Feeling like a fraud in your own story? You're not alone. The phenomenon known as imposter syndrome affects many people, from students to high achievers in the workforce. But what exactly is this feeling, and how can you move past it to embrace your successes with confidence? Let's dive into understanding and overcoming imposter syndrome, step by step.

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What Does Imposter Syndrome Mean?

White piece of paper with 'Am I a Fraud?' written on it in red

Imposter syndrome, also known as charlatan syndrome or intruder syndrome, is a psychological pattern where someone doubts their accomplishments, fearing they'll be exposed as a "fraud" despite evident success. It's a common experience that knows no boundaries of profession, achievement level, or social status.

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

The root cause of imposter syndrome can vary from person to person. Factors include family dynamics, academic or workplace environments, personality traits, and past experiences. For some, it's a response to particular high-pressure situations, while for others, it may be more deeply ingrained, stemming from early educational or personal challenges.

The Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome

The symptoms of imposter syndrome can vary widely but often include:

  • Persistent Self-Doubt: A constant questioning of your abilities and achievements, feeling like you're not good enough or as capable as others perceive you to be.
  • Attributing Success to Luck: Believing that your success is due to luck, timing, or other external factors rather than your own hard work and talent.
  • Fear of Not Meeting Expectations: Worrying excessively about failing to meet others' expectations leads to a cycle of stress and anxiety over performance.
  • Overworking: To compensate for perceived inadequacies, people may work much harder than necessary, often to the point of burnout.
  • Difficulty Accepting Praise: Feeling uncomfortable with recognition and compliments and dismissing them as undeserved.

The 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome

Understanding the different types of imposter syndrome can help people identify their own experiences and find more tailored strategies for overcoming these feelings.

  1. The Perfectionist: Perfectionists set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even minor flaws can make them question their own competence. They often feel that nothing they do is good enough and may procrastinate or avoid tasks altogether for fear of not doing them perfectly.
  1. The Superwoman/man: This type pushes themselves to work harder than those around them to prove they are not impostors. They overload themselves with work to match their colleagues, often sacrificing their personal life and well-being. Their validation comes from working, not from the work itself.
  1. The Natural Genius: Natural Geniuses are used to skills coming easily to them, and when they have to put in effort, they see it as a sign of failure. They set their bar impossibly high, similar to perfectionists, but the key difference is their expectation of immediate success.
  1. The Soloist: Soloists feel they must accomplish tasks on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they see it as a sign of weakness or incompetence. They value independence to an extreme, often at the cost of their own success.
  1. The Expert: Experts feel they need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or training to improve their skills. They fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

A white piece of paper on a yellow background with 'stop doubting yourself' written on it

Imposter Syndrome may feel like a part of your personality, but the good news is that it’s easy to overcome. Follow these seven steps below:

1. Recognise and Acknowledge Your Feelings

The first step in overcoming imposter syndrome is recognising and acknowledging your feelings. Understand that it's okay to feel this way and that many successful people have experienced similar doubts. Identifying these feelings can help you start to address them.

2. Share Your Feelings

Talking about your feelings can be incredibly relieving. Sharing your experiences with trusted friends, family, or mentors can provide different perspectives and remind you that you're not alone in these feelings.

3. Assess Your Thoughts and Challenge Them

Question and challenge the negative thoughts that fuel your imposter syndrome. Ask yourself whether these thoughts are based on facts or just your perceptions. By challenging these thoughts, you can start to break down the false beliefs that underpin your feelings of being an impostor.

4. Focus on Your Achievements

Keeping track of your achievements and the positive feedback you've received can be a powerful antidote to imposter syndrome. Create a list or a folder to gather compliments, positive reviews, and any awards or recognitions you've received. Look back on this whenever you're feeling doubtful.

5. Understand That Perfection is Unattainable

Embracing the idea that no one is perfect and that making mistakes is a part of learning and growth can help mitigate feelings of inadequacy. Remember, perfectionism is one of the core aspects of imposter syndrome, and letting go of the need for perfection can be liberating.

6. Develop a Healthy Response to Failure

Seeing failure as a part of the learning process rather than a reflection of your worth or abilities is crucial. Each failure is an opportunity to grow; adopting this mindset can help reduce the fear of being exposed as a fraud.

7. Seek Support

Whether it's finding a mentor, joining a support group, or seeking professional help, getting support can provide you with strategies to manage your feelings and see your achievements in a new light.

The 4 Ps of Imposter Syndrome

A woman holding an image of her own face in each hand, one is smiling and one is frowning

The 4 Ps—Perfectionism, Procrastination, Paralysis, and Pleasing— play a significant role in imposter syndrome. Recognising and addressing these behaviours can help you break the cycle of self-doubt and fear:


Perfectionism is the relentless pursuit of flawlessness. Those with imposter syndrome often set excessively high and unrealistic standards for themselves. This drive for perfection stems from a fear that any mistake or flaw will reveal their "true incompetence." 

The irony of perfectionism is that it can decrease productivity and creativity, as the individual becomes so concerned with getting everything just right that they may procrastinate or avoid tasks altogether. Recognising this trait involves understanding that making mistakes is a natural part of learning and growth. Embracing imperfection as an opportunity for development can be a powerful antidote to perfectionist tendencies.


Procrastination, in the context of imposter syndrome, is often a coping mechanism to deal with the fear of failure or judgment. People may delay starting tasks because they doubt their ability to perform them well. 

This can lead to a cycle of stress, last-minute work, and reinforced beliefs of inadequacy when the final product doesn't meet their own high standards. Addressing procrastination involves setting more realistic goals, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and understanding that starting imperfectly is better than not starting at all.


Paralysis refers to the state of being unable to take action because of overwhelming anxiety or fear. For someone experiencing imposter syndrome, the fear of being exposed as a fraud can be so intense that it leads to a complete halt in productivity. 

This paralysis can affect decision-making, creativity, and the ability to undertake new challenges or opportunities. Overcoming paralysis requires acknowledging the fear and anxiety but choosing to move forward regardless. Techniques such as mindfulness and setting small, achievable goals can help ease the transition into action.


The final "P" stands for pleasing, which involves an excessive need to meet others' expectations and gain approval. People may overextend themselves, saying yes to every request or opportunity out of fear that saying no would disappoint others and expose their perceived incompetence. This can lead to burnout and further feelings of inadequacy when they cannot meet these self-imposed expectations. 

To address the need to please, it's important to set healthy boundaries and learn to value your own needs and limits. Practising assertiveness and learning to say no can be empowering steps in overcoming the tendency to please.

Frequently Asked Questions About Imposter Syndrome

Is Imposter Syndrome Just Anxiety?

While imposter syndrome and anxiety can overlap, they are not the same. Imposter syndrome specifically relates to feelings of not deserving success and fearing being exposed as a fraud, while anxiety can be broader and relate to numerous aspects of life.

Who is Most Prone to Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome does not discriminate; it can affect anyone, regardless of their success or position. However, research suggests it may be more common among high achievers and those in highly competitive environments.

Does Imposter Syndrome Go Away?

For many, imposter syndrome can be a recurring challenge, but its impact can be significantly reduced with the right strategies and support. Recognising triggers and having tools to manage feelings of inadequacy can make a big difference.

Can You Have Imposter Syndrome in a Relationship?

Imposter syndrome can extend into personal relationships, where people may feel undeserving of their partner's love or affection. Recognising and addressing these feelings is just as important in personal contexts.

What's the Opposite of Imposter Syndrome?

The opposite of imposter syndrome is often considered to be overconfidence or the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people overestimate their abilities and knowledge. Unlike imposter syndrome, where self-doubt prevails despite evidence of competence, those experiencing the Dunning-Kruger effect lack awareness of their limitations.

Is Imposter Syndrome More Common in Females?

Research indicates that imposter syndrome is common across all genders but may manifest differently due to societal expectations and gender socialisation. Women, particularly in male-dominated fields, may experience imposter syndrome more intensely due to external and internalised gender biases. However, it's essential to note that this syndrome does not discriminate by gender.

How is Imposter Syndrome Diagnosed?

Imposter syndrome is not officially recognised as a diagnosable mental health condition in clinical manuals such as the DSM-5. It is more a phenomenon or pattern of thinking recognised by psychologists. Diagnosis, therefore, is not the right term; it's more about self-identification of the feelings and experiences that align with imposter syndrome descriptions.

Can Imposter Syndrome Be a Trauma Response?

For some people, imposter syndrome can be linked to past traumas or adverse experiences, especially those that affected their self-esteem or were related to achievement and recognition. Understanding imposter syndrome as a possible trauma response is important for addressing its root causes.

What is an Example of Imposter Syndrome in Real Life?

A classic real-life example of imposter syndrome might involve a highly accomplished professional who, despite receiving accolades and recognition for their work, fears they will be 'found out' as not being as skilled or deserving as others think. This can happen to anyone, from academics and executives to artists and athletes.

Do High Achievers Have Imposter Syndrome?

High achievers are often prone to imposter syndrome. Their success can lead to more opportunities for comparison and self-doubt, especially in environments where excellence is continually expected. The paradox is that the more they achieve, the more they fear being exposed as a fraud.

How Do People with Imposter Syndrome Think?

People with imposter syndrome often think in absolutes and are prone to self-critical thoughts. They might believe that they must know everything to be competent or that a single mistake means they are a failure. This black-and-white thinking overlooks the nuances of learning and growth.

What Do People with Imposter Syndrome Say?

People with imposter syndrome might say things like, "I just got lucky this time," "I don't know how I ended up here; I'm not as qualified as everyone thinks," or "I must work twice as hard to make sure no one finds out I'm not supposed to be here." These statements reflect their internal struggle with feeling undeserving of their success.

Does Imposter Syndrome Go Away with Age or Experience?

While age and experience can provide more opportunities to challenge and overcome imposter syndrome, they do not automatically eradicate it. Continuous personal development, self-reflection, and addressing the syndrome's underlying causes are necessary for it to diminish.

Can Imposter Syndrome Affect Physical Health?

The stress and anxiety associated with imposter syndrome can have physical health implications, including issues related to stress, such as headaches, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances. Managing stress and seeking support can help reduce these effects.

Overcome Imposter Syndrome with Centre of Excellence

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