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Impostor Syndrome

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people doubt their accomplishments, having instead persistent feelings of intellectual inadequacy and fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’, despite evident success or external proof of competence. 

A person experiencing Imposter Syndrome often associates their success with some kind of good luck or fluke, rather than the result of their own ability and competence. 

Recognising Imposter Syndrome

  • Do you seek perfectionism, agonise over the smallest details and beat yourself up when you make a mistake out of fear that you don’t measure up?
  • Do you constantly seek validation for your work and put in extra hours to prove your worth?
  • Do you dismiss or downplay your accomplishments as “If I can do it, anybody can” or “a lucky break”
  • Do you judge your success on your abilities rather than your effort, believing that if you have to work hard at something then you must not be good at it?
  • Do you fear asking for help believing that you should be able to accomplish something on your own? 
  • Do you fear that it is just a matter of time before you are exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable? 

These are some of the thought processes that a person experiencing Imposter Syndrome might have. 

Even though you may fully relate to these doubts and fears you may still be reading this thinking that other people might have Imposter Syndrome “but I really am a fraud”. This is all part of your self-doubt.

Key features of Imposter Syndrome

  • Feeling that other people have an inflated perception of your abilities 
  • A fear that your true (reduced) abilities will be found out 
  • An inability to internalise success, despite evidence 
  • A persistent tendency to attribute successes to external factors, such as luck or disproportionate effort 

Behaviours associated with Imposter Syndrome

  • Persistent anxiety about standards - perfectionism; unable to accurately self assess; any constructive criticism is seen as attack; comparisons with others; or sloppiness – if I don’t try my best then I can blame that on my poor performance, rather than have my real (perceived) inadequacy revealed
  • Dread and avoidance of evaluation - not seeking support, not/delaying submitting drafts, not arranging meetings with supervisors, etc. 
  • Fear of failure (shame) (anticipating falling short of what is required or expected); shame - a negative emotion that combines feelings of dishonour, unworthiness, and embarrassment – continual Negative Automatic Thoughts; reduced relevant risk taking; superstitious thinking ‘I won’t talk about what I’m writing so I don’t jinx it’ 
  • Fear of exposure - fear of something private being revealed; humiliation - the feeling or condition of being lessened in dignity or pride – fantasies/dreams of being found out; distrusting other’s interest/help/engagement 
  • Inability to enjoy accomplishments depressive symptoms, low mood, withdrawing, limited laughing/smiling, reduced self care/fun times, minimal celebrations of successes 
  • Self sabotaging behaviours - procrastination; poor time management; not relaxing – over stressing; mis- managing priorities; distracting avoidance behaviours 

What support is available?

Naming Impostor Syndrome for what it is marks a powerful first step. It starts to give you a sense of control over it. From here you can begin to explore your underlying patterns of thinking and beliefs through self-help books and resources, workshops, counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). 

Support is also available from Wellbeing and Student Support 

See also… 

  • Warwick Careers Blog article: