Imposter syndrome (known as the “imposter phenomenon” among psychologists) refers to a deep and pervasive self-doubt that impacts how some individuals view their achievements. Those with imposter syndrome often feel like they’re a fraud and that their peers will eventually “figure it out.” They typically attribute their wins to luck and other external factors instead of their own hard work and skills.
In recent years, more people have been open about their imposter feelings. Recent studies by the work management platform Asana reported that 74% and 54% of respondents from Singapore and Australia, respectively, experience imposter syndrome. Meanwhile, the global average is 62%. The numbers don’t lie: Feeling like an imposter, even when you have no reason to, is definitely a phenomenon.
Who Does Imposter Syndrome Affect?
The book Imposter Phenomenon credits two female psychologists with coining the term in 1978. They first observed it among “successful women and other marginalised groups.”
While the phenomenon can affect people in all demographics and professions, the American Psychological Association (APA) notes it’s “especially prominent among people with underrepresented identities.” For example, a woman in a predominantly male space might feel like she hasn’t earned the right to be there, despite evidence to the contrary.
The APA stresses that systemic and institutional change is necessary to help individuals combat the syndrome. After all, competitive environments that lack diversity and inclusivity can aggravate imposter feelings among marginalised people trying to “make it” in those arenas.
How does it manifest in daily life?
On the positive end, having imposter syndrome might push you to embrace opportunities as a chance to grow and prove yourself. However, the APA cautions that it can also make you more prone to anxiety, self-isolation, and career burnout. You might also develop an outsized fear of failure if you don’t find healthy coping strategies.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
While widespread change in your larger community might take time, you can learn how to deal with imposter syndrome in healthy and productive ways today. Here are a few things you can try.
Tip #1: Talk about your feelings.
It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one experiencing self-doubt, especially in competitive spaces full of high-achieving individuals. You might feel compelled to bottle up your emotions so no one thinks of you as weak. But expressing yourself honestly and openly to those you trust can be validating. Your loved ones will always support you through your struggles and remind you of your value. They might even relate, which goes a long way in feeling less alone.
Tip #2: Look at the facts.
According to the APA, “One of the best ways to manage imposter feelings is to address the cognitive distortions contributing to them.” You might default to downplaying your successes when you feel like you’re not good enough to succeed in the first place.
But there are reasons you made it to where you are, and it helps to look at your journey objectively. Did you study hard to ace that test? Did you go above and beyond at work, leading to a promotion? If so, all facts point to yes – you deserve the good you get. Don’t let your feelings fool you.
Tip #3: Learn to be okay with failure.
When you already believe you’re a fraud, you’ll take any failure as confirmation. But it’s only human to fail sometimes – it’s how you grow and get better at anything. Instead of looking at your mistakes as proof your accomplishments are flukes, you should start thinking of them as a means to an end. Remember: failure can enable success when you seize them as a chance to learn. After all, you can’t succeed without some trial and error. Keep trying!
Tip #4: Avoid comparing yourself to others.
Nothing feeds insecurities like social comparison. When you compare yourself to others, you’ll inevitably view yourself as less-than. That’s because most people only put their best selves forward. You won’t see the challenges they went through, the effort they put in, or their unique circumstances. All you see is that they’ve “made it” – so, what’s taking you so long? Why is it so hard for you when it appears so easy for them? Why are your achievements so minor compared to theirs?
Constant comparison can take a toll on your self-esteem, reinforcing imposter feelings. Instead of looking at others and scrutinising all the ways you don’t measure up, shift your focus inward. Concentrate on your accomplishments, celebrate them, and recognise how far you’ve come.
If it helps, look for practical solutions to your deepest insecurities so they have less power over you. For example, perhaps crooked teeth hinder your self-confidence – be proactive and invest in invisible orthodontic treatment like ClearCorrect aligners. Bottomline: Focus less on what others are doing and more on what you can do for you.
Tip #5: Consider therapy.
Despite its name, this phenomenon isn’t a diagnosable mental health condition recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, several studies note that it can worsen generalised anxiety and lead to depression in some cases. If your imposter feelings make it hard to function and think clearly about your situation, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance.
Working with a licensed therapist can help you identify the underlying cause of your issues and develop healthier ways to cope. Therapists can also encourage self-expression without fear of judgment. Help is available! You don’t have to white-knuckle your way to peace of mind and emotional growth.
Are you dealing with imposter syndrome? One thing’s for sure: you’re not alone. It can affect anyone – and overcoming it is possible with time, hard work, and the proper tools. Talk about what you’re going through, acknowledge the facts, and focus on your healing.
Asana. (n.d.). Anatomy of Work 2023 – Rise of the Connected Enterprise. Asana.com.
Freeman, J. D., & Peisah, C. (2021). Imposter syndrome in doctors beyond training: a narrative review. Australasian Psychiatry, 30(1), 49–54.
Huecker, M. R. (2023, April 9). Imposter phenomenon. StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf.
Palmer, C. (n.d.). How to overcome impostor phenomenon. APA.org.