7 min read

Why Imposter Syndrome is Holding You Back

Many successful people are overachievers. At some point in their lives, most experience some symptoms of impostor syndrome. Several factors can contribute to this feeling, including upbringing and personality traits. Understanding more about impostor syndrome is the first step to overcoming it.
Woman wearing a mask feeling like an impostor
Image by Victor Santos on Pexels.com

And How You Can Tell It to Fuck Off

Do you have strong feelings of self-doubt?

Do you feel like one day people are going to realize your lack of skill or talent?

If so, you aren’t alone.

A meta-analysis in 2019 suggests that anywhere from 9-82% of people report having thought along these lines at some point. Around 20-30% of high achievers may suffer from impostor syndrome.

My Experience

Impostor syndrome has been something that I have and continue to face in many aspects of my life.

When I did my Masters, I felt as though I wasn’t at the same standard as my peers, despite my grades telling me otherwise. Once I graduated and began working, the same nagging thoughts followed me whispering in my ear that I’m a fraud and I shouldn’t have so much responsibility. Despite a mountain of evidence that showed otherwise, doubts remain.

As a therapist, the thoughts persisted in my practice. Who are you to give advice or offer therapy when you aren’t perfect? What makes you think people should come to seek your help?

And even as I explore this new path as a writer, that voice is there telling me I should stop. How can you be a writer if you are dyslexic? Why would anyone want to read what you write?

Some days the voice is barely a whisper, almost inaudible. On other days, it is booming over a speaker in my head.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism) is a psychological occurrence where people doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments. It is usually accompanied by a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.

It doesn’t matter how much success the person has, or the evidence that contradicts that idea, they can still experience impostor syndrome. They may feel as though they are deceiving others because they do not feel as intelligent or talented as they portray themselves to be.

They may attribute their success to external factors, such as luck, good timing, or effort that they cannot regularly expend.

How Does it Affect Your Life?

Impostor Syndrome will affect people differently.  Below are some of the ways it may affect your life.

Psychological Distress

Feeling like a fraud and that your achievements are due to external sources, it is no wonder that psychological distress is a common symptom of Impostor Syndrome. Anxiety and depression are common traits found in those with impostor syndrome.

Underselling themselves

If you have doubts about your abilities in any field, you will undersell yourself. In job interviews, at work meetings, or even giving a price for your work, those with imposter syndrome undervalue themselves. They won’t highlight their achievements and often minimize their contributions. They ask for less money or don’t speak up about their ideas.

Personally, I know I have priced myself too low and I struggle to highlight my achievements. Filling out any “About Me” section of a website is cause for major concern and avoidance (Please don’t visit mine).

Chronic Stress

That persisting fear that people will discover the “truth” about your work or accomplishments can lead to chronic stress. Each project is met with an added layer of stress of this being the one that shows people how big of a fraud you are.

Chronic Procrastination

It’s no surprise that many of those who face impostor syndrome will also procrastinate. Stressing about the quality of the work and simultaneously being a perfectionist, means putting off work for long periods of time.

Submitting work means opening oneself up to criticism. Those with impostor syndrome will overestimate the negative feedback they may receive. Procrastination is their own way of avoiding this until the last moment.


The consequences of impostor syndrome:

  • psychological distress
  • underselling yourself
  • chronic stress
  • chronic procrastination

The Five Types of Impostor Syndrome

Lead impostor syndrome researcher Dr. Valerie Young suggested five prototypes of imposters. Her book, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” divides people into these types depending on the internal beliefs around competency.

The Five Types:

The Perfectionist

These individuals are primarily focused on how they do things, to the point where they demand perfection in every aspect of their life. Perfect is never a realistic goal. The unattainable high standards can lead to destructive self-criticism for small mistakes. It can lead to shame and feelings of failure. This type may even avoid certain tasks if they believe they won’t do them perfectly the first time.

The Natural Genius

Your whole life you’ve been able to pick up new skills with little effort. You believe you should understand new information and processes immediately. You believe that competent people can learn anything with little difficulty. If you have a difficult time with something or failed on your first attempt, you feel embarrassed and ashamed. It makes you feel like a fraud and challenges the idea that you are a competent person.

The Soloist

You believe you could handle all your problems on your own (ie solo). Asking someone for help or assistance feels like a failure. Asking for help or accepting support means admitting your incompetencies.

You may get upset when other people offer you help because it feels like a direct attack on your competency level. If you can’t achieve success on your own, you think of it as having failed.

The Expert

In order to be successful you want to learn everything there is on the topic. You may find yourself spending so much time researching and studying that you need more time to achieve your goal. You push off tasks as you desperately consume as much as you can about them.

If you encounter new information or can’t answer a question about the topic, you immediately feel like you failed and that you are a fraud. You feel unworthy to discuss the topic since you don’t know everything.

The Superhero

To feel competent, you need to succeed in every role you have. You need to manage and navigate all those roles perfectly, being the best student, friend, employee, and parent. If the demands of these roles are too high, then you feel incompetent and inadequate.

Maintaining success in all these roles comes at a heavy price. You push yourself continuously to be better. Even this does not resolve the feeling of impostor syndrome, as you believe, “I should do more.”

You may compare yourself on social media in real life to multiple people. As you see people’s “highs” in life, you feel like you should be able to achieve that too. Except you are comparing yourself to a curated view of multiple people who don’t share their own failures.


Impostor Syndrome can be divided into five classic models:

  • Perfectionist
  • Natural Genius
  • Soloist
  • Expert
  • Superhero

If you’re anything like me, there is a good possibility you fall into more than one category or even have a good-old cocktail of all.

So, what makes us suffer from Impostor Syndrome?

Factors that Contribute to Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome can commonly occur when there is a change.

Changing schools, work, and social settings, or getting into new relationships can trigger thoughts of self-doubt.

In relationships, impostor syndrome can make people feel like they do not live up to the expectations of their loved ones. They may have feelings of unworthiness and as though they have tricked others to like them and spending time with them.

While Impostor Syndrome can affect anyone, research shows that women and people of color are more at risk of it. Women and minorities often feel the silent pressure of needing to prove themselves in the workplace or fighting for their voices to be heard and considered.

With anything, it is likely due to several factors combining together. There is no clear single cause. The factors can be divided into two categories:

  • Parenting Style and Childhood Environment
  • Personality

Parenting Style and Childhood

  • High Family Expectations
  • Overprotective or Controlling parents/ guardians
  • Being compared to sibling(s) or other peers
  • Racial Identities
  • Attributing your work to natural intelligence rather than hard work and effort
  • Being sharply criticized for mistakes


  • Perfectionism
  • Low trait self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attribution Style (view of does my success come from internal or external factors)
  • Higher scores on neuroticism (Big Five personality trait)
  • Lower scores on conscientiousness (Big Five personality trait)

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

1.      Notice your thoughts

The first step is noticing your thoughts. Pay attention to the chatter in your head. It helps you understand why you are feeling a certain way. It can help you identify why you have been procrastinating or avoiding asking for a raise.

2.      Label them

Then, give them a name. Studies have shown that labeling emotional experiences helps the rational brain manage them more effectively.

Let’s give a completely random and unrelated example to show what I mean. Let's take the impostor thought “I shouldn’t write about impostor syndrome when I am not an expert in the field” (*cough cough*).

That thought comes from a feeling of anxiety, self-doubt, and fear that a “real” expert is going to come along and criticize this article.

3.      Challenge your thoughts

Next, provide evidence against those thoughts. Challenge them. Prove them wrong.

My evidence: Do only experts of Impostor Syndrome get to talk about it? What about people who have experienced it? You also have a Masters in Psychology, surely that gives you some credibility to talk about it.

4.      Build Support

If you can, build a support system. Your hype men and women. Your friends, family, or partner can point out when you are underselling yourself. They can provide some evidence against those thoughts too.

For me, my husband is my hype man. Whenever I apply for something or need to “sell” myself, he is the one loudly proclaiming that I am selling myself short. He highlights my accomplishments and helps provide feedback on what needs to change.

5.      Avoid comparison

Comparison is the thief of joy. It is also the giver of anxiety and self-doubt.

Holding yourself up to the highlights of others will only make you feel worse in the long run. Someone is always smarter. More successful. Prettier. Famous.

When we see the success of someone else, we aren’t privy to all the hard work it took. We don’t see the many failures they’ve had along the way. Even if they tell us, we are likely to skip over it to admire the success they do have.

6.      Go with it

Tried everything else and still feel like a fraud?

Here is my most controversial advice: Go with it.

Tell that voice telling you that you are a fraud and that no one wants to read your stuff, so what? So, fucking what? Tell that voice that you are still going to do it. If people haven’t pointed out, you are a “fraud” yet then let them try. No one has figured it out so good luck to them.


Tips for overcoming Impostor Syndrome:

  • Notice your thoughts
  • Label them and the emotions
  • Challenge them and prove them wrong
  • Find your hype people
  • Avoid comparison
  • Say "Fuck it" and do it anyway


Many successful people are overachievers. At some point in their lives, most experience some symptoms of impostor syndrome. Several factors can contribute to this feeling, including upbringing and personality traits. Understanding more about impostor syndrome is the first step to overcoming it or learning to live with it.

Note: This article contains one affiliate link for the book "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women." If you buy with my link, I earn a small percentage from that sale.