5 Tips to Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

by | Feb 13, 2022

Do you feel undeserving of your promotion? Want to run when people put you in the spotlight for your achievements? Do you feel like a fraud? Do you wonder what people are seeing in you, and that you must have just gotten lucky to be here…

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is common among male and female high achievers who find it difficult to accept their accomplishment. Studies suggest that about 70-82 percent of adults may experience the Imposter Phenomenon at least once in their lifetime.

Feeling like an imposter poses a conflict between how you perceive others view you and your own self-perception. Despite being awarded for your achievements, you find it difficult to accept your success and whilst you put it down to luck and timing, you believe it was all a great mistake and worry that people will soon find out.

This lands you in a vicious cycle. You now work even harder to:

  • Deflect from your failures and shortcomings
  • Overcompensate for what you consider your lack of intelligence
  • Overachieve and get promotions that you don’t believe you deserve
  • Struggle with guilt feeling like you have tricked people

Unfortunately, conversations about difficult feelings rarely form part of career development discussions so remain overlooked. With the right help, overcoming Imposter Syndrome is possible.

Is Imposter Syndrome a psychiatric condition?

Imposter Syndrome is not a psychiatric diagnosis. It is an intellectual pattern of self-doubt that effects men and women equally. Frequently imposter syndrome coexists with anxiety and stress. When opportunities are missed out as a result, it may also lead to depression.

In particular people with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can find themselves in a tricky situation as it is often really hard for them to feel good enough on the inside.

What triggers imposter syndrome?

Many situations and circumstances can fuel a sense of being a fraud. Imposter syndrome is often triggered in relation to success when attention is called to your achievement as well as when you experience a setback after a period of success.

When a particularly painful feeling occurs in the present that connects unconsciously to a prior wound, we can end up acting out maladaptive patterns that aim to avoid touching this pain again at any cost. In the process we end up harming ourselves even worse with cruel, punishing, self-critical thoughts that have a negative effect on our physical and mental health.

Phony feelings are common for everybody at some point. However, not being able to overcome and resolve these feelings can lead to some damaging habits as a result.

Are women more effected than men?

The concept of “imposter phenomenon” was first used in the 1978 by Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They observed high-achieving women and suggested that “despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”

They noted that early messages appear to have an impact in creating a conflicting mindset where ‘sensitive’ women are favoured over successful or independent women, who are viewed as “hostile and destructive force within society” (Margaret Mead, 1949).

Arguably, this is a sexist outdated world view, but core believes are often implicitly handed down in the family and community through generations. Growing up as a girl or boy being frequently criticised for unintended mistakes takes a toll on self-worth. Lacking role models, male or female, compounded by repeated questioning of our competence, capabilities, and leadership style continues to fuel a fraudulent sense of self.

How to overcome Imposter Syndrome?

Breaking out and overcoming imposter syndrome is not easy but possible.

1. Speaking up is the first step. Chose a trusted person and dare to be courageous and authentic bringing to light what you would rather hide away. Very likely you will discover that nobody else thinks of you as awful as you do.

2. When your feelings overwhelm you, it can seem as if you are the feeling. Remember that feelings and thoughts are not facts. Double check the facts.

3. As one of my teachers put it once, learning to fail graciously is the most important skill if you want to be successful. A tough one. As perfectly imperfect human beings we all make mistakes and can feel a little fraudulent at times. Recognise how a moment of feeling fraudulent feels like, and train your awareness to stop yourself from spiralling into anxiety, shame or punitive self-criticism.

4. Create new healthy habits and thinking patterns. Review how you respond to making mistakes and what standards you ask from yourself and others. Over time, work with discipline towards replacing unhelpful, self-critical with realistic and kind thinking patterns and behaviour.

5. Persist, even when self-doubt and anxiety make this endeavour seemingly futile. Create a track record tapping into your brain’s reward system as your most powerful ally. At the end of the day learn to journal about your everyday achievements in spite you rather this rather cringeworthy, a wast of time, or not finding anything worth mentioning. A brief note about something mundane or small will do.

What support is available?

If this article resonates with you and you would like to find out more for yourself or your organisation about how we can help you overcome imposter syndrome, schedule a confidential enquiry call today! Veronika Kloucek, Senior Psychotherapist, Trainer, Coach  


Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of general internal medicine, 35(4), 1252–1275. [online available: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1]

Clance P.R., Imes S.,  (1978) “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”, Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice Volume 15(3) [online available: https://d32ogoqmya1dw8.cloudfront.net/files/earth_rendezvous/2020/program/afternoon_workshops/clance_imes_imposter_syndrome_15940560361372241715.pdf]

Mak Karina K. L., Kleitman S., Abbott Maree J. (2019), Impostor Phenomenon Measurement Scales: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Psychology (10), [online available: https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00671]

Sakulku J., Alexander J. (2011) “The Imposter Phenomenon”, International Journal of Behavioral Science 2011, Vol. 6, No.1, 75-97 [online available: https://so06.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/IJBS/article/view/521/pdf]