WHAT IS IMPOSTER SYNDROME AND HOW CAN YOU OVERCOME IT?

November 10, 2021
You’ll likely have heard the phrase imposter syndrome but do you know what it really means? And more to the point, if you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, how can you overcome it?

Have you ever felt like a fraud at work or as though you don’t actually deserve your job? You’re in good company. A staggering 72 percent of the UK experiences imposter syndrome or what psychologists often call impostor phenomenon.

And impostor syndrome affects people from all walks of life – women, men, marketing managers, teachers, actors, engineers, and executives – although studies have shown that minority groups can be especially susceptible.

Impostor syndrome – that never-ending doubt that can do damage both personally and professionally – was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes who explored the conundrum in high achieving women. (Clance later published a paper acknowledging that impostor syndrome is not limited solely to women.)

The pair conducted 150 interviews and were shocked to discover how many women reported feeling that they had only succeeded due to luck or circumstance.

Common symptoms of impostor syndrome include:

  • S​​elf-doubt
  • Berating your performance
  • Attributing your success to external factors
  • An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
  • Berating your performance
  • Sabotaging your own success
  • A fear that you won't live up to expectations
  • Overachieving
  • Sabotaging your own success


Pauline Rose Clance, the psychologist who originally put a definition to the idea of imposter syndrome, created an imposter syndrome test that you can access online. This involves answering a series of questions with numbers on a scale, then adding up your tally to find out whether you have few or frequent imposter characteristics.

There’s no single answer as to why certain people are affected by imposter syndrome. Some experts believe it has to do with personality traits (neuroticism, anxiety, etc) while others are of the opinion that its roots are in childhood – perhaps you had a parent or sibling that put you down.

Even though imposter syndrome can be incredibly debilitating, it’s not impossible to overcome. So how can impostor syndrome be dealt with?

Talk about it
A good chat with someone you trust can help you realise that your imposter feelings are normal but also irrational.

Take note of your accomplishments
The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor.Own your successes: Keep track of your wins in a private document and refer back to it whenever you need a lift.

Stop comparing

Focus on your own achievements rather than those of others. Comparison puts focus on the wrong person. You can only control one life, and that’s yours.

Talk to a therapist

If you'd like further advice, book a session with a trained therapist who will be able help you to understand why you feel like you do, explore your concerns and answer any questions you may have.

Remember you’re not alone

If you feel like you are faking it and it’s only a matter of time before you are found out, remember you are not alone. Imposter syndrome is  so common it even has a Wikipedia page, and is experienced by leaders, entrepreneurs and celebrities too:


“Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
Howard Schultz, American businessman and former and CEO of Starbucks

“Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.”
Maya Angelou, prizewinning author

“Am I too loud? Too much? Dreaming too big? “Eventually, I just got tired of always worrying what everyone else thought of me,” she said. “So I decided not to listen.”
Michelle Obama, former First Lady

“The idea that Gawain is surrounded at the round table by all these legends and not feeling worthy himself. I very often found myself in that situation where I have this impostor syndrome, just like him.”
Actor Dev Patel on identifying  with his character in The Green Knight