self-worth and taking pride in your achievements is the opposite of self-depletion, which is the essence of Imposter Syndrome.  


We suggest reading more on this topic from the book Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young. 


If you would like to talk to a counselor about Imposter Syndrome, or general issues of self-esteem, contact us here.


You can also read more about related topics such as Depression, or Mid-Life Crisis.




Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish quality material for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.



Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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