Breaking the Silence: How Common is Impostor Syndrome?

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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Do you ever feel like you aren’t good enough for your job? Do you tend to doubt your accomplishments, despite how hard you’ve worked to get where you are?

Most people feel this way at one time or another. Many of us believe we aren’t as smart or as capable as others seem to think we are. This is imposter syndrome, also known as the imposter phenomenon.

It’s a pattern of thinking rather than a medical problem, and it’s something you should be aware of if you’re experiencing feelings of self-doubt.

Here’s a guide to understanding and overcoming imposter syndrome.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome involves feelings of self-doubt relating to your accomplishments. You may feel like a fraud or phony and doubt whether you deserve the job or the accomplishments you have attained.

You may feel like you’re tricking others into thinking you’re more important than you truly are. Some symptoms of imposter syndrome include:

  • Sensitivity to small mistakes
  • Lack of self-confidence in the workplace
  • Fear of failing others
  • Burnout from overworking
  • Feeling that overworking is the only way to get ahead
  • Crediting luck or others for your success
  • Downplaying your accomplishments
  • Holding yourself back from reaching attainable goals

If you’re experiencing any of these feelings, you aren’t alone. Seven out of 10 adults deal with these types of thoughts and feelings at some point in their lives.

The original study on imposter syndrome from the 1970s revolved around high-achieving females who had difficulty attributing their accomplishments to themselves. Today, we know that anyone can experience imposter syndrome.

This pattern of thinking can turn into a negative cycle. Imposter syndrome can interfere with your career and future accomplishments.

Recognizing these thoughts and having the tools in place to overcome them can help you put a stop to imposter syndrome from getting in your way.

Who Experiences Imposter Syndrome?

Interestingly, it’s often high-achievers and perfectionists who often feel like frauds in their own lives. Many doctors, lawyers, celebrities, and academics experience these feelings.

Imposter syndrome is common among people who feel different from their peers. This includes first-generation college students and women in high-tech positions. It’s a common phenomenon among Asian American, Black American, and Latin college students in the U.S.

Imposter syndrome can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

At Work

People who experience an imposter mindset tend to attribute their success in life to luck and disregard their work ethic and abilities. Over time, this type of thinking can hold you back from asking for a promotion or a raise. Individuals with imposter syndrome may feel like they have to work nonstop to achieve impossibly high standards of perfectionism.

At School

Students who constantly doubt themselves may experience imposter syndrome. They may avoid asking questions or sharing their thoughts in class out of fear of appearing stupid or less than perfect.

At Home

All parents at one time or another feel like they aren’t fully prepared for all that comes with raising a child. Persistent thoughts of inadequacy that go unchecked can lead to struggles making decisions for your child, fearing you might make a mistake and ruin their life.

In Relationships

People often feel unworthy of love or affection from a significant other. They may fear their partner will see they aren’t who they pretend to be. In many cases, people will self-sabotage and end a relationship before their partner can.

Constantly doubting yourself can lead to stress, fear, and anxiety. This can lead to troubled relationships, poor job performance, and a reduced enjoyment of life in general. Imposter syndrome is linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Overcoming imposter syndrome begins with you recognizing your strengths and potential. It involves taking ownership of your accomplishments.

Some tips for overcoming imposter syndrome include:

Separating Facts From Feelings

Like most people, you will probably experience feelings of imposter syndrome creeping in at some point in life. When this occurs, understand that these feelings are normal but false. Remind yourself how hard you have worked and how worthy you are of all the good things in your life.

Recognize Your Accomplishments

When you’re feeling unworthy of your accomplishments, it’s important to have tangible reminders of your success. When you receive an email regarding your excellent work, save it. When you get a card or note saying what a great parent you are, put it on the fridge where you’ll see it every day.

If you receive an award for your accomplishments at work or in school, take a moment to enjoy it and remind yourself you deserve it.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Comparing yourself to others, whether at work or on social media, is never a good idea. Instead, focus on your achievements rather than measuring them against others.

Remember that accomplished, successful people often deal with imposter syndrome. Recognizing this can help you understand your feelings and put them into perspective.

Talk to a Therapist

One of the best ways to work through thoughts of inadequacy is to get help and talk about the feelings you’re experiencing. Taking action can help you understand your feelings and take measures to change your thought patterns and move forward.

Therapy can help you see that setting unrealistic goals for yourself isn’t healthy. It’s important to understand that although hard work is beneficial and leads to good results, no one is perfect.

Feelings of self-doubt are common and can be paralyzing. Recognizing and dealing with these feelings head-on can move you to a more positive frame of mind and out of the negative cycle of imposter syndrome.

Getting Help for Dealing With Imposter Syndrome

We all doubt ourselves from time to time. If these thoughts are overwhelming you or holding you back from achieving your full potential, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome.

The good news is that these negative thoughts are manageable. Understanding imposter syndrome and how to help yourself can go a long way in achieving a happier sense of self and an appreciation for your unique gifts and achievements.

Dr. Suzanne Feinstein is a Columbia-trained clinical psychologist and Founder and Clinical Director of Advanced Behavioral Health, a private practice in Midtown Manhattan.

If you’re ready to transform your life, contact us today for a free 15-minute consultation.

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