Imposter Syndrome: How to Overcome It

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on April 26, 2024
8 min read

Imposter syndrome is when you doubt your own skills and successes. You feel you're not as talented or worthy as others believe, and you're scared that one day, people will realize that.

Although it's not a mental health diagnosis, imposter syndrome can cause real harm in different areas of your life.

You might also hear it called imposter phenomenon, fraud syndrome, or imposter experience.

The imposter cycle

Many people with imposter syndrome notice a pattern in how they behave.

Let's say you have to prepare a big presentation for work or school. If you have imposter syndrome, you could get very anxious about it and worry that you won't do a good enough job. That can lead to one of two outcomes.

You put off what needs to be done until the last minute. Then, you scramble to finish it in time and believe your success is only because you were "lucky."


You do a lot more work than you need to. And you still don't give yourself any credit. You might think that someone more skilled than you wouldn't have to work so hard.

Either way, once you reach your goal, you'll probably feel a sense of success. But it likely won't last long. When you have imposter syndrome, you can't let that success "sink in." Instead, you start worrying about the next big task that's coming up. Your feelings of self-doubt return, and you start to overprepare or put off doing your work — and the imposter cycle continues.

In 1978, psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance first described imposter syndrome in high-achieving businesswomen. Since then, experts have found that it's common in all genders and many lines of work.

One study found that as many as 82% of all people have felt like a fraud at some point — even scientist Albert Einstein.

Studies show that you're more likely to have imposter syndrome when you feel different from most of your peers. For instance, if you identify as female and work in a male-dominated field. Research shows that imposter syndrome is common among Black, Asian American, and Latino college students in the U.S.

You may have imposter syndrome if you:

  • Believe that everyone knows more than you
  • Think that others believe you're more skilled than you really are
  • Dismiss your success and credit it to luck, people you know, others' poor judgment, or other things besides your abilities
  • Notice “the imposter cycle" happening in your life
  • Worry that you don't belong and others too will finally realize that
  • Feel like you always have to do your very best or more than what's asked of you
  • Feel uncomfortable being praised 
  • Hold yourself back from reaching goals
  • Are afraid you'll disappoint others
  • Have a hard time forgetting mistakes, even small ones, that you've made
  • Feel that you wouldn't doubt yourself if you were brighter, smarter, better, etc.
  • Find it important to get others' approval

Some of the traits that often show up with imposter syndrome are:

Perfectionism. You aim to be perfect at everything you do, but you also easily find fault in your achievements and are rarely pleased with the outcome. You might also expect other people to be perfect, too.

Superheroism. Many people with imposter syndrome feel like they have to take on more tasks (and be better at them) than others. One sign that you're trying to be a superhero is that you often say "yes" to things that you may not have the energy or time to do.

Fear of failure. When you have imposter syndrome, any failure, no matter how small, can feel shameful. It feeds that inner fear you have that you're a fraud and are about to be called out. As a result, you often work harder to avoid falling short of a task. You might also be afraid to speak up if you have a different idea or point of view than others.

Denying your wins. Imposter syndrome makes you ignore or deflect anything good that happens or any praise you receive. If you hear a compliment, you have an excuse like "I was just lucky" or "My boss says that to everyone."

Fear of success. It's really common to be scared of success when you have imposter syndrome. You might worry that once you get your dream job or win an award you've been hoping for, you won't be able to keep up. In your mind, getting ahead is an opportunity to be rejected.

So far, imposter syndrome isn't listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which mental health providers use to diagnose patients. That may change in the future.

But there are still several questionnaires developed by experts that can signal you have it and to what degree.

Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale

This questionnaire was developed by one of the psychologists who first described imposter syndrome. It's often used by researchers and mental health providers.

The Clance IP Scale is a list of 20 short questions that you answer on a scale of 1( strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree.) For instance, "I rarely do a project or task as well as I'd like to do it" and "I often compare my ability to those around me and think they may be more intelligent than I am."

If your total score is 41 or more, you likely have imposter syndrome. The higher your score, the more intensely it may be affecting your life.

A lot of factors can make you feel like an imposter who's not as talented as everyone else. They may include:

Personality traits. Several traits have been linked to imposter syndrome, including anxiety, low self-esteem, and perfectionism.

How you were raised. Many people who have imposter syndrome grew up in families that stressed achievement and success. But getting mixed messages may also play a role. If your childhood included both overpraise and criticism, you may be more likely to feel like a fraud.

Feeling like an outsider. For instance, if you're in a hypercompetitive workplace and you're not a naturally competitive person, you might feel like an imposter. Imposter syndrome can also arise because you feel different from the people around you for another reason, such as your ethnicity, race, gender, age, or how much money you have.

What you see on social media can also lead to imposter syndrome. It's easy to feel that you don't measure up when you see images of other people's seemingly perfect lives.

Many people with imposter syndrome don’t talk about it. You could fear that you'll be exposed as a fraud if you speak up. But it's important to realize how much this condition can affect all aspects of your life.

Imposter syndrome at work

If you think that your career success is due to luck instead of your skills and hard work, you may be less likely to ask for a promotion or raise. You could also feel like you need to overwork to meet the unrealistically high standard you’ve created for yourself.

Studies show that imposter syndrome can cause more burnout and lower job performance. You're also less likely to feel satisfied with your job.

Other imposter syndrome examples

At school. You might not speak up or ask questions because you worry others will judge you.

In a romantic relationship. You could feel unworthy of love from your partner. This mindset could damage your relationship.

In a friendship. you might question why someone wants to be friends with you and worry that they'll realize they made a "mistake." That fear can keep you from connecting.

If you have a child. you may feel unprepared to raise them at times. Making decisions, even small ones, can feel really hard because you worry that you'll ruin your child’s life.

Self-defeating thoughts can feel like a part of you that you're not able to get rid of. Because of that, dealing with imposter syndrome often means getting some support from others.

Several kinds of treatments have proven to be helpful.

Talk therapy

Talking to a counselor or therapist can help you explore where these negative messages about yourself came from and how they impact your life. Then, you'll learn how to reframe these thoughts when you have them.

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)

CPT is a type of therapy that helps you learn to identify the negative beliefs you have and when they pop up. You'll focus on replacing them with more realistic thoughts. In between therapy sessions, you'll probably get some homework, such as worksheets to fill out, which will give you a chance to practice what you've learned.

Group therapy

You might find it useful to have group sessions with other people who have imposter syndrome. Hearing about their experiences may make you feel less alone, and opening up about your own thoughts may give you a new perspective.

It's possible to overcome imposter syndrome. To do so, you'll need to learn how to let your successes sink in — and admit that you're worthy of them.

Try to:

Remind yourself of your wins. Make a list of things you've done well and which you're proud of. Save emails and notes that contain praise from others. When you feel like a fraud, reviewing all this can help reassure you that you're not.

Separate your feelings from the facts. The next time your self-doubt crops up, remind yourself that they’re emotions, not facts.

Be kind to yourself. Try to show yourself some self-compassion. What would you say to a friend who was having the same thoughts? Maybe, for instance, you'd remind them that they're not only capable of success but should be allowed to make mistakes.

Practice accepting praise. When someone offers you a compliment, you might be in the habit of deflecting it. ("Thanks, but...") Try saying only, "Thank you." It will help you enjoy the moment instead of pushing it away.

Don't compare yourself to others. It's easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, especially on social media. Instead, focus on being a better version of yourself. The goal isn't to be perfect. Nobody is.

Challenge yourself. When you catch yourself being critical, challenge yourself to come up with a more positive point of view. For instance, "I'm only getting offered the job because no one else wants it" could become "I'm being offered the job because I work hard and my co-workers like me."

Understand the syndrome. Keep in mind that actual frauds don’t have imposter syndrome. The very fact that you have imposter syndrome shows that you’re not an imposter.

Talk to someone. Your friends and family can help remind you that your fears aren’t real. Or see a therapist, who can help you learn new ways to overcome imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome isn’t an official diagnosis, but it is a serious form of self-doubt. People with imposter syndrome tend to have anxiety and depression, too. if you're struggling with how you see yourself, talking to a counselor could really help.

What are the 5 types of imposter syndrome?

An expert who studies imposter syndrome has identified 5 subtypes, based on some common characteristics:

  • Expert: It's important to you to try to become an expert on every subject that interests you.
  • Super person (superhuman). You multitask and feel you have to do more than everyone else.
  • Perfectionist: You set unrealistic, high goals.
  • Soloist: You think asking for help is a sign of weakness.
  • Natural genius: You think you should do everything not just well but quickly.

You might relate to more than one type. Many people with imposter syndrome do.