Imposter Syndrome 101: Characteristics, Causes, and Tips to Cope

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“It was luck”

“I wish I was as confident and secure as [Insert name]”

“They are going to think I am a fraud”

“That wasn’t good enough”

“I should have done better”

Do you ever find yourself repeating similar statements? Do you often doubt your abilities or deny your talent? Do you feel inadequate or not good enough? You are not alone, many experience self-sabotaging thoughts that minimize their abilities and accomplishments.

If these statements and questions resonate with you then you are probably struggling with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the psychological phenomenon that you are a phony, not really bright, and you have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Feelings of inadequacy and incompetence surface despite evidence that indicate you are skilled and quite successful. Imposter syndrome can lead to self-loathing and can be detrimental to your self-esteem.

Common characteristics or signs of imposter syndrome include (1):

  • Self-doubt
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Comparison
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of failure
  • Inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
  • Attributing your success to external factors
  • Berating your performance

With imposter syndrome comes constant anxiety. Personally, I over-prepare and memorize answers to questions that I believe might be asked to feel confident before walking into a meeting. This cycle provides me with the notion that I only performed well because I stayed up all night rehearsing even when I leave the room thinking “I did great, I didn’t need to rehearse all night”.

Have you ever considered what hinders you from believing that you are intelligent, dedicated, competent, and naturally successful individuals?

Multiple factors contribute to imposter syndrome including nature and nurture. It is suggested that some individuals are born with a predisposition of being more sensitive than others and such individuals will generally self-reflect and feel guilty about their success over those who they deem as equals, discounting their own abilities. These individuals were at one point in their life conditioned to believe that they would not amount to anything or don’t deserve anything good in life. These beliefs make them discount their abilities and success leaving them feeling like imposters. It is also important to note that personality traits such as perfectionism and social or professional comparison also play a role in imposter syndrome.

Nurture in the family environment is another theory that contributes to imposter syndrome and in my opinion one of the main factors. Growing up in a family system where high achievement is valued, where parents compare their children’s accomplishments, and flip back and forth with praise and criticism can be damaging to one’s self-esteem. Lastly, high conflict and low support in the home are also suggested to attribute to imposter syndrome. 

Now that we know the characteristics and causes of imposter syndrome What can be done about imposter syndrome?

Tips for coping with imposter syndrome

In my opinion, the most powerful approach to heal from imposter syndrome is identifying the negative core beliefs causing imposter syndrome and reprogramming that belief. You can begin by practicing self-reflection and asking yourself the following questions: 

What negative core beliefs am I holding on to? 

Is it my inner voice that I am hearing or is it someone else’s? 

What value do I hold over myself?

When identifying these core beliefs remember to be kind as you might identify unhealed parts of yourself. Confronting these ingrained beliefs is the definite start to managing the anxiety that comes from imposter syndrome. Additionally, you can also use the following tips that can help you cope with feelings of inadequacy and incompetence. 

  • Talk to someone. You can talk to a friend, mentor, manager, or therapist. Get your feelings out. Learn to identify where these deep-rooted beliefs come from, process, learn how to cope, and shift your negative beliefs into more adaptive beliefs.
  • Read more on the topic. The more you familiarize yourself with the topic you will self-reflect and be proactive about changing behaviors and shifting your mindset.
  • Assess your abilities and question your thoughts: Make a realistic assessment of your abilities and accomplishments. Make a list of your negative beliefs. Next, assess your abilities and question your beliefs. Are they irrational or rational? Based on your assessment and given everything that you know, are you really a fraud?
  • Stop comparing. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparing is the thief of joy”. It will leave you feeling inadequate and deflated depriving yourself of all the great things you have accomplished. Remember that attached to comparison is low self-esteem.
  • Reframe your thinking. Be mindful of the negative beliefs and language you use when speaking about yourself and your accomplishments and put those thoughts into perspective. Recognize when an intrusive thought is taking over, become intentional by stopping the thought, and replace the thought with a more adaptive thought/scenario.
  • Positive affirmations- Come up with a list of positive self-affirmations that can help you challenge and overcome intrusive thoughts. With repetition and intention, your mindset can shift into a more positive one.
  • Celebrate success. Instead of minimizing your accomplishments, acknowledge them, and praise your success. You showed up, you did the work, and you deserve all the recognition.
  • Self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best that you can.

Final thoughts

Understand that you are not alone, and others are struggling just like you. Even successful celebrities like Maya Angelou, Emma Watson, Ryan Reynolds, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks

suffer from imposter syndrome.

Don’t believe what you see on social media; You might see that people have their life put together when in reality they don’t. Even if it seems like everyone else around you has their lives sorted out, remember that nobody really knows what they’re doing in this great adventure called “life”.

If you are at all feeling like an imposter, then it means that you have some degree of success in your life otherwise you wouldn’t be feeling this way. Focus on how far you’ve come by looking through the lens of self-love and compassion. You have unconsciously challenged negative core beliefs as they have tried to hinder your success. You have defied the odds. Do not let intrusive thoughts take the wheel of your life, instead hold steady and drive into the sunset taking complete ownership of your accomplishments and expressing gratitude.

Items referenced from: 

“What is Imposter Syndrome? Causes, Symptoms, and Types. Medllife, August 23, 2018, accessed February 26, 2021

Kimberly Charleson, “What is imposter Syndrome? Believing Your Accomplishments Are Due to Luck, Not Talent”, Very Well Health, February 18. 202, Accessed February 26, 2021

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