Imposter syndrome: what it is and how to deal with it

Many successful people believe deep down that all their achievements are the result of a happy accident, despite the fact that in fact they are excellent specialists. This psychological phenomenon is known as impostor syndrome.

What is the impostor syndrome

The impostor syndrome or phenomenon was first described in 1978 by psychologists Paulina Klance and Susanna Imes. They studied the state of successful women who, despite their visible achievements and objective successes, believed that those around them simply overestimated them. A study conducted by a group of scientists in 2019 showed that in modern society, from 9 to 82% of people suffer from this syndrome (depending on the method of evaluating the results and participants). At the same time, the violation is typical for people of any age and gender, although it occurs more often among representatives of ethnic minorities.

But if for some the symptoms of the disorder are temporary, for example, appear only in the first weeks of work in a new place, then for others the syndrome can last a lifetime.

Symptoms of the disorder

People with impostor syndrome admit to feeling cheated and worried that they the deception will be exposed. It is difficult for them to accept their success, despite the fact that objectively it is deserved. As a rule, these are insecure people with very low self-esteem.

Fear of taking on new tasks

According to a study published in 2014, people with impostor syndrome focus on limited tasks instead of taking on additional responsibilities that will help them demonstrate their abilities. "Imposters" avoid additional tasks, fearing that they will distract them or interfere with the quality of the existing ones.


For people with impostor syndrome, each new success can become the basis for further exacerbation of self-doubt. Even when such a person reaches significant heights, he is not able to accept this fact. On the contrary, he has increased anxiety that others will guess that he does not deserve this recognition.

Attributing success to external factors

"Imposters" deny their competence. They believe that their success is only an accident or the result of external factors.

Job dissatisfaction and burnout

Even if the “imposter” is not happy with his current position or what he is currently doing, the fear of failure prevents him from moving up and changing jobs. Against the background of constant job dissatisfaction, professional burnout often appears . However, according to researchers, people with impostor syndrome do not change anything in their lives, because they do not believe that they can achieve something more.

Obsession with tasks and goals

"Imposters" often set extremely difficult goals for themselves, and when they cannot achieve them, they experience great frustration.

Despite the seemingly absolute "harmlessness" of the syndrome, such people can experience mental disorders, experiencing:

However, the impostor syndrome itself does not belong to mental disorders.

Types of impostors

Valerie Young, who is recognized as one of the world's experts on the syndrome, based on personal observations, identified 5 types of "imposters":

  • perfectionist;
  • ​​
  • expert;
  • born genius;
  • soloist;
  • superhero.


Perfectionism and impostor syndrome very often develop in parallel. Both types, as a rule, set excessively high goals for themselves and, not achieving them, experience uncertainty, because of which they are then very worried. People of this type are rarely satisfied with what they have done, because they are sure that everything could be done even better.

What should "imposters"-perfectionists do? Learn to calmly relate to your mistakes, perceiving them as a natural part of any process. Force yourself to start a project that you haven't dared to take on in months. Understand that there will never be a “perfect time”, and the work done can never be 100% perfect either. The sooner the "imposter" realizes this, the easier it will be for him in life.


This type of person does not feel satisfied with the task performed until they know absolutely everything about it. The problem is that the time spent collecting information can significantly complicate the execution of the work itself.

A born genius

For such "imposters" it is important to demonstrate that they easily and quickly master new skills, but when faced with a difficult task, they experience shame, weakness and self-disappointment. Like perfectionists, they set the bar too high for themselves.

What to do? First of all, realize that every person, even the most brilliant, learns and develops throughout his life. Instead of being angry with yourself because of an unachieved goal, it is better to reconsider your behavior model and gradually approach your plan.


It's okay to be independent. But only until the moment when a person begins to refuse help just to demonstrate his own importance. Such people prefer to work alone, fearing that asking for help will be seen as a sign of incompetence.


This type of person constantly compares himself to his colleagues. Underestimation of one's own abilities makes a person consider himself inferior. In order to reach the level of colleagues, the "superhero" begins to work more intensively, which is fraught with problems with physical and mental health. For such people, work becomes a method of self-affirmation.

How can you help yourself in this case? To accustom yourself not to look for self-affirmation in external factors, for example, at the cost of your own health, to chase the praise of your superiors. And also learn to perceive constructive criticism not as a personal insult.

Who is susceptible to the syndrome

Absolutely any person can develop impostor syndrome. But there are some factors that can serve as triggers:

  • new challenges - signs of the syndrome may appear after a recent appointment to a new position or after a resounding success if a person feels that he is not deserved all this or will not be able to properly perform new duties;
  • family environment - if a person grew up with a more gifted brother or sister, then he may develop feelings of inferiority;
  • belonging to a marginalized group - people who have experienced discrimination in their time are more prone to impostor syndrome;
  • anxiety and depression.

Is it treatable

There are currently no specific treatments for impostor syndrome. But if the manifestations typical of the phenomenon complicate a person's life, it is worth seeking psychological help.

A few tips for "imposters":

  1. Talk about your feelings. One of the best ways to relieve stress is to talk about your feelings. You can choose a relative, friend, or psychologist as the listener. Such conversations help a person to look more realistically at their abilities and competence. In addition, sessions with a psychologist will help to establish the root cause that caused fears and eliminate it.
  2. Examine the symptoms of the phenomenon. If you know why this or that disorder arises and how this or that disorder develops, it is easier to cope with it and explain to yourself the reasons for your own insecurity and doubts.
  3. Understand that there is no ideal. To develop self-respect, a person must accept both their strengths and weaknesses. Realize that no one and nothing is perfect, and mistakes happen to everyone.
  4. Don't think bad. A key step to overcoming impostor syndrome is to tune in to positive thinking. Learn to rejoice in current achievements, remember your past successes, take into account the positive reviews of others about you. This is the best way to deal with the phenomenon.

Many people suffer from impostor syndrome. But it is important to understand that personal perception of a situation is not always a reflection of reality.

  1. – Impostor Syndrome.
  2. Dena M. Bravata, Sharon A. Watts, Autumn L. Keefer, Divya K. Madhusudhan, Katie T. Taylor, Dani M. Clark, Ross S. Nelson, Kevin O. Cokley, and Heather K. Hagg. – Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review.
  3. Jasmine Vergauwe, Bart Wille, Marjolein Feys, Filip De Fruyt & Frederik Anseel, Journal of Business and Psychology. – Fear of Being Exposed: The Trait-Relatedness of the Impostor Phenomenon and its Relevance in the Work Context.
  4. Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes. – The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.
  5. Jaruwan Sakulku1, James Alexander. – The Impostor Phenomenon.
  6. – How to handle impostor syndrome.
  7. – Impostor Syndrome Expert Dr. Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women.