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Impostor Syndrome: How to Recognise and Overcome It

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

What characterises the phenomenon known as impostor syndrome is that no matter how many evidence indicate excellent skills and deserved success, there is a strong underlying belief of being inadequate and incompetent.

Impostor syndrome comes in various forms, and many factors contribute to its development: individual personality, followed by family, friends, teachers and all personal experiences.

How do you know if the impostor syndrome impacts you? If you believe that all your achievements are due to fortunate coincidence and all your failings result from your incompetence, you most likely suffer from impostor syndrome.

Most people will find themselves experiencing these uncomfortable feelings at some point in life as the impostor syndrome tends to come and go. Unfortunately, knowing this doesn’t help when you feel a fraud, but it can help you understand what is happening.

Characteristics commonly shared by people experiencing this syndrome:

  • Continuous self-doubt

  • Inability to truly appreciate your achievements

  • Underestimating of your performances

  • Considering your success as fortunate events.

  • Constant worry of being exposed to the truth

  • Overachieving

  • Self-sabotaging

  • Setting very high standards to confirm your incompetency.

"Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what?"

Mark Victor Hansen

In some cases, the impostor syndrome can push you to achieve more, but most of the time, it leads to endless anxiety.

You might find yourself over-preparing to something just to ensure that nobody finds out you are a fraud.

Beginning to appreciate yourself for who you are and acknowledge abilities will take effort; these beliefs are firmly embedded in your mind.

They won’t change even when there is clear evidence of your achievements.

Types of impostor syndrome:

1. The Perfectionist

Perfectionism and imposter syndrome are best friends and often show up together. The perfectionist set very high goals, and when he/she fails, the experience tends to be devastating. Perfectionists are control freaks and believe that if they want something done right, they feel they have to do it themselves. Moreover, no matter how good they perform, after a short time of inner satisfaction, they go back to believe they could’ve done better.

2. The Superhero

To deal with a constant feeling of inadequacy, they push themselves to perform harder and harder to feel adequate. The result is enhanced insecurity, and the inner tension created ends up harming their mental health and relationships. They keep believing they haven’t truly earned their positions, no matter how many results they have already achieved and feel endlessly pressed to work harder and longer to prove their worth.

3. The Natural Genius

Their competences seem to be never enough, and when they take a longer time to master something, they feel ashamed. Like perfectionists, the natural genius sets his goals relatively high. The result isn’t judged only based on ridiculous expectations; it is also to be achieved on the first try. When they cannot make something better than desired, the alarm sounds, and they begin beating themselves up.

4. The Soloist

Soloist tend to be very individualistic; no team could ever keep up with their expectations. Moreover, they see collaboration as a sign of weakness unless the assistance received can somehow enhances their worth.

5. The Expert

Experts estimate their worth based on “what” and “how much” they know or can do. Understanding they will never know as much as they would like, they are afraid of having their limits exposed.

"Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful." ­

Mark Victor Hansen

Learn to overcome the impostor

After realising that you are affected by the impostor syndrome, the first step to overcoming it is preparing yourself for some inner work. You will need to ask yourself some tough questions and answer them as honestly as possible.

  • What are the beliefs I hold about myself?

  • Do I feel like I am enough?

  • Do I think that I’m never doing enough?

  • Do I believe I need to be perfect to be accepted and loved?

  • Do I doubt others when they make appreciations toward me?

  • Do I know where or when these beliefs started?

Answering these questions and possibly asking for help can sound difficult. You might have the impulse to delay this as long as you can.

You know how exhausting it is to achieve your high standards, but you can't help yourself, and letting go is not an option you can face yet.

To free yourself from these challenging feelings, you need to become comfortable exploring the truth behind those established beliefs you hold.

It will be hard, as not only it is not easy to recognise you have them, you may also be resistant to let go of those unhealthy habits. Fortunately, there are some tools you can use to help you with the task:

  • Talk with someone about your feelings. Irrational beliefs tend to be stronger when they are unspoken, and talking to someone you trust always helps.

  • Ask this person to help you make a realistic assessment of your abilities. Complete separate evaluations and afterwards compare them.

  • Perfection doesn’t belong in this world. Don’t focus on doing things perfectly, but rather on doing them reasonably well.

  • As you start to evaluate your abilities, take small steps, challenge your thoughts. Do you truly believe you would be where you are if you were a fraud?

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. You will just enhance the feeling of not being good enough. Instead, if you think someone does something better than you, be genuinely interested in learning more from them.

  • Avoid social media as much as you can. Comparing yourself with others or portraying an image on social media that isn’t real will only make you feel worse.

  • Stop fighting unwelcomed feelings. It’s only by acknowledging them that you can begin to challenge the beliefs holding you back.

  • Refuse to let insecurity hold you back. Don’t let your feelings of not belonging stop you from pursuing your goals.

"You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you

if you realized how seldom they do." Eleanor Roosevelt

And finally, remind yourself that if you feel like an impostor, it means you have achieved some degree of success in your life and that, for some reason, you are ascribing this to luck. To change this thinking pattern:

  • Practice self-care,

  • Train your brain to focus on your qualities.

  • Learn to practice self-compassion.

  • Begin a gratitude journal.

  • Celebrate every little achievement.

  • Make a list of your results.

  • Journal your fears. They look different on paper.

  • Talk to a friend or someone you can trust.

  • Validate the challenges you have overcome.

  • Practice positive self-talk.

  • Accept that there are things out of your control.

  • Failing is a lesson; it doesn't define who you are.

Don’t allow your insecurities to stop you from growing. Instead, learn to appreciate what you have accomplished and enjoy the feeling, congratulate yourself. It's fine not to achieve what you hoped for; there is always room for improvement. Make yourself and others a favour, let them know how perfect the imperfect you is.

Feel free to contact me with any question.

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