Feeling Like a Fraud? You Might Have Imposter Syndrome

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Do you have repeated thoughts at work that suggest you don’t do enough? If you answered yes, this might be for you.

Do your questions to yourself sound like: What am I even doing here? I don’t think I belong here. I’m a total fraud, and everyone is going to know soon. If you have had these thoughts frequently, you might just have ‘imposter syndrome.’

A 2019 review conducted at (trusted source) PMC labs by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, covered 62 studies on imposter syndrome that suggested this dilemma affects anywhere from 9 to 82 percent of people.  Early research on the subject exploring this phenomenon primarily focused on accomplished, successful women, and it later become clearer that it was not just women suffering from it.

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Studies have since shown that imposter syndrome can affect just about anyone in any profession. Also called ‘perceived fraudulence,’ imposter syndrome basically involves repeated feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence, despite one’s education, experience, and accomplishments. People who were identified to have imposter syndrome showed a track record of working much harder than they should and hold themselves to unrealistic performance standards.

It comes as no surprise that studies indicate patterns of continuous self-doubt results in unbalanced emotional wellbeing that directly affects one’s performance. Think of it as self-fulfilling prophecy if you will.


Studies suggest that imposter syndrome represents an internal conflict between one’s self-perception, and how the others perceive us. People suffering from imposter syndrome find it difficult to accept praise for their talents and tend to downplay their achievements by believing they owe it to either timing or luck.

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Imposter syndrome (that many consider our inner saboteur) disallows people from celebrating their wins and invokes self-doubting beliefs that others will see-through their “fraudulent façade.”

As a result, those affected overcompensate by overworking in order to:

  • Hopefully keep others from recognizing their imagined shortcomings or failures
  • Take on roles they don’t believe you deserve
  • Prove that they are smart enough
  • Ease feelings of guilt over “tricking” others

Here’s the danger to having imposter syndrome: since our thoughts are our reality, living in one that constantly tells you that you are not good enough will have lasting negative effects. Long-term thought patterns eventually lead to a complete dissatisfaction over any accomplishment or recognition. And minor errors that are part and parcel of the human experience only enforce the lack of belief in one’s intelligence and abilities.

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Naturally, this leads to developed cycles of anxiety, depression, and burnout.


In her 2011 book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of it,” leading imposter syndrome researcher Dr. Valerie Young reveals the five main types that affect people. Dr. Young describes them as competence types, that reflects one’s internal beliefs and what competency means to the individual.



These individuals have very high expectations of themselves to the point where they demand perfection of themselves in every aspect of life. However, since perfection isn’t always realistic, achieving those standards may not happen and one can overlook all the hard work they’ve invested in a task. This ends in self-criticism over minor mistakes, that in turn produces feelings of shame and failure. Perfectionists may even avoid trying new things for fear of not doing them perfectly the first time.


This is someone who has a natural ability to learn new skills with little effort. However, these individuals end up convincing themselves that this should always be the approach in taking on new projects, and pressure themselves into understanding new material and processes right away. Their utmost belief that competent people can handle anything with little difficulty leads them to feel embarrassed and ashamed if they do encounter challenges in their endeavours.


The individualist or soloist, believes that success can only be achieved alone, and if cannot be done independently, will think themselves unworthy. They do not believe in asking for help or accepting support when it’s offered. It stems from a personal belief that accepting help means admitting certain inadequacies that leads to feeling like a failure.


People that fall in this category cannot consider their efforts a success until they feel they have learned everything there is to know on a subject or project. They tend to spend more time in their quest for information, which results in extending the time period before they can complete something. Believing they should have all the answers, they tend to consider themselves a failure or fraud if they cannot produce one when problem solving, or if they’ve missed out on certain information through no fault of their own.

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People with a superhero complex expect themselves to give 100 percent in any role they may hold from friend to employee, student or parent. These individuals feel they need to push themselves to the limit in all areas of their lives, but still end up feeling like they are not doing enough.



Studies show that imposter syndrome is triggered by a number of factors, that stems from parenting skills and childhood environments. People who exhibit imposter syndrome very likely had parents who:

  • Pressured them to do well in school
  • Compared them to their siblings
  • Were controlling or overprotective
  • Constantly emphasized the natural intelligence of their child
  • Were over-critical of mistakes

Many people who achieved academic success in childhood ended up developing some form of imposter syndrome in their lives.


A big part of dealing with our inner saboteur require a lot of shadow work and inner healing.  Our thoughts only reflect how we feel about ourselves, so a radical strategy to stop feeling like we are a fraud or not worthy is practicing kindness with ourselves.


There are more people who identify with this problem than you know, so allowing yourself to be honest about your difficulties, may even encourage others to learn better coping tactics. Sharing imposter feelings may help people to feel less overwhelmed and be open to exploring better ways of dealing with themselves.


This is especially important for the individualists. As humans we are social creatures that depend on our direct networks in order to achieve certain goals, and that is just how we are wired. Remember that our network includes confidants, mentors, and good friends who can offer guidance, support, and encouragement, as well as validate our strengths.

Image Credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com / Unsplash


Understand that imposter feelings are not usually your reality, but fears and doubts formed as thoughts. When these feelings surface, ask yourself if there are facts that support these beliefs. Most of the time, there aren’t any. If you reject praise and recognition for your work, challenge how you perceive your achievements, and be your own cheerleader instead. Learn how to celebrate your wins, you deserve it!


When we practice kindness with ourselves, we start appreciating our abilities and achievements a lot more. Understand that everyone has their own unique abilities and talents; recognize what’s special about you and give yourself recognition for it. With social media, we tend to compare our success to others who we think have it all, but no one actually “has it all” as it is not entirely possible.

Ultimately, personal success does not require perfection, and not achieving perfection does not make one a fraud, only human. By extending kindness and compassion to ourselves instead of judgement, we are able to maintain realistic perspectives, and experience more fulfilling self-growth for better success. For those who need step-by-step guidance on dealing with imposter syndrome, professional mental health practitioners will help design personal and individual framework for treatment.

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