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Imposter Syndrome: What It Is and Signs You Struggle With It

Most of us feel like a fraud at least occasionally. Maybe you know the feeling. Perhaps you were hired for a new job or someone asked you to lead a team at work. Rather than feeling confident, you were filled with doubt and insecurities. You may have even wondered if you truly deserved to be there.

It isn’t fun when imposter syndrome strikes, but at least we can all take solace in the fact that we aren’t alone – truthfully, so many of us experience it.

Continue reading to find out more about this phenomenon, what causes it, and who typically experiences it. In addition, learn about the common symptoms of imposter syndrome.


What is Imposter Syndrome?

Simply put, imposter syndrome occurs when someone doubts their abilities and worries that others will discover they’re a fraud. Despite their actual achievements and intelligence – and the fact that others think highly of them – someone who struggles with imposter syndrome still feels unworthy and incapable.

Holding these kinds of internal beliefs can lead to stress, anxiety, fear, and sadness. Many folks with imposter syndrome also experience burnout and lower job satisfaction and performance.

It’s important to note that imposter syndrome is not an official medical disorder. You can’t be diagnosed with it by a doctor. First documented in the 1970s by two psychologists, it’s considered a type of significant self-doubt.


What Causes Imposter Syndrome and Who Experiences It?

Those beset with imposter syndrome tend to share several of the same personality traits: perfectionism, neuroticism, and a lack of self-efficacy. In other words, they hold themselves to very high standards, often experience feelings of insecurity and anxiety, and don’t believe it’s within their control to reach their goals.

In addition, in many cases, it’s been found that imposter syndrome affects individuals who were raised by parents with extremely high academic expectations. They may have been afraid of the consequences – being abandoned or shamed – if they didn’t achieve what was expected of them.

The phenomenon, while assumed to be more prevalent among women, actually impacts both males and females – many times, those who are outwardly successful. In fact, they frequently hold multiple degrees and fill high-level professional, academic, and political roles. In addition, minorities often report feeling like imposters, believing that others see them only as a representative of their race or ethnicity rather than for who they really are.

Many of us are intimately familiar with these feelings. In fact, studies show that around 70% of us struggle with imposter syndrome at least once in our lifetime.


Common Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome

So how can you tell if you are personally experiencing this? Below are some of the red flags associated with imposter syndrome:

  • You lack self-confidence and frequently feel inadequate.
  • You often compare yourself to others.
  • You don’t trust your own capabilities or intuition.
  • You think you’ve fooled others into believing you’re more intelligent or skilled than you are.
  • You credit your achievements to luck, connections, or misjudgments on the behalf of others.
  • You’ve identified a cycle whereby you feel anxious and doubtful when starting a new task, overprepare or procrastinate, and then feel relieved when the task has been completed.
  • You participate in lots of negative self-talk and tend to dwell on the past.

Professionally, you might be apt to shrug off any accolades or compliments you receive. You might not apply to a job unless you meet absolutely every requirement, and you might feel the need to take on extra work to keep up appearances.


Almost everyone ends up in a situation or job along the way where they feel out of their league. If this describes you, don’t stress because it happens to many of us. Being aware of the above tendencies and working to adjust yours, however, can help you banish imposter syndrome from your life once and for all. Then you can live more fully, confident in all you have to offer!