• Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon that occurs when someone feels like their personal and professional victories are undeserved. 
  • As a result, those who have imposter syndrome often feel out of place at work, in their relationships, or in academics. 
  • Symptoms of imposter syndrome include guilt, reduced confidence and self-worth, and possible depression or anxiety. 
  • Imposter syndrome is common: 70% of people may face this condition at some point in their lives. 
  • Women, younger people, and people of color are more likely to report experiencing imposter syndrome due to discrimination bias in multiple settings. 
  • Those experiencing imposter syndrome can find support from a mental health professional. In addition, practicing thought replacement by switching out worries and negative thoughts for positive outcomes can help. 

We’ve all felt a little out of place before: Plenty of life events and transitions can leave us feeling uncomfortable and unprepared. Even when we’ve done the hard work and our efforts have been recognized, there are sometimes lingering feelings of inadequacy, an undercurrent that whispers, “You’re a fraud.” 

For many people, accomplishing their goals and experiencing success is accompanied by a constant sensation of unworthiness, common enough to be coined as imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome can affect anyone, but especially students, workplace professionals, and romantic partners. However, it’s often difficult for those suffering from it to recognize the signs of imposter syndrome, especially because this condition warps their sense of self to the point that they feel like a fraud. But doing so is important—conquering imposter syndrome enables one to celebrate progress and find fulfillment in their achievements. 

Those who believe they might have imposter syndrome can find an ally by talking with a mental health professional. And when negative thought patterns or worries start swirling, recognizing and then replacing those fearful “what-if” scenarios with positive outcomes can make a big difference.  

Understanding and Spotting the Signs of Imposter Syndrome

Seventy percent of people are predicted to face imposter syndrome at one point or another in their lifetime. For women, young professionals, and people of color, the odds are even higher. If you’ve been feeling like a fraud lately, watch out for symptoms such as: 

  • Sensations of guilt when being recognized for your accomplishments and success: Whether it’s a promotion, a surprise party, an award—whatever it is, being recognized for your achievements feels awful if you have imposter syndrome. Instead of being able to accept praise and acknowledgment from others, you experience a general sense of dread that eventually, everyone will find out you’re a phony.
  • Work-related anxiety that tells you, “I’m not qualified to be here”: Imposter syndrome in the workplace seems more likely to affect women than men. Research suggests that women are stereotypically perceived as overly friendly and talkative, and thus not suitable for professional leadership positions that require so-called “male traits” like assertiveness and independence. Biases like these are obviously incorrect and are almost always evident to those who are targeted by them. As a result, women may often feel like a fraud in higher-level job positions simply because they’re being told subliminally that they aren’t qualified.  
  • Worrying that you don’t deserve your romantic partner: Like relationship anxiety, imposter syndrome in relationships can leave one or more partners under the impression that they’re not good enough for their significant other, and that no matter what they do, the relationship will end. 
  • Feeling ashamed or guilty simply because of your identity: For young professionals, people of color, and especially women of color, academic and workplace settings can be a source of anxiety and depression. In one study, higher rates of imposter syndrome were associated with perceived racial and gender-based discrimination against students of color.   

Don’t Fake It Till You Make It: Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

While we might not like to admit it, a lot of our self-worth often depends on other people’s perceptions of us. Those with imposter syndrome are often straight-laced overachievers who go above and beyond in their personal lives and careers. They may act out of a deep-seated fear that they will never be good enough for those around them. Imposter syndrome seems intrinsically tied to one’s sense of self—it might be hard for those with this condition to understand that their feelings of incompetence are irrational. 

Here’s some guidance if you’re experiencing imposter syndrome in:

  • Your relationship: Remember, communication is key. Talk with your partner—explain that you’re worried about losing them and are feeling inadequate. If you need help doing so, consider whether you could both benefit from couples therapy or marriage counseling.
  • Your workplace: While discrimination at work shouldn’t be tolerated, younger professionals or those who are women and/or people of color should remember to appreciate their accomplishments and give themselves the benefit of the doubt. If you’ve been given a new position, or are being rewarded for hard work, it’s for a reason. With that in mind, workplace discrimination can still occur—so if it seems like you’re being singled out, don’t gaslight yourself. Advocate for yourself instead.
  • Academia: Those who deal with imposter syndrome in academics are often Type-A personalities, which can be rewarding in terms of performance, but disastrous for mental health. Those pursuing post-secondary education are at high risk for developing a mental health disorder or condition, so remembering to pace yourself is key. Have a personal value system in place that includes healthy goals, connections, and expectations. 

Think Positively, Talk to a Counselor, and Remember That You Belong

Like mental health conditions, if you’re experiencing the signs of imposter syndrome, taking proactive steps can help. One of the most beneficial ways is to seek therapy or counseling. Talking to a licensed professional can reduce some of the weight you’re carrying. 

And as cheesy as it sounds, the power of positive thoughts might also help mitigate the effects of imposter syndrome. Psychologists in one experiment from 2016 found that test subjects with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were able to reduce the severity of their anxiety through a process called thought replacement. When faced with personal worries about future events or current scenarios, subjects were asked to replace those negative “what-ifs” in their heads by imagining potentially positive outcomes instead.

If you’re struggling with the negative thoughts associated with imposter syndrome, take a deep breath—remind yourself of all the hard work you’ve put in to get to where you are. Discrimination, sexism, and racial stereotypes definitely represent obstacles for the people affected by them. But achieving personal and professional victories despite these barriers should be an opportunity to celebrate, and not to feel ashamed. 

Lastly, it’s absolutely normal to feel like you don’t deserve your good fortune, even if you feel like a fraud. Highly successful people from Michelle Obama to six-time Oscar winner (and generally fantastic human being) Tom Hanks have experienced imposter syndrome, too.  

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