Has it ever occurred to you that your achievements are just the result of a lucky coincidence and in fact, you don’t deserve them? Have you ever felt that everybody around you is smarter, more talented, and more successful than you?

If these thoughts are not new to you, welcome to the club of people with imposter syndrome. Here you are not alone: according to research, 70% of people have experienced at least one episode of imposter syndrome. Among them, there are many celebrities like author Maya Angelou, actor Tom Hanks, and singer David Bowie.

Let’s take a closer look at the nature of imposter syndrome. Keep reading to learn more about this phenomenon and some simple ways to prevent it from ruining your life.

What you should know about imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which a person attributes his or her success to coincidence or luck rather than skill or effort. They do not believe in their own strength and would rather admit that they just appeared to be in the right place at the right time. Syndrome victims consider themselves deceivers who manage to fool everyone around about their competence.

A key feature of imposter syndrome is that a person’s experiences do not correspond to objective reality. This is related to the Dunning-Kruger effect, or the so-called ignoramus effect. The point is that low-qualified people make wrong decisions, but due to a lack of knowledge and skills, they are unable to realize it. Due to inadequate perception, they have an inflated sense of their abilities. The main insight you can gain here is that if you were really lacking talent, you most likely would not be able to understand it.

Imposter syndrome: what it is and how to fight it

Who is in the risk zone?

In general, imposter syndrome is not linked to personality traits, however, certain people are more liable to it than others. This term was first used in 1978 in the article by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”. They conducted a study and concluded that many women, whose achievements are real and universally recognized, feel anxiety, self-doubt, and believe they are overestimated.

However, recent studies have proven that imposter syndrome is equally common in both women and men. The at-risk group also includes students who tend to doubt their abilities and compare themselves to others. Interesting fact: often, the syndrome manifests itself in gifted, talented people who have achieved great success in various areas of life. In addition to the already mentioned celebrities, writer Neil Gaiman, tennis player Serena Williams, businessman Howard Schultz, entrepreneur Sheryl Sandberg, and singer and actress Lady Gaga are all part of the “imposter club”.

Imposter syndrome: what it is and how to fight it

How to understand you have imposter syndrome

In 1985, Dr. Pauline Clance, a psychologist, developed a special scale to identify imposter syndrome. The researcher offered a 20-item questionnaire to identify its signs. In particular, these questions refer to the fear of success and praise, focusing on failures, and downplaying one’s achievements. The psychologist also identified six characteristics, and having at least two of them indicates the presence of the syndrome:

1. Imposter cycle.

During the imposter cycle, a person constantly goes through several phases:

  • receives an achievement-related task;
  • experiences anxiety and begins to procrastinate or, on the contrary, to overprepare, working themselves to stress;
  • accomplishes the task and feels relief for some time;
  • receives positive feedback, but attributes their success to luck;
  • feels self-doubt, which leads to the exacerbation of imposter syndrome.

This cycle repeats over and over again, and the person feels like they constantly find themselves in the same place, no matter how hard they try. In addition, such situations cause overload, because a person expends too much effort, although objectively there is no need to do so.

2. The need to be special or the best.

This need leads to constant comparison, and this is often not in favor of the person, because he or she is too self-critical.

Imposter syndrome: what it is and how to fight it

3. Superman/superwoman complex.

This complex manifests itself in a person who takes on every task or problem, no matter how much effort or time it requires, and sets themselves unrealistically high demands.

4. Fear of failure.

Fear constantly haunts people with imposter syndrome. They perceive their mistakes and imperfect performance of tasks as obvious proof of their own disability.

5. Denial of one’s abilities and devaluation of praise.

Since victims of imposter syndrome do not believe in themselves, they are unable to accept compliments and recognize their success.

6. Feelings of fear and guilt for success.

These feelings arise in people with imposter syndrome because victims usually believe that they have not achieved anything special or are not good enough.

Imposter syndrome: what it is and how to fight it

Simple tips to defeat your inner “imposter”

Though imposter syndrome is not a mental disorder, it can greatly wreck your life and slow down your development. If you have noticed that you have any of the symptoms and feelings described above, you should pay attention to the problem. You can try to cope with it by yourself, as well as with the help of a qualified professional. We have collected simple tips that will allow you to minimize the negative impacts of the syndrome.

1. Focus on the facts.

People with imposter syndrome are often driven by fears and prejudices about their abilities. When self-doubt attacks you yet again, the easiest thing to do is ask yourself whether these doubts are objective. Then, try to remember real cases when you successfully completed a task or project and received good feedback. For clarity, write them down and reflect on them.

2. Accept your emotions.

Fighting imposter syndrome doesn’t mean ignoring or denying your emotions. You need to separate them from facts while taking into account that emotions are also very important. What do you feel — uncertainty, fear, shame? Write down your emotions on paper. Allow yourself to live them through. Then, it will be much easier for you to cope with the syndrome next time. After all, by accepting emotions, you can significantly reduce their intensity.

3. Share your feelings.

We understand that this tip can be scary. But just think of the 70% of people who have had the same experience. You are not alone in this. It is likely that your friends or colleagues have had similar problems and can support you. The key point is to choose a person you trust. Another option is to see a professional psychologist. They will help you understand what triggered imposter syndrome in you and how to cope with it.

Imposter syndrome: what it is and how to fight it

4. Ask for feedback

In order to not fall into a trap of obsessive thoughts about your own incompetence, it is crucial to receive quality feedback. Realistic, constructive feedback allows you to form an adequate self-perception gradually and not devalue your achievements. Ask your manager or client for constant feedback. They will definitely agree to help, as they are directly interested in your ability to do your job the best way possible. You can also try to find a mentor in your professional field who will coach you by providing objective criticism and expert advice.

5. Draw up an action plan.

How about facing your fear? People with imposter syndrome often imagine situations where their (fictional) unprofessionalism becomes obvious to everyone. Simulate a similar situation, think about what can cause it, and then determine how to prevent it. For example, if you are afraid of messing up a project, you can always initiate a discussion and gain the support of your colleagues or management. All of you are working towards the same result. Paradoxically, imposter syndrome can drive growth if you look at it from a new perspective.

6. Be kinder to yourself.

Imposter syndrome can manifest itself in different intensities, as well as different periods of your life. It depends on many external factors that you cannot influence in any way. But it’s within your power to gradually change your attitude toward yourself, developing faith in your own strength. Recognize your achievements the next time you are satisfied with the result of your work. Share your success with friends and loved ones. And remember that everyone makes mistakes; it is an integral part of our journey to the best versions of ourselves.


Imposter syndrome can occur in anyone regardless of gender, age, background, or social status. And if you are a perfectionist, it is almost inevitable because the inability to attain an ideal often causes discouragement and anxiety. But once you objectively analyze all the situations that (in your opinion) were pure luck, you are likely to find out that your success is not so undeserved. Take this first step towards self-acceptance and watch your confidence grow day by day.

Other articles that may interest you:

Nothing personal: how to handle criticism and respond to it

How to Identify, Prevent, and Recover from Burnout: Tips for Creatives

Networking Tips for Introverted Creatives


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