Dealing with Imposter Syndrome? Here’s What You Need to Know

Published By Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP
February 2, 2024


Danny, a young and gifted singer-songwriter, stood backstage at popular music festival, his heart pounding with a mix of excitement and trepidation. At just 23, Danny had already carved out a name for himself in the music world, but this festival was different. Here, several of his idols – the giants of songwriting he had looked up to since his teens – were headlining.

Despite his string of acclaimed performances and a growing fan base, a nagging voice inside him whispered doubts. He looked out at the sea of faces, and the weight of his anxiety grew heavier.

“Do they know? Can they tell I’m not as good as they think?” he wondered.

The whole thing seemed surreal. Here he was, sharing the stage with legends whose music had echoed through the walls of his childhood bedroom. But instead of basking in the glory, he felt like an imposter, a untalented pretender who might at any moment be exposed.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

This internal struggle Danny faced is commonly referred to as imposter syndrome. Although it is not an diagnosable mental health condition, imposter syndrome is a phrase coined to describe a feeling of not being as capable as others may think, despite clear evidence of capability. Imposter syndrome is more than just occasional self-doubt. It is a constant worry of being seen as a fake, feeling like success is just luck, or that they other people are deceived about one’s capability.

Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first introduced the term “imposter syndrome” in their book, The imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention, published in 1978. Originally, they used it to describe high-achieving women who couldn’t believe in their own success, thinking they had fooled others into overestimating their abilities. Over time, this concept evolved to include men and people in various fields.

This syndrome is common in workplaces and school systems, especially where there is a lot of competition or pressure. It is not specific to any one field, affecting everyone from tech experts to artists.

Students in demanding programs often feel like they don’t belong or got in by mistake. This can lead to stress, anxiety, and less satisfaction in their work or studies. It can even make people afraid to take on new challenges.

A review of 62 studies on the phenomenon showed a wide variability in prevalence estimates, due to a lack of uniformity among screening tools and cut-off points.

Nonetheless, imposter syndrome was found to be “particularly high” among minorities, common to both adult men and women of all ages, and frequently occurring alongside depression and anxiety. Those experiencing imposter syndrome also suffered a range of consequences, especially at work – burnout, dissatisfaction, and declining performance on the job.

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

Psychologically, imposter syndrome is linked to factors like perfectionism, fear of failure, and family or societal pressures. It is often seen in people who set extremely high standards for themselves and have fear about not meeting them. Some theories suggest certain personality traits or past experiences, like feeling pressure to achieve from a young age, can play into its development as well.

Each person’s experience with imposter syndrome is unique and can be influenced by a combination of these factors, including:


People who set excessively high standards for themselves often feel like imposters. They think anything short of perfection is a failure and evidence that they are frauds.

Family Expectations

Growing up in families with high expectations for success and achievement can lead to feelings of inadequacy. People may feel they that they not living up to their family’s standards, even when they are successful.

Personality Traits

Traits like anxiety and neuroticism are linked to imposter syndrome. People who are naturally anxious or prone to negative thoughts are more likely to doubt their accomplishments.

Workplace Environment

Highly competitive or stressful workplaces can exacerbate feelings of being an imposter. If an environment emphasizes achievements and constantly compares employees, it can make people question their own success.

Early Academic and Social Experiences

Past experiences, like feeling out of place in school or being bullied, can also contribute. If someone was made to feel they didn’t belong or were not good enough, these feelings might carry over into adult life.

Religious and Cultural Factors

A person’s religious and cultural background can be a factor in imposter syndrome. For example, in cultures where humility is highly valued, acknowledging one’s own achievements might be difficult, leading to feelings of being an imposter. Ironically, studies show that people prefer a humble leader, and that they are more effective at inspiring and motivating others.

What Are the Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome?

“Like many people, I’ve spent years trying to combat my imposter syndrome. Initially, I thought my debilitating self-doubt could be conquered through achievement. If only I could do more—more degrees, more awards, more accomplishments—then maybe I’d finally believe in myself, and I wouldn’t have to worry about people finding out that I was a fraud because I’d have proven to myself and others that I wasn’t.

No matter how much I chased that validation, my imposter syndrome never went away. Instead, it only seemed to get worse. 

I realized I had a problem after my imposter syndrome started hurting my business. I’d noticed a pattern in the clients I would turn down—rather than saying no to work that didn’t suit my skills, I’d developed a habit of turning down projects based on scale. The larger and scarier a project felt, the more likely I was to talk myself out of accepting it, even claiming to one potential client that I wasn’t the right person for the job, only to accept an identical project for a smaller business a few months later. 

The tipping point was when I turned down a potential client and referred them to someone elseonly for them to hire me to execute the campaign. I was so terrified of failing to measure up that I said no to thousands of dollars of new business—and the potential for more work in the future—and accepted a fraction of the amount to do the actual work required. It was a major wake-up call, and I realized that my imposter syndrome wasn’t just holding me back, it was actively destroying my career.”

-Janadra Sutton, Imposter Syndrome Cost Me Thousands of Dollars – Here’s How I Learned to Fight Back,

While the cause of imposter symptom varies, the symptoms manifest internally for the most part. Therefore, they can be a challenge to spot from the outside. It may appear that someone is excessively humble, hard-working, or, on the other hand, rigid and stuck in place. Symptoms include:

Persistent Self-Doubt

Despite achievements, individuals feel they are not smart or capable enough. For example, a successful professional might think they only landed their job because of luck.


Attributing Success to External Factors

Rather than recognizing their own abilities, people may feel their accomplishments are due to external reasons like happenstance or help from others. A student who receives a high grade might think it is due to an easy exam, and not their hard work.


Fear of Failure

A constant fear of not meeting expectations can haunt those with imposter syndrome. In the workplace, this might manifest as over-preparation or procrastination on projects due to fear of not doing them perfectly.

Downplaying Success

Not acknowledging or feeling uncomfortable with praise can be a sign of imposter syndrome. In personal life, someone might brush off compliments about their talents or achievements. Unfortunately, this may cost in terms of salary increases and promotions.


To prove their worth, individuals with imposter syndrome might work longer hours than necessary, often at the cost of their personal life. Overworking doesn’t just sink productivity and elevate stress levels, it can lead to serious physical issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as the development of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Avoidance of New Challenges

Avoiding opportunities for fear of revealing “fraudulence.” This could be seen in someone hesitant to apply for promotions or take on new responsibilities. Again, this costs the individual over the short- and long-term in wage increases.

Imposter syndrome can significantly shape our lives, subtly infiltrating our professional and personal spheres.

In the workplace, it acts as an invisible barrier to career advancement. Those suffering from it might hesitate to take on new challenges or leadership roles, feeling undeserving of these opportunities. This self-doubt extends into personal relationships, where it can diminish one’s sense of worth, affecting interactions with friends and family.

Mentally, it’s a heavy burden that brings with it stress, anxiety, and even depression. Decision-making becomes a minefield, marred by indecision and avoidance. The syndrome skews self-perception, making individuals consistently undervalue their talents and contributions.

Overcoming imposter syndrome is thus vital for fostering a healthier self-view and achieving a more balanced and fulfilling life.

Coping with Imposter Syndrome

If we find ourselves struggling with imposter syndrome, what can we do? Coping strategies involve self-help practices and, in some cases, professional help. Implementing these strategies can help those feelings of being an imposter recede, resulting in a more balanced self-perception.

How to Get Over Imposter Syndrome

  • Acknowledge the feelings: The first step is understanding these feelings for what they really are. Allowing yourself to feel your feelings, and recognize them for what they are, can demystify them and reduce their power
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Replace self-doubt with more realistic and positive thoughts. Look closely at your imposter beliefs and find evidence that contradicts them.
  • Celebrate achievements: Keep a record of your accomplishments. Reflecting on your successes can help counter feelings of being a fraud.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others: Everyone’s path is unique, and everyone brings something to the table specifically because of their uniqueness. Concentrate on your personal development and set your own objectives, making a conscious effort to avoid measuring yourself against others.
  • Talk about it: Get some perspective and reassurance by sharing your feelings with trusted friends, mentors, or colleagues.
  • Seek professional help: If imposter feelings are overwhelming, therapy can be highly beneficial. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is specifically designed to help people abandon negative thought patterns and adopt more helpful ones.
  • Set realistic expectations: Perfection isn’t achievable. Set realistic and attainable goals to prevent setting yourself up for feelings of failure.

There is Always Hope

As we journey through understanding and addressing the root causes imposter syndrome, it is important to remember that growth and self-acceptance are ongoing processes for all of us.

What we can individually do to make a difference, both with our colleagues and with ourselves?

Embracing achievements, learning to trust in our abilities, and being kind to ourselves and others who may be struggling can transform our everyday experience of the world. With each small step toward overcoming these doubts, we pave the way for self-confidence and a more fulfilling life. Let’s not forget that all of our unique experiences and perspectives are invaluable, and treasure each accordingly. Here’s to a future where we are all feel welcome, worthy, capable, and ready to embrace successes with open arms.

  • Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2019). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of General Internal Medicine35(4).
  • ‌‌joshuacogar1. (2022, September 9). Humility in Leadership. Management Consulted.
  • ‌Sutton, J. (2022, March 22). Imposter Syndrome Cost Me Thousands of Dollars—Here’s How I Learned to Fight Back. SUCCESS.
  • Wong, K., Chan, A. H. S., & Ngan, S. C. (2019). The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16(12), 2102.

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