Imposter syndrome is when an individual struggles with feeling insecure and like a fraud for gaining attention or accolades for their accomplishments. Those who experience imposter syndrome tend to believe they are undeserving, inadequate, and can feel overwhelmed by self-doubt.
While imposter syndrome is unwarranted, it's extremely common—even among the most famous, talented, and successful people. It is also known as imposter phenomenon, fraud syndrome, and the imposter experience
Imposter syndrome is the psychological pattern in which an individual believes that their own accomplishments came about as a result of having been lucky or having manipulated other people's impressions—not through hard work or genuine ability.
Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who coined the term in 1978, recognized this phenomenon in high-achieving women. Their study of 150 women showed that women with this syndrome, regardless of evidence of their earned success, lacked the internal acknowledgment of their accomplishments.
Imposter syndrome comes with a mix of feelings, thoughts, and other symptoms.
Common thoughts and feelings include:
Along with these internalized thoughts and feelings, there are external signs you may recognize in yourself or others.
As you can see, the phenomenon can show up in many ways and can have a major effect on decisions and actions.
In their studies, Clance and Imes found evidence of anxiety and depression alongside the imposter syndrome for women.
Across the board, imposter syndrome is more common when trying something new and feeling pressure to achieve.
In the first studies of imposter syndrome, Clance and Imes believed the imposter mentality is developed from factors that include gender stereotypes, early family dynamics, culture, and attribution style.
Since the initial study, imposter syndrome has been discovered in people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. The list of contributing causes has also grown.
The main causes include:
Clance and Imes discovered imposter syndrome through their study of women, but newer studies show an equal prevalence of imposter syndrome in men and women.
Sometimes women's imposter syndrome can be attributed in part to their low representation in corporate America. Women of color, in particular, are represented even less. The lack of role models can lead to low confidence, a lack of peer support, and a feeling of not belonging—all of these factors can contribute to imposter syndrome.
There are five types of imposter syndrome that have been identified by Dr. Valerie Youn, the author of "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It."
As you can see, these types are all dependent on being the best in some way. Imposter syndrome will take over if they are unable to do their job up to these standards.
Identifying and taking action to combat imposter syndrome can be done alone or collaboratively with a professional. Identifying it can take time and self-reflection.
Ask yourself these questions:
If so, you may be struggling with imposter syndrome—and that's OK. Identifying the problem is the first step to gaining a healthier attitude about your own accomplishments.
While the imposter phenomenon isn't in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or recognized as a mental health condition, it still may be important to work through it with a therapist, especially if you have feelings of anxiety and depression.
First and foremost, understand that imposter syndrome is common, and there are helpful tips and tools to use to combat it.
Here are some ways to overcome imposter syndrome:
Imposter syndrome can feel overwhelming, and when it brings up feelings of anxiety, depression, and self-doubt, you may need a helping hand through it.
If you need help dealing with a mental health condition, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
While imposter syndrome is common, so is overcoming it with helpful tools and tips. As you grow and reach new milestones, you may begin to experience these signs of imposter syndrome again, so it's important to have these helpful tips and tools in your back pocket.