What Is Imposter Syndrome?: Signs and Solutions


Nov 21, 2023

We all get feelings of self-doubt sometimes, but if you find yourself regularly questioning your competence and your right to be where you are then it could be indicative of a deeper problem.

Imposter syndrome is a condition that causes sufferers to feel anxious and insecure about social and professional achievement - a feeling that you are not worthy of the position you have got yourself to.

Perhaps you are in a new job role and can’t shake the feeling you aren’t sufficiently qualified, regardless of whether it is the truth or not, or maybe your subconscious won’t stop persuading you that you aren’t cool enough for your social circle or relationship. You can’t enjoy the satisfaction of your success because you can’t rid yourself of the thoughts of inadequacy.

Dealing with these kinds of thoughts can be tiring and manifest in problematic symptoms including anxiety and depression. Here we have put together a guide to imposter syndrome that looks at the symptoms of imposter syndrome and the five ways that it can present itself. 

What are the signs of imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is easy to spot if you know what to look for, and while it is not recognised as a mental health disorder itself, the symptoms and signs associated with imposter syndrome can seriously impact your mental health.

Some of the key things to identifying if you think you might have imposter syndrome include:

  • Anxiety - do you feel anxious about your situation, or the idea that you will be ‘found out’?
  • Sensitivity - do you have disproportionate responses to comments and criticism, regardless of how constructive?
  • People pleasing - do you go above and beyond for those around you in a bid to ‘earn’ your place?
  • Obsession - do you obsess over tiny errors and flaws in your work or behaviour?
  • Downplaying - do you find it hard to enjoy your successes and achievements, and feel the need to downplay them?

If some of these things resonate with you and feel like a part of your daily experience, imposter syndrome could be to blame.

What are the 5 types of imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can present in many ways, and the above signs can look different from person to person. Generally, however, people who deal with imposter syndrome often fall into one of these five types.

The Perfectionist

These individuals set extremely high standards for themselves and are never satisfied with their work, fearing being exposed as inadequate if they fall short of these exceedingly high standards they strive for.

The perfectionist type imposter syndrome includes micromanagement, poor decision-making, inability to properly delegate tasks, an obsession with tiny details, and the subsequent fear of making mistakes.

The Superhuman

These people feel the need to excel in all areas of life, often neglecting their well-being, and worrying about being unable to meet high expectations. The superhuman type imposter syndrome is marked by a significant amount of guilt and are often workaholics.

If you are someone who feels more stressed when relaxing than when working, struggles to accept criticism but is highly self-critical, and feels the need to keep your to-do list stacked sky high, then you might be dealing with superhuman type imposter syndrome.

The Natural Genius

Those with this type of imposter syndrome believe that if they struggle or have to work hard, it means they are not truly competent. They fear that others will discover their lack of innate ability and as such their self-confidence falters when faced with difficulties and setbacks.

For people with natural genius type imposter syndrome, you might find that you are only satisfied when success and ability comes naturally and shy away from opportunities should they require you to work hard, practise and persevere. In situations that call for these things, you might feel undeserving and like you are underperforming, and you might even avoid opportunities for yourself for fear of these feelings.

The Soloist

Individuals with soloist type imposter syndrome feel they must accomplish everything independently and are reluctant to seek help or collaborate, fearing they will be seen as incapable. This intensely individualistic approach means those struggling with this type of imposter syndrome will often feel very isolated.

If you struggle to ask for help and feel the need to complete tasks on your own in order to feel competent and capable as well as struggling with networking and accepting criticism, you might struggle with soloist type imposter syndrome.

The Expert

People with this type believe they need to know everything about a subject and be flawless in their knowledge. They fear being exposed as not knowing enough. Common in specialised industries and academia, those with this type of imposter syndrome often find that they must constantly be learning and achieving qualifications and other skill markers for fear of being left behind or seen as underqualified.

If you feel like you never know enough about your area of expertise, and constantly feel underqualified you might suffer from expert type imposter syndrome.

What causes imposter syndrome?

There is no specific definition of what causes imposter syndrome and the factors that influence the development of this condition and its symptoms will vary from person to person. Nonetheless, some common factors often contribute to the development of imposter syndrome.

For example, upbringing can hugely influence whether an individual develops imposter syndrome later in life. A study on imposter syndrome in women from 1978 identified two common childhood circumstances in the development of the condition. Either they had a family member such as a sibling who was the ‘intelligent one’ and to whom they were often compared, or they were over-praised as a child leading to feelings of inadequacy when entering the adult world and realising they aren’t good at everything.

Similarly, sufferers of imposter syndrome might have been pressured to perform highly as a child and never have been able to shake off that pressure.

Other triggering factors could be societal and cultural. Where there is an expectation to be driven and dedicated in every aspect of life, there is a possibility of falling victim to imposter syndrome should you feel you aren’t meeting these societal expectations.

How to overcome imposter syndrome

If you resonate with some of the symptoms discussed here and have reason to believe you are dealing with imposter syndrome, there are things you can do to tackle it - but be prepared, it won’t happen overnight.

A good place to start is by practising mindfulness and beginning to reframe your perspective on the area of life in which you are experiencing feelings of being an imposter. Don’t try to ignore the feelings, but instead address them directly.

Feeling like you aren’t performing at the same level as your peers? Consider why you might think that, and whether there is any real evidence for it. If there is some evidence, how can you address it in a way that avoids burdening yourself with anxiety or stress? Ideally, you can reframe your perspective to avoid comparison to others, after all, we are all different and bring different things to the table.

You might also like to try creating positive reinforcement, by reminding yourself of your achievements. Why not write a list on your phone that you can refer to when you find yourself feeling fraudulent? Consider the things you have achieved and created concretely so you can help deter yourself from focusing on negative ideas of inadequacy that aren’t grounded in reality.

How Head Agenda could help

Imposter syndrome can be debilitating, especially when it begins to present with depression and severe anxiety. Sometimes DIY mindfulness isn’t enough to get to the heart of the problem. If you can’t shake those feelings of inadequacy and it's impacting your day-to-day life, it might be time to speak to a professional.

Here at Head Agenda, our expert, registered therapists are here to support you with your mental health through a diverse range of services. View our services page where you can see what we offer and how we can help including tackling imposter syndrome and the associated mental health challenges including:

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