Impostor Syndrome: What is it and how to overcome it?

I don’t deserve this job. I’m not as capable as my colleagues believe. Once they catch on, they’ll realize I’m a fraud. My accomplishments are more due to luck than my own efforts.

These three statements aren’t fiction – they’re part of the internal dialogue associated with what’s known as impostor syndrome

We all grapple with self-doubt, live with insecurities and navigate periods of delicate self-esteem from time to time. However, these are common thoughts for those experiencing impostor syndrome, and continuously thinking this way about ourselves and our work can become draining over time. 

But what exactly is impostor syndrome? Is it lack of confidence? Diminished self-esteem? How long is it considered ‘normal’ to go through this? And what strategies can help overcome it?

Because understanding is the first step toward change, let’s explore the behavior associated with impostor syndrome, its red flags and how it might be undermining you.

What is impostor syndrome? Signs that will help you identify it.

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that, although not classified as a clinical disorder, has an impact on your self-esteem, well-being and mental health. It can arise in various aspects of life: personal, family, social and work-related.

Individuals experiencing it are primarily characterized by their inability to recognize their own self-worth and achievements, feeling undeserving of their accomplishments and attributing their success to luck rather than their own efforts.

Another telling sign of impostor syndrome is the persistent feeling of being a “fraud,” worrying that others will eventually discover that it has all been a façade and that you aren’t as competent as you seemed.

In addition to these two indicators, there are other signs that can help you determine if you might be grappling with impostor syndrome:

  • Doubting your own abilities and skills. Putting yourself down or resorting to phrases like: “That was luck/coincidence. I don’t deserve something this good.”
  • Feeling like you don’t meet others’ expectations and a constant fear of failing, despite evidence to the contrary and regardless of your success.
  • Losing motivation due to lacking confidence in your abilities, achievements and self-worth.
  • If this persists, it can lead to experiencing anxiety, depression, sadness or low self-esteem.
  • Subconsciously getting in your own way, a form of self-sabotage.
  • Holding yourself to high standards and striving for perfection.
  • The ongoing undercurrent of feeling “I’m not good enough.”
  • Feeling disconnected from the rest of the team at work.

What causes Impostor Syndrome? 


In psychology, the origins of impostor syndrome are frequently traced back to childhood and the life story of the individual experiencing it. Some of the primary causes include:

  • Having been raised in a family setting marked by high expectations and perfectionism, where parents often pointed out flaws but failed to recognize accomplishments or skills.
  • Past experiences of failure in school or university, an academic history that didn’t shine or critiques from teachers or peers that have left a lasting impression.
  • Low self-esteem, a lack of self-assurance and confidence issues. These three factors can, in turn, be a result of the preceding points.

Tips to overcome Impostor Syndrome


And once something is understood, it’s time to put that knowledge into action. Impostor syndrome can have a significant impact on your overall quality of life. The persistent presence of thoughts that undermine your confidence, question your accomplishments and attribute your achievements more to luck than your abilities and efforts can take a toll on your mood.

So, here are some tips to tackle the challenges posed by impostor syndrome and break free from its limitations in your day-to-day life, whether it’s at work or in other aspects of your life.

Focus on facts and question your thoughts

According to psychologist Andrea Viso, thoughts may be involuntary, but the act of thinking is a choice. We suggest that you question, verify and assess whether the thoughts and critical inner voice that come with impostor syndrome align with reality.

Let’s consider an example: After a meeting with your office colleagues, you’re suddenly bombarded with self-criticisms: “I didn’t contribute anything interesting,” “I embarrassed myself,” “they’re probably thinking I don’t deserve this position.” This is the moment to pause and evaluate whether these thoughts actually reflect reality: Did someone voice these concerns during the meeting? Do you possess any evidence that supports what you’re thinking?

In the end, reality prevails every single time.


Express how you feel

Reach out to someone you trust, someone you know won’t judge you, and share how impostor syndrome is affecting you. Putting your emotions into words and giving a name to what you’re feeling can help reduce their intensity and provide you with a fresh perspective.

Having a conversation with someone else can gradually diminish the weight of those seemingly overwhelming thoughts in your mind. It will make you feel less isolated and might even lead you to discover that there are others who go through similar experiences.

We recommend that you don’t suppress, deny or try to control the emotions arising from impostor syndrome. It’s more beneficial to acknowledge what you’re feeling and validate those emotions, enabling you to manage them rather than simply controlling them.

Once you’ve identified your emotions (distress, sadness, anxiety, guilt, shame), seek ways to address your emotional needs. Perhaps, as we mentioned earlier, you need to talk to a trusted person and unload your feelings; engage in an activity you enjoy to interrupt the cycle of negative thoughts; or maybe what you truly need is the company and affection of your loved ones.


Transform your inner dialogue

This change takes time. In other words, you won’t go from thinking you’re unworthy to waking up one morning and showering yourself with praise. We recommend starting to make small changes in the way you talk to yourself, gradually, until it becomes a habit.

If you tell yourself “I’m not good enough,” try making a slight adjustment and speaking to yourself a bit more kindly: “Right now, I don’t feel very confident, but I’m learning.” If you’ve encountered a setback at work or something didn’t go as planned, instead of saying “I embarrassed myself, what a shame to have failed like that,” consider having a different conversation: “Today wasn’t my best day at the office, I didn’t do as well as I wanted, but I’ll learn from what happened to improve tomorrow.”


Reduce comparisons, focus on learning

One of the signs of impostor syndrome in the workplace is the recurring tendency to compare yourself to your coworkers. Such comparisons are fundamentally unfair because life experiences, individual circumstances and personality all play a role in shaping your actions, attitude, and behavior.

We encourage you to shift from comparison to learning. In other words, whenever you catch yourself belittling your abilities in comparison to a colleague, thinking that you’re not as skilled as they are in a certain area, ask yourself: What can I learn from them? What attitudes, abilities or skills do I admire in this person and would like to adopt?


It’s time for you to acknowledge your accomplishments

And when we say accomplishments, we’re also talking about your abilities, skills and talents. Enough self-criticism. It’s time to acknowledge, validate and celebrate the positives within you and what you’ve achieved so far.

Here, we recommend not just thinking about your accomplishments, but actually writing them down. Firstly, because things can feel quite abstract in your mind, and secondly, jotting them on paper will serve as a reminder when you inevitably grapple with impostor syndrome again. Create a list of the skills and abilities you possess, both in your professional and personal life. Also, consider aspects you like about yourself and parts of your personality that others around you often praise.

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