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Imposter Syndrome Symptoms and Treatment Tips

Imposter syndrome can be defined as a phenomenon where a person doubts their accomplishments and fears being exposed as a “fraud,” despite evident success and qualifications. 


Ultimately, imposter syndrome is a manifestation of low self-confidence, and it’s very common; it affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, and can create significant anxiety and stress. 


Who has imposter syndrome?

Anyone can develop imposter syndrome – and anyone can recover from it, too. It’s not a formal psychological diagnosis, but rather it describes a state of mind. And while imposter syndrome is most commonly discussed in the context of work, it can also develop in other areas of life, like in relationships or academic studies.


Nearly all people experience common triggers of imposter syndrome, such as starting a new role or job. But some people may be more likely to respond by feeling inadequate than others. Perfectionists may be more likely to feel insufficient in their social, familial, and work roles.


People from backgrounds that place a strong emphasis on achievement — especially where praise is based on outcomes, rather than effort — may also consistently doubt their abilities and overlook their successes. 


6 symptoms of imposter syndrome

The signs of imposter syndrome include some combination of the following:

  • Consistently doubting your skills, talents, or abilities
  • Minimising your accomplishments
  • Speaking to yourself harshly or critically 
  • Attributing success to external factors, such as luck or other people’s errors
  • Fearing that others will eventually discover your incompetence or unmask you as a fraud
  • Feeling pressure to always have an answer or make a valuable contribution in order to prove your worth
  • Over-preparing or overworking, often leading to burnout, to prevent failure
  • Sabotaging your own success or avoiding new challenges out of fear of failure

Examples of imposter syndrome

While imposter syndrome is most commonly discussed in the context of work, it can affect nearly any aspect of our lives. Check out these examples of how feeling like a secret fraud can affect work, relationships, and studies.


At Work: Jahaan, a new IT manager, constantly feels like he doesn’t truly belong in his role despite being well-qualified and having over a decade of experience.


He rubbishes compliments about his work and fears that one day his team will realise he is not as knowledgeable as they think. 


In a Relationship: Bhuvan often feels unworthy of his relationship with his partner, whom he views as more outgoing and charismatic.


He fears being perceived as boring or less desirable, which makes him anxious about expressing his true self. He self-censors his reactions and responses, putting a strain on the relationship.


In Academia: Namita, a PhD candidate, feels she isn’t smart enough to be in her program compared to her peers, even though she has always excelled academically.


She criticises herself as ‘stupid’ for even small mistakes, which makes her feel even more inadequate. This constant doubt makes her overwork, leading to extreme stress and anxiety.


Imposter syndrome and mental health

Imposter syndrome is a state of mind, not a psychological condition. But it can severely impact mental health, leading to chronic stress, anxiety, and, in severe cases, even depression.


The constant fear of being “found out” can keep you from fully embracing your roles, stifling personal and professional growth. It can also lead to a vicious cycle of overwork to cover up your perceived inadequacies and prove your value, which only perpetuates feelings of burnout and unworthiness.


6 treatment tips for imposter syndrome

There is no cure or treatment specifically for imposter syndrome, because it’s not a disorder. But it’s possible to evolve your state of mind from inadequacy to confidence by taking therapy aimed at improving self-esteem, broadening self-worth, questioning negative thoughts, and showing yourself compassion


Additionally, simple steps taken on your own can also ease any feelings of being a fraud. These tips include:


Acknowledging your feelings: Recognise and accept that these feelings of inadequacy are a common phenomenon and not a reflection of actual incompetence.


Even saying out loud the name of the negative emotion you’re experiencing — for example, saying “I feel inadequate/insecure” — can help you feel better.


Sharing your feelings: Talk about your feelings with trusted friends, colleagues, mentors, or a therapist. You will often find they have experienced similar states of mind, too. Understanding that you are not alone can be incredibly reassuring.


Assessing your competencies: Objectively evaluate your skills and qualifications. Keep a record of positive feedback and successes to refer to when imposter feelings become too strong.


Reframing failure: Learn to see failure as a learning opportunity rather than a sign of incompetence. Everyone makes mistakes, and each error is a chance to improve. For some, this may also involve adopting a more supportive tone in your self-talk to replace the critical inner voice driving your imposter syndrome.


Avoiding comparisons to others: Imposter syndrome is often driven by our perception of peers’ abilities and successes. Understand that everyone’s skills and journey are unique. Comparing yourself to others only fuels feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.


Seeking professional help: If imposter syndrome causes you stress, anxiety, or low self-worth to the point you struggle to get through the day, consider seeking help from traditional, in-person therapy sessions or a guided self-therapy program


Imposter syndrome, despite being challenging, can be managed through mindful strategies and support. By acknowledging our feelings and mental state, and actively addressing them, you can reclaim your sense of competence and embrace your rightful achievements fully.


Ultimately, this leads to improved personal and professional well-being and output.




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Raksha Rajesh (M.Sc., M.Phil., CRR No. A80195) is a clinical psychologist licensed by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). She has 6+ years of experience in helping people from diverse backgrounds build skills to understand and manage their emotions.

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