Imposter Syndrome: Definition, Signs and Solutions

Learn to recognize the signs of imposter syndrome & how to prevent it from holding you back in life


Ever feel like you're surrounded by brilliant, talented people and totally don't match up to the same standard? Or that you've only gotten this far by fooling everyone?

That fish-out-of-water feeling of being a fraud has a name: Imposter Syndrome.

It's important to believe in yourself and your abilities. Imposter Syndrome can negatively impact your work performance and mental health.

Luckily, with a little self-awareness and added confidence, it's easily managed. We'll explain how.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

The first step to coping with Imposter Syndrome is learning more about what it is and how to recognize the signs.

Imposter Syndrome, as the name suggests, describes a constant feeling of being, well, an imposter.

Those with Imposter Syndrome hold a deep belief that they don't belong or don't measure up, and have simply been tricking everyone into believing they are competent all along. They constantly worry about failing to meet expectations, and may be a perfectionist due to a fear of being "exposed" for what they really are.

Imposter Syndrome commonly arises in the workplace. Early researchers of Imposter Syndrome primarily associated it with high-achieving women. But anyone can experience Imposter Syndrome.

Signs of Imposter Syndrome Include:

  • Dismissing compliments and praise
  • Diminishing accomplishments
  • Comparison to others
  • Blaming your success on dumb luck
  • Perfectionism

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

There's no one singular cause of Imposter Syndrome. It's not something you're genetically born with, but rather a result of experiences you've had throughout your life.

Imposter Syndrome can have different root causes for different people, who may experience it in different ways. Here are a few common causes:

1. Familial Background

Many cite their childhood upbringing as being responsible for their Imposter Syndrome.

Families that value achievement above all else and that tend to be high conflict but low support are most likely to perpetuate Imposter Syndrome in their children, according to research. All that pressure can sticks with you for life and can manifest as Imposter Syndrome in adulthood.

2. Identity Experiences

Those in a minority group - such as women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and POC often struggle with Imposter Syndrome. A 2019 study found that Imposter Syndrome was significantly more prevalent in minority ethnic groups.

This is in part because of a lack of representation: it can be hard to feel that you deserve your success and belong when you haven't seen many others with the same identities do the same.

3. Personality Traits

Research has shown that certain core personality traits or general dispositions lend themselves more to Imposter Syndrome tendencies. These include introversion, anxiety, and perfectionism.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

As you can imagine, living with Imposter Syndrome can really take a toll. It's been associated with anxiety and depression, decreased job satisfaction, stunted career trajectories, and more.

Now that you know all about Imposter Syndrome and what it is, how can you manage it and stop holding yourself back?

1. Open Up

Part of what makes Imposter Syndrome so difficult to deal with is how lonely it feels. But chances are, probably a lot of people around you feel the same way. Opening up about how you're feeling can help everyone succeed and do their best.

If you experience Imposter Syndrome at work, it may also be helpful to share with a manager or mentor to get their support.

2. Learn to Rationalize Negative Thoughts

At the end of the day, Imposter Syndrome is a chronic case of irrational negative thoughts. Though the thought that you aren't good enough feels terrifyingly real, it ultimately comes from fear and chances are doesn't hold up in objective reality.

A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) based journaling app like Jour can help you put negative thoughts and self-beliefs to the test and help you learn to talk back to your negative thoughts.

Learn more about CBT and how it can change your life →

3. Stop Comparing

Comparing yourself to others will only ever exacerbate Imposter Syndrome. Learning to focus more on yourself and your growth, fulfillment, and excitement for what you do can help you have a healthier perspective.

4. Keep Track of Success

Keeping track of your successes - as in actually writing them down in a daily journal - can help combat the impulse to diminish accomplishments, help you see your progress in action, and serve as evidence against some of those negative thoughts.

Learn more about the benefits of a daily journaling habit →

5. Practice Affirmations

Affirmations are another healthy, positive way to talk back to negative thoughts. Instead of getting bogged down by negative thought patterns, you can make a choice to replace it with a more positive reminder to meditate on.

Check out our best affirmations for self-confidence →

You're Worth It

Imposter Syndrome describes a consistent feeling of being a fraud. Those with Imposter Syndrome have a deeply held belief that they have achieved success through tricking people into thinking they are competent, or even just dumb luck.

Though the causes can vary, Imposter Syndrome commonly stems from identity experiences or familial upbringing.

To overcome Imposter Syndrome, share how you're feeling with peers and mentors to get support, learn to rationalize negative thoughts, and avoid comparing yourself to others.

And don't forget - if you're ready to unlearn some negative thought patterns and need a little guidance along the way? The Jour app is here for you anytime, anywhere with journal prompts to help you think differently.