How to Identify & Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Written by Dr. Perry, PhD
Image Credit: Pixabay

“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” ~Maya Angelou

At one time or another in life, we all have felt that perhaps we were not worthy of the life we have or the praise and recognition we receive from others. You wake up feeling that the shoes you walk in are too big or the suit you wear daily is too large and hangs on you like a child encased in a three-piece suit. You feel you are an imposter in your own life, an unpaid supporting actor playing the part of a successful adult. Research shows that these feeling are quite prevalent among highly successful individuals and has affected at one point or another up to 70 percent of the population. This is not seen as a mental illness but as a reaction to external stimuli that makes one feel unworthy of their lives. At the root of this belief is an unhealthy perception of the life others must lead. We know our deepest disturbing secrets but we only see others from the outside and perhaps the perfect image they present to the other world. We must realize others are just like us with the same or similar troubles, fears and regrets.

The term Imposter Syndrome was first used by clinical psychologist Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. It affects both men and women in all walks of life. It is an over critical view where you see yourself as a phony and an actor in your life. Besides clear external evidence indicating the exact opposite, one lives life believing that at any moment they are going to be exposed as a fraud and undeserving of the success, they have achieved. The internal view of one’s self does not match up with the external view that others see. It is as if one’s inner child is very much aware that there is no way their 5-year-old self could possibly be the boss of a successful corporation.

The impostor experience can manifest itself in different ways. Some common signs are a prevalent fear of failure, the need for perfection in everything one does, overworking, undermining and talking down about yourself and discounting praise from others. People who suffer from impostor syndrome tend to reflect and dwell upon extreme failure, mistakes and negative feedback from others.

If left unchecked, impostor syndrome can limit the quality of a person’s life. A person’s courage to experience new challenges and experiences will become stunted. The fear of failure and constant thoughts that you will be exposed as a fraud will paralyze you from exploring and enjoying your life.

Some manifestations of imposter syndrome are:

1. Perfectionism
You strive for perfectionism so no one finds out you are a fraud. You work harder than anyone else for fear of others discovering you are not worthy of their praise. This hard work often will lead to more accolades and success which in turn leads to more feelings of being an imposter and anxiety that you will be found out. This need to over prepare and overwork to make sure everything is perfect may lead to a person feeling burned out, anxious and depressed.

2. Overwhelming feelings of being a phony
You feel like an actor in your life. You are a people pleaser and like a good actor often times give answers you believe others want to hear. These attempts to please everyone in order to feel good enough increases feelings of inauthenticity.

3. Avoid displaying confidence
You feel less confident in your abilities and intelligence and avoid displaying any confidence in your work. You fear being rejected by others and convince yourself you are less intelligent and are undeserving of your success. You believe it was all luck.

4. Excessive use of charm
You may appear to be using charm to manipulate others. Often individuals with imposter syndrome will use their charm to gain approval and praise from their supervisors or co-workers. Feeling unworthy, you seek out individuals in power to increase your abilities intellectually and creatively. As a result, you may indeed gain more recognition but will end up feeling insecure that this is not based on merit but from the charm you displayed and not your abilities.

Here are some steps that may help to alleviate these feelings of being an imposter in your life:

1. Acceptance
Accept that you do have something to do with your own success and it is not all luck. Realize that past failures do not make you incompetent or less worthy of your success. All successful people have failed at one point in their lives. You are not defined by your failures but your ability to get over these fallbacks and continue forward. Often time as we look back on our lives we realize that what we saw as a failure was simply life’s way of slowing us down so we wouldn’t miss the opportunity that was ahead of us.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others
It is important to not compare your life to others. We are all unique entities and we handle life experiences and challenges in our own way. The way others have achieved success or the way they live their life does not dictate the road we should take. For example, just because someone you admire is able to be successful at work and portray the perfect home and social life does not mean you are a failure because you may not be married or may not have children. There is no need to follow someone else’s path to success. It is ok to pave your own unique journey in life.

3. Journal
Write down concrete evidence to present to your inner critic that you are worthy of the praise you receive and the life you live. By writing down your accomplishments you will remind yourself that you have worked hard to achieve your success. Also, write down the nice things friends and family say about you to bolster your ego when needed. Learn to accept praise as a gift from the people who truly know you.

4. Support Group
Close friends and family can share life experiences that prove we all have the same hang-ups, fears, uncertainties and failures in life. By having a mentally and emotionally supportive group of people to rely on you will feel less isolated and know that others feel just like you.

5. Read Biographies
Take some time and read the life stories of others. Often times we only see the outward success and fail to realize that successful individuals are human just like us. By reading about their internal fears and doubts you will see that they are just like you and have the same feelings of self-doubt arise from time to time. Many of the world’s great leaders and thinkers did not always know what they were doing 100 percent of the time but they managed to overcome their fears and attain success.

6. Seek help
If the feelings associated with imposter syndrome are having a negative impact on your daily life it is important to seek help. Often times the fear of being exposed as a phony may lead to the experience of crippling anxiety and depression. You do not have to face this challenge alone and with the help of a qualified mental health professional, you can learn effective ways to challenge these thoughts as they arise.

It is important to acknowledge feelings that we are not good enough and understand that these thoughts are not uncommon. Everyone at some point or another feels this way and it may be part of internal growth. The discomfort we face when experiencing a new life challenge is a signal that we are entering a new area where growth is needed.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. This post is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis but for educational purposes only. If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation to work with me on your mental health please click here.

Dr. Perry

Professional Credentials:
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
“We specialize in a solution-focused approach to psychotherapy, specifically treating depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and narcissistic abuse.”
Verified by Psychology Today

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59 responses to How to Identify & Overcome Imposter Syndrome

  1. When I read the title of this post, I thought “this is totally me” but my feelings of being an imposter don’t come from success, they’re about my disability.
    I’m one hundred percent disabled by an invisible illness. Even though a social security judge and many doctors have agreed that I not only have this condition, but that it’s completely diabling, I still sometimes question myself.

    Would this also be a form of Imposter Syndrome?

    Liked by 9 people

  2. Micki Allen says:

    Me to a T, Dr. P. I actually keep my certificates and credintials on a bookshelf in my line of sight from my desk in front of me rather than on my wall so that I can see them to remind me that I’ve worked very hard to get where I am as a sex and relationship coach and sexual health educator because, somehow, it still doesn’t feel like a “real” job. I know it’s silly, but it’s true. Thank you so very much for sharing your encouragment and wisdom. xox

    Liked by 10 people

    • Clicking for Cash from Home says:

      Don’t be so hard on yourself. Myself, when I go into a professionals office, i.e. doctor, lawyer, stockbroker, therapist, I want to see the practitioners credentials on their walls. It shows me the person cares about being the best they can be in order to help their clients.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I was surprised to see a quote from Maya Angelou on this post! But if even she suffers from that feeling now and then, probably the rest of us have nothing to worry about. Very helpful advice, thank you.

    Liked by 9 people

  4. It’s funny that I have a blog that focuses on Leadership. I KNOW I am an impostor. I couldn’t lead a cat if I had a fish in my pocket. People assume I am a leader and I’m put into that position; then I fail miserably regardless of the effort I put into it. Yet I know every step and every nuance and every action that needs to be taken in order for a person or a group to be successful. When I delegate, the person doesn’t step up. When I put up a vision for the group, they seem to buy in and then don’t do anything that would be required to reach the goals. When I inquire about the progress toward the goals, I get confused looks.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Pamela says:

    I appreciate this information so much! I look at all syndromes as a scale or range, and your concise summary about this helps me identify where I may fall on that range. I love the specific steps to combat the symptoms–so much more helpful than laying out the problem and stopping!

    Liked by 6 people

  6. lunarpoet says:

    I first read about this in Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking”. For me I often felt, that I’m not doing enough. Or I feel like I have to always give 1000% in every aspect of my life. And when I was doing good, I was always waiting for someone to tell me: “Well, you just got lucky!” Finding one thing I really love doing (creating poetry) helped me to reevaluate a lot of stuff. Because if I put myself under intense pressure I can’t write at all. So in order to find the right mindset I need to fulfill my needs and take time and care for myself and silence the “fraud police” (As they are called in this book). And even if I haven’t published a book yet, it does feel like a sucess, because writing is a self-rewarding activity for me. At my day job I’m learning every day that mistakes are extremely important and so I become aware that my perfectionism has its limits. I work with kids from the ages between 4 and 7 and basically my job is to allow them to grow and learn from experience and mistakes, which allows me to grow myself in the process (if that makes sense). Great post!

    Liked by 6 people

    • Ranjita says:

      Oh!! How well you have put down here all that I feel about the same!! Writing is seriously self rewarding!
      And I think when people start doing things which they love to do they will able to put a pat on their shoulders themselves for their effort to live life on their own terms and thus will not expect anything in return from anyone whatever they do and howsoever they do!!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Mike P says:

    I feel like you wrote this post for me Dr. Perry. I experience this but didn’t even know this is what I was feeling. Thank you for shedding light on this topic and giving me some guidance on what to do from here. I am thankful to be following your blog. -Mike

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Tamara says:

    Thank you for another helpful and clearly written post Dr. Perry. I don’t think I have this but it is still interesting to learn about. Hope you are well💜

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I appreciate you writing about this topic. I believe it is something we can all relate to.
    For me, I started calling myself a Writer a year ago. With much trepidation I joined a Writing Community because I had this unstoppable urge to learn the craft. I voiced my feeling of imposter-ship. (I don’t have an MFA or whatever the piece of paper is called; I did’nt graduate in that field; don’t even know the different terms to use) Yet I wanted to belong.
    I am a Writer because I WRITE every day!!
    I’ve been telling myself that and now I feel it.
    I enjoyed your post immensely. Thanks for posting it.
    I Wish You Miracles, Selma Writes.

    Liked by 5 people

  10. reeseshell12 says:

    Thank you for this post. I am still a work in progress freeing myself from this kind of syndrome albeit progressing, one step at a time. I have already turn my back from talking to myself negatively but working on patting my back from some work well done.

    Some of your items here were mere descriptions of what I’ve gone through prior to seeing myself as an individual with potential, that I have the power to change my life which will start from the way I talk to myself.

    I am still trying to encourage myself that I can publish my work one day. One day. I just have to believe that.

    Thank you.

    Keep on writing.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Simply Hina says:

    Although I don’t think I fully suffer with this label of Imposter Syndrome, I did find helpful your points on Acceptance & Stop Comparing yourself to others & support netwiork. Within these areas I am relearning to reapply my skills; cbt/dbt of which assertive communication & self belief & trust towards my support network again.
    These are areas are vital to a recovery path to better self esteem and refinding your voice.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Oluwakemi says:

    Thank you for this write up Dr. P. I can totally relate to it. I am a work in progress and hope to one day, look back and know I have earned whatever my achievements have been.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Carlene W. says:

    Comparing ourselves to others is an easy trap to fall into. Many expectations we perceive are placed on us are usually unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves.
    My opinion of failure(s), although no one likes to admit them, are actually helpful as they can show what doesn’t work and help us to grow personally and professionally.
    I totally agree that if the comparison/perfection/I’m a failure loop starts running in your mind and negativity becomes the forerunner to your daily life, then seeking professional help or counsel is very important.
    Thank you for your insight.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Yes! While I feel confident in many things, when I gain praise for things that I’m not 100% comfortable with, I feel exposed. I’ll quickly explain, “I’m okay, but I’m still learning.” It does feel like it is all a well-kept secret that is going to be revealed at any moment.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Hels says:

    I completely relate to this… Including the seeking praise bit which I’d not realised before reading your blog. Thank you for sharing, it was very helpful

    Liked by 5 people

  16. Clicking for Cash from Home says:

    Thank you for another informative and enlightening article. Myself, back in the day I had a bit of the imposter syndrome which was caused by flat out insecurity. But once I woke up spiritually and understood we are always limited by the restrictions we encase our brains in-I broke free and started living my life mission and haven’t looked back.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. Amy says:

    Reblogged this on learningtobeenough and commented:
    Thank you for this post! Great content. I’ve struggled with Imposter Syndrome ever since I can remember. But it has really reared it’s ugly head recently as I am trying to change my career and my life!

    Liked by 4 people

  18. Victor Love Secrets says:

    this was really helpful to me sir. I hope I overcome this syndrome quickly so I can share a testimonial on it.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Anne-Sophie says:

    I find that if I spend too much time on social media I start to feel bad about my own life. I begin to feel like I am not enough. I started limiting my exposure to this filtered world seen through perfection glasses. I am enough and part of being human is having flaws and making mistakes. I am enough and I can do anything I strive for! Thank you so much for this post and for your contribution to the blogsphere.

    Liked by 4 people

  20. Wow man this described me to a tee. I’ve learned a lot of your tips but often still struggle with it. Its definitely No way to live. Pretty much lived like this my whole life

    Liked by 5 people

  21. Bob says:

    I believe I suffer from this. Afraid to do anything outside of my comfort zone. Just want to stay below the radar. Working on this. Thank you for all you do for the blog community.

    Liked by 4 people

  22. I think I would split imposter syndrome into two separate experiences.

    The first involves the character whom I consider to be the best in a given situation; a friend
    or family member who may do well in a situation. This person, once understood can become part of your own character on a temporary basis, it is never possible to become this character for long because in understanding them you don’t only take the positive but you take the negative, which means that your balance is forced. A persons experience must be their own and this makes any internal behavioural change unnatural. But perhaps some people are able to flex this (metaphorical) muscle with practice. However, using this imposter does create problems in the long run and creating relationships without it allow for more meaningful experiences to develop – this can also arise when responsibility is a driving force.

    The second imposter is the one that acts differently in different situations; in one environment they may speak to everyone (allowing for relationship building) and in the next they may wait for others to make a move. This is a strange one as communication allows for a greater understanding of people around and in future it means that interactions will be much simpler and often quite interesting as there is then a narrative. The alternative indifference scenario involves the imposter ignoring the crowd (or being ignored by the crowd), preferring in a sense to lay low; fear, reflection, but also care, tolerance and independence playing a strong role. There’s a great deal of self-doubt and without independence this would be a terrible state to be in. Both are imposters because it is the feeling within that tricks the individual into believing something that is not true.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. dreamingofabroad says:

    This is something I never realized I was dealing with until graduate school. Despite my classmates being older and having far more experience, I still compared myself to them. They were all tri- and bilingual, they had all had formal positions before, and they were highly intelligent/well read. So when I got higher grades then some of them I convinced myself that the teacher was going easy on me or somehow giving me a pass. It was only when a friend in the program I looked up to expressed her constant insecurities and berated herself for her failures as she got her second masters in a foreign county that I realized I needed to work on this. I refused to keep this up into my late twenties or thirties because it would go on forever and it would hold me back the way I saw it holding her back. It’s so important to keep trying because what else is there to do?

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Ranjita says:

    This is something worth knowing about! I have come across this term now and then. Your simple yet thought-provoking explaination to this imposter syndrome taught me one thing and that’s it’s okay not be perfect sometimes!! I always have this urge to be perfect in whatever I do even of it’s a trivial task!! So this has helped to perceive that kind of feeling in a different perspective!!
    Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Vearna says:

    Needed this! Am supposed to be meeting some strangers who think highly of me by what another friend of theirs and an acquaintance of mine shared with them about me, but I am not feeling as that ‘bright’ and keep putting off meeting them. So this post really got me thinking some. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  26. This is so interesting…the way we view ourselves internally and the way that others view us externally. It’s so easy fall into the habit of comparing our lives with others. Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Jayaare says:

    I went through phases, first realizing that I was this amazing, stupendous person, with even more amazingly stupendous ideas. Then realizing that I knew nothing, was just an impostor, and who was I to be here (insert place of study and work respectively) in the first place. Then I worked with some people who – sad to say – were completely incompetent. And I realized something, if they could do it, I most definitely could. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  28. E. P. says:

    It’s so interesting that we can appear to have everything and inside we are just insecure little children. Great post

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Dixon says:

    Great post! I think we all suffer from this even if just to small degree. Social media makes us compare ourselves to others even if only subconsciously. I know I feel horrible after I look at Facebook. Like I am not enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I agree. It’s very important to take breaks from social media especially if it is having a negative impact on you. Wishing you well✨

      Liked by 1 person

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