Impostor Syndrome - Do You Feel Like a Fraud?


At a glance:

  • Most people experience some degree of Impostor Syndrome during their lifetime, but for some it can severely disrupt confidence in life and career.
  • Symptoms include pervasive feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt despite evidence of competence or success, and a tendency towards perfectionism and even unachievable goals
  • Women are more likely to develop impostor syndrome than men, due to social factors
  • Impostor syndrome is most common in the workplace but can also affect home life

What is Impostor Syndrome?

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have had a number of lasting effects, both expected and unexpected. An economic downturn driven by the lockdown and loss of jobs was expected, but the uncertainty that has resulted has led to a rise in mental health difficulties, including impostor syndrome.

Although feelings of unworthiness are fairly common across society, impostor syndrome is especially common in the workplace , with people frequently experiencing difficulty acknowledging their own success, or overworking in an attempt to hide their perceived lack of worth. However, impostor syndrome isn’t limited to the workplace and may also affect your personal or private life.

In fact, there is mounting anecdotal evidence that our healthcare workers are currently experiencing increased instances of impostor syndrome due to the pandemic. One theory for this effect is that it’s the combination of an inability to help some severe patients combined with the fact that frontline healthcare workers are being hailed as heroes, giving them an impossible standard to live up to. 

Impostor Syndrome is not be recognised as a diagnosable mental health condition in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5), but it is a very real and remarkably common experience.

Symptoms of Impostor Syndrome

The way impostor syndrome presents varies from person to person, but may include:

  • A lack of any self-confidence or feelings of inadequacy
  • Feeling the need to compare yourself and performance to other people usually in a negative light
  • Anxiety
  • Self-doubt or distrust of your own capabilities, knowledge or intuition
  • Reinforcing negative self-image
  • Fear of the future or dwelling on past failures
  • Self-sabotage
  • Perfectionism or setting unreachable goals and then blaming yourself for failure
  • Judging your success on ease or speed rather than on the actual result

In the workplace, symptoms can also include:

  • Overworking - doing much more than most people would in your role to show your worth or hide your inadequacies
  • Being discomforted by, or failing to accept, praise or accolades
  • Failure to apply for jobs or pay raises because you feel you aren’t deserving or qualified (when you clearly are)
  • Difficulty working in teams because you think you’ll let the side down
  • Trying to do everything solo to prove your worth
  • Leaving all other interests aside in favour of work


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What Causes Impostor Syndrome?

As impostor syndrome is not recognised in the DSM-5, a lack of rigorous scientific research means there is no readily identifiable cause as yet. It is believed that there are both elements of nature and nurture in the development of impostor syndrome.

People prone to self-reflection, timidity or doubt seem to be more likely to develop impostor syndrome. Having parents with extremely high expectations or perfectionist characteristics is also believed to be a contributing factor.

Working in male-dominated workplaces or industries is believed to be just one contributing social factor to the increased instances of impostor syndrome in women.

Treatment for Impostor Syndrome

There is no official treatment for impostor syndrome, but the first step to overcoming the condition is admitting you are experiencing it. You can then start by reminding yourself that success is subjective and using journaling to record your thoughts and feelings on success and development to help notice when your thinking in this area is not yet accurate.

Although impostor syndrome isn’t recognised as a diagnosable mental health condition, that doesn’t mean you can’t seek professional help from a psychologist. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a form of therapy used to challenge and correct negative ways of thinking may be a possible treatment avenue.

If you find yourself feeling like a fraud or are worried that you will never succeed, you may need help. The fastest and most convenient way to book an appointment with a psychologist is to do it online with MyHealth1st.  

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