How To Combat Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like a fraud? In a society that constantly over-emphasizes perfection and productivity levels, it's normal to question whether your talents and qualifications are up to par. But did you know that there's actually a name for when you experience persistent feelings of inadequacy? It's called imposter syndrome, and researchers believe that up to 82% of people experience it at some point in their lives, per The National Institutes of Health.

Imposter syndrome occurs when a person doubts their own skills, abilities, and competencies, despite their proven success, per Very Well Mind. It usually involves a vague, irrational fear that you're not good enough and that you'll be outed as a phony. People with imposter syndrome undermine their own talents and hard work by attributing their accomplishments to outside factors, such as luck or help from others. Most often, imposter thinking affects high-achieving people.

Imposter syndrome is a cruel trickster because it obscures the truth about how awesome, talented, and extraordinary you really are. In reality, even some of the most hardworking and visionary people fall victim to imposter syndrome. You're not alone if you teeter between bursts of shimmering confidence and devastating self-doubt. Imposter syndrome isn't easy to deal with, but there are ways to fight back and reclaim your glory.

Learn the signs of imposter syndrome

It's normal for self-confidence levels to fluctuate, especially during stressful or uncertain events. We've all come face-to-face with a passing moment of self-doubt. However, it's important to recognize if those feelings have started creeping into the territory of self-deprecation. The first sign of imposter syndrome may be that your feelings of self-doubt negatively impact your job performance, well-being, or overall happiness. According to Forbes, people with imposter syndrome engage in behaviors like overworking themselves, seeking constant feedback, excessive self-criticism, and people-pleasing.

Black-and-white thinking is another characteristic of imposter syndrome. If you frequently embrace words like "always" versus "never" or "perfect" versus "ruined," then you may be caught up in this thought pattern. As Healthline notes, black-and-white thinking prevents you from seeing all sides of a situation. If you're constantly seeing things in terms of one extreme or another, then you're ignoring the vast complexities and nuances within the world– and within yourself.

Imposter syndrome can wear you down to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion, known as burnout, per The National Institutes of Health. If you're experiencing burnout, you might struggle with irritability, cynicism, and decreased concentration. However, burnout can also harm your physical and emotional health, per Mayo Clinic. Burnout is a sign of unmet need, so consider taking time for rest and self-care, per Entrepreneur.

Notice what triggers your imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a complex, multi-layered struggle that can be tied to your identity, per Psychology Today. In work and educational settings, women, people of color, and trans and non-binary folks experience higher rates of imposter syndrome. These groups are more likely to be underrepresented and face different forms of prejudice, which can trigger imposter thinking (via The American Psychological Association). Andrea Salazar-Nuñez, Ph.D., explained to APA, "There are ways to build resilience to impostor syndrome, but there are also real changes that need to be made to address equity. The problem isn't necessarily the person; it can also be the setting or culture."

Having a marginalized identity isn't the only potential trigger for imposter syndrome. The American Psychological Association notes that people who face excessive pressure to succeed — such as graduate and Ph.D. students — are also highly vulnerable to imposter thinking. Additionally, new opportunities can churn up feelings of imposterism. Stepping into a new role or promotion brings extra expectations and responsibilities, and some people respond by feeling fearful that they can't measure up to the demands of their new position. Even if you're excellent at what you do, these types of big changes can still trigger your imposterhood, per Medical News Today.

If you fit into any of these descriptions, it's important to check in with yourself often, try to avoid burnout, and pay attention to possible warning signs of imposter syndrome.

Work towards normalizing self-doubt

It can be difficult and painful to acknowledge when imposter syndrome is at play, especially if you're a natural overachiever. You might see your persistent self-doubt as "proof" that you're an imposter, and therefore internalize those feelings. Or, you might criticize yourself for feeling them in the first place. When you're battling imposter syndrome, a good first step is to work towards normalizing feelings of self-doubt, per Harvard Business Review. Remember, up to 82% of people experience imposter feelings. That's quite an extensive club — and it even includes luminaries like Maya Angelou, David Bowie, and Serena Williams, per Entrepreneur.

Normalizing your feelings starts with accepting them. According to Self, practicing acceptance allow you to cope with a difficult emotion before that emotion completely overwhelms you. Dr. Emily Hu, a clinical psychologist, shared a simple process for accepting difficult emotions. "Take a breath, notice how you feel, and then let that feeling be—don't try to make it go away, don't try to distract yourself or force it to change into another feeling," Dr. Hu told Self.

Put your thoughts into perspective

In today's fast-paced and demanding world, there's no escaping the occasional sting of self-doubt. However, the problem with imposter syndrome is that it takes those insecurities to extremes. As psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, described, "You have this fear that the people around you are going to figure out that you don't know what you're talking about and expose you as a fraud." Acknowledging the irrationality of this fear can be a solid first step in addressing it. Dr. Albers told Cleveland Clinic that separating your feelings from facts can help you approach your imposter thoughts more realistically. "If your mind says, 'I don't know what I'm talking about,' remind yourself that you know more than you think you do and are capable of learning," suggests Dr. Albers.

You don't want to lose sight of your goals behind a dreary haze of imposter syndrome. That's why psychologist Aubrey Ervin suggests examining your imposter thoughts to see if they're really serving you. "I encourage clients to ask 'Does that thought help or hinder me?'", Ervin told Time.

According to the American Psychological Association, talking about your imposter syndrome can make you feel less alone, and confiding in trusted people can help you directly confront your imposter feelings. You might also consider turning to a mentor with similar career or life experiences. Additionally, therapy is a valuable tool to help tackle imposter syndrome, per Very Well Mind.

Challenge self-doubt

Chronic self-doubt distorts your entire outlook on life. Fixating on your perceived flaws can feel a lot like wading through quicksand: it's exhausting, and you won't get very far. Similarly, imposter syndrome generates feelings that weigh you down and make it difficult to move forward. Rather than accepting these negative thoughts, try pushing back against them with positive self-talk, per Medical News Today.

One way to change your outlook is by practicing radical self-worth. This means asserting that your value as a person is not dependent on your wealth, achievements, relationship status, or any other external factors. You're already worthy of praise and fulfillment simply by being the person you are right now. Focusing on growth is another powerful way to reclaim your self-confidence. Instead of fretting about your perceived failures, focus on refining your skills and developing new ones to help you achieve your goals (via Psychology Today).

According to Psych Central, self-doubt stems from many different causes. Sometimes, a tinge of self-doubt can make you feel motivated. However, second-guessing yourself to the point of inaction is always a cause for concern. If imposter feelings are holding you back in life, then it's time to get real about the legitimacy of those thoughts. Consider your skills and competencies and ask yourself: "Is my self-doubt reasonable or unreasonable?" If the latter is true, then you are free to unburden yourself.

Avoid comparing yourself to others

It's easy to understand why some people live for competition. The thrill of higher stakes and having something to aspire to can be highly motivating under the right circumstances. But when it comes to imposter syndrome, it's best to keep the comparisons in check, per Cleveland Clinic. Imposter syndrome causes you to belittle your own achievements. Therefore, your comparisons could be a sneaky way for the mind to affirm your fears about not being "good" or "deserving" enough to claim your own greatness.

Comparing ourselves to others is a serious drain on our time and energy. If you're trying to combat imposter syndrome, you can't afford to spin your wheels by focusing on other people. Rather than focusing on the things that you envy about a person, pay attention to what you admire about them. This practice can help you draw inspiration and motivation from successful people, per Forbes. You may even find that you have more commonalities than differences with your "competition."

Rather than comparing or competing, you might try to focus your energy on helping others, says Very Well Mind. If someone in your network is struggling with imposter syndrome, offer them advice. Or, when a new person joins your team, make an extra effort to include them in meetings and conversations. Not only will you be helping someone else find their way, but you'll also be reinforcing your own confidence and expertise.

Celebrate your accomplishments

When you're dealing with imposter syndrome, you might find yourself caught in an endless cycle, waiting around for that one shining achievement that will finally feel significant enough for you to celebrate. As a result, you might actually increase burnout and miss out on the satisfaction of enjoying small wins, per Forbes. At the moment, you may feel like you don't measure up– but take time to appreciate all of the hard work, vision, and dedication that got you to where you are today. After all, imposter syndrome is the scourge of high achievers; if you're in a position to feel like an imposter, then it's very likely that you've already accomplished quite a bit.

Celebrating your achievements will help you find a sense of value and pride in incremental progress. Recognizing the effort that goes into your achievements — not just the achievements themselves — is an amazing self-confidence boost. Plus, celebrating your accomplishments can help you avoid burnout, per The American Psychological Association.

Whether you throw yourself a glitzy bash or send a giddy text to your bestie, celebrating your achievements can help you recover from imposterism. Acknowledging success doesn't have to be a grand affair. In fact, you might simply keep a record of positive feedback from people in your network. Archive emails or take screenshots of the compliments you receive so you can revisit them during an imposteristic panic.

Confront your fear of achieving success

Imposter syndrome is often linked with a fear of success, per Healthline. If you've had this experience, then you may be engaging in self-sabotaging behavior, which doesn't always involve tearing down the proverbial empire that you've built. Often, self-sabotage shows up in subtle ways, such as perfectionism, unclear goals, or not taking any action. Addressing your fear of success can help you focus on future plans and ease your discomfort around new achievements.

Identifying your negative thoughts and beliefs about success can help you work through them, per Very Well Mind. Regarding imposter syndrome, your fear might be rooted in an underlying belief that your success is undeserved. You might also be dodging success by holding yourself to an impossible standard. For an "imposter," anything less than perfection can seem like a horrific failure. According to Psychology Today, confronting your fear of success involves embracing imperfection.

If you're unsure how to accept imperfection, psychology professor Kristin Neff says you should remind yourself that "perfection" is an unrealistic goal. In a conversation with The Atlantic, Neff said, "When I teach workshops I say, it's logically impossible for everyone to be above average at all times, so we're basically predicating ourselves with a logical impossibility. Eventually that's going to hit reality. Maybe somebody does do that better than me. Do I accept that or am I destabilized by that?".

Reframe your attitude towards failure

Did you know that Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first television job? Or that Stephen King almost abandoned his horror masterpiece, "Carrie," after the book was rejected 30 times by publishers (via Business Insider India)? These are just a few examples of how some of the greatest success stories began with failures. It can be devastating when your larger-than-life ambitions fall through. Sometimes, even the possibility of failure is enough to stop you in your tracks. But experts say you must trust yourself and find a way to keep moving. Professor Selin Malcok says that embracing failure can actually help motivate you to try again. "If your thoughts are all about how to distance yourself from the failure, you're not going to learn from your mistakes," Malcok told Science Daily. When it comes to failure, don't avoid your emotions.

According to CNBC, reframing your failures is another key to success. Failure is an inevitability that we all must learn to face. But it doesn't define you and certainly doesn't mean that you are on the wrong track. Rather than feeling ashamed of your failures, reflect on what you've learned and look for opportunities to grow.

Take a look into the past

It's not completely clear why some people suffer from imposter syndrome, but many psychologists believe that imposter thinking could be rooted in your past. Imposter syndrome can be a result of certain childhood experiences, including how you were raised, per Psych Central.

According to Psychology Today, certain parenting styles might generate imposter feelings in children. For example, constant criticism in the home teaches a child that anything less than perfection is unacceptable. On the flip side, undeserved praise can also foster thoughts of imposterhood. Parents who give constant, non-specific praise might inadvertently set unrealistic standards for their children. When the child is unable to live up to those standards, they feel shame.

Many parents give their children labels based on their personalities. If you grew up being the "smart" or the "competitive" child in the family, then you may have had that part of your identity affirmed over and over while other aspects of your personality went ignored. For example, if you were labeled as the "sensitive" child in the family, then your imposter syndrome might relate to your desire to be seen as fierce and assertive in your adult life. If past experiences have marred your self-confidence, it's important to remember that it's not your fault. Unearthing the past and delving into the root causes of your imposter syndrome can help you move forward.

Affirm your awesomeness

When your self-esteem has been ravaged by imposter syndrome, it might feel impossible to drag yourself out of a self-deprecating rut. One of the first and most powerful actions you can take is giving yourself credit. Write down all of your best qualities. Record an encouraging voice note that you can play when you're feeling your worst. List all of your achievements, qualifications, and special talents, per The New York Times. Positive affirmations — whether you say them aloud or jot them down on sticky notes and plaster them around your home — can boost confidence when you need it most. Huff Post notes that "I am talented," "I deserve this," and "I am worthy" are a few uplifting phrases that you'll never get tired of hearing.

It's easier said than done, but being kind to yourself is a must. Just like everyone else, you're a work in progress: learning, growing, and doing your best. Mistakes are inevitable: Give yourself permission to make them and to learn from them, per Harvard Business Review. And don't forget to reward yourself! Every small achievement is another step closer to your ultimate goals, so be sure to treat yourself for a job well done. Sometimes, a night on the town is a perfect reward. Other times, resting and relaxing can be the best celebratory act.