Imposter Syndrome: Types, Causes, & How to Stop It

The definition of imposter syndrome.

Have you felt incompetent while others believe you are qualified enough? Then you might have experienced imposter syndrome. In 2021, a Twitter survey showed that the constant fear of failure was common for 87% of the participants. It can affect anyone, no matter their background, social status, or degree.

In this article, you will find out the symptoms of imposter syndrome and how to prevent it. Check out our research essay samples to improve your essays.

📍 Imposter Syndrome Explained

Impostor syndrome is a condition in which people doubt their abilities or accomplishments. The syndrome is accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud. Impostor syndrome can be a chronic condition requiring special treatment, which makes it different from natural self-doubt.

Impostor syndrome was identified by two psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, in 1978. They theorized that only women were affected by impostor syndrome. However, later the research proved that men also experience the signs of impostor syndrome.

You might have noticed two spelling options, ‘impostor’ and ‘imposter.’ The first is the grammatically correct version. Nonetheless, the word ‘imposter’ has maintained a steady presence in the English language. You can choose either spelling!

5 Types of Imposter Syndrome

Psychologists differentiate five different types of imposter syndrome:

  1. ᅠThe perfectionist
    Perfectionists set unrealistic goals for themselves. When they fail to reach them, they experience major self-doubt. This type is characterized by the tendency to micromanage and control everything.
  2. The natural genius
    Some people tend to be too self-assured, believing they were born a genius. Impostors of this group believe in their talent rather than efforts. They feel ashamed when it takes time to achieve something. A remarkable feature of natural geniuses is that they quickly switch from one hobby to another.
  3. The expert
    Experts measure their competence based on their knowledge and experience. At the same time, they fear being exposed as non-professionals. Experts don’t like taking risks. Instead, they dive deep into books and training before attempting to do something.
  4. The superperson
    Super people push themselves to work harder to measure up to others. A superperson juggles many tasks at once to the point of over-exhaustion. If you find yourself overworking and neglecting your friends, you belong to this group of impostors.
  5. The soloist
    These individualists believe that they can do everything themselves. For them, asking others for help is a sign of weakness. The distinctive feature is that soloists choose to do individual projects over teamwork. They also prefer not to delegate tasks.

🤥 Imposter Syndrome Symptoms

Detecting the symptoms is essential to overcome imposter syndrome. The list of symptoms below is not universal – each case of imposter syndrome is unique.

  1. The feeling that success is impossible. People with imposter syndrome mentally prepare themselves for failure.
  2. The fear of being incompetent. Usually, imposters connect their achievements with luck rather than skills.
  3. Setting challenging goals. Imposters set unrealistic goals to prove their self-worth.
  4. Assurance that past successes were pure luck. Low self-esteem makes imposters devalue their achievements.
  5. Performing differently every time. Being overworked can influence the impostor’s performance negatively.
  6. Inability to receive congratulations. People with imposter syndrome can’t trust praise or accept a compliment.
  7. High sensitivity even to constructive criticism. When imposters receive negative feedback, they perceive it as confirmation of being worse than others.
  8. Disappointment in current accomplishments. Imposters find it challenging to celebrate small achievements.
  9. The constant desire to be better than before. People with imposter syndrome try to achieve an impossible ideal.
  10. Stress, anxiety, or depression. Imposter syndrome can cause severe mental conditions like depression.

👨‍🎓 Who Can Experience Imposter Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender. However, there is a risk group of high-achieving individuals. For example, many leaders and celebrities have impostor syndrome. The long list includes Tom Hanks, Serena Williams, and Howard Schultz.

StudentsStudying at school or college can incite feelings of inadequacy. Especially during lockdown when classes were online. The syndrome occurs when a student isn’t engaged in studying or connected with peers.
EmployeesFor some people, a workplace is a highly competitive environment. Employees with imposter syndrome feel like their colleagues perform better, so they fear dismissal.
ParentsThe idea that your child’s well-being depends on you can be terrifying. Many people think they are not good enough parents. They refer to other people’s personal experiences, which is not always a good solution.
ImmigrantsStarting a new life in a foreign country can cause imposter syndrome. Immigrants coming for a better life can experience isolation. It might take them several years to feel like they belong in a new place.
Queer PeoplePeople questioning their sexuality often suffer from imposter syndrome. Accepting that you’re different from others takes a lot of courage.

📝 Causes of Imposter Syndrome

Recent scientific research has shown that certain factors contribute to getting imposter syndrome. Let us focus on the main ones.

Family issues

Family members might emphasize achievements or be too critical. Keeping up with their expectations can be exhausting and leads to impostor syndrome.

School and work environment

Entering a new role at college can trigger impostor syndrome. In this case, a person can feel a lack of experience and the pressure to succeed.

Personality traits

Personal features like low self-esteem, perfectionism, and neuroticism can cause imposter syndrome.

Social anxiety

Impostor syndrome and social anxiety are interconnected. People with social anxiety can feel like they don’t belong in situations.

Cultural expectations

Different cultures have different perceptions of educational or professional achievements. However, some individuals don’t share a socially recognized definition of success. This is why they may feel like they do not belong to their cultural group.

New responsibilities

When new responsibilities are added, people can feel increasing pressure. They can even become paralyzed by this pressure—especially when dealing with something they haven’t done before.

Previous traumatic experience

The central part of imposter syndrome is the fear of being cast out. Imagine a person who was excluded from a group in the past. They may experience imposter syndrome in the future as a result of past trauma.

❓ Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?

If you relate to any of the causes listed above, answer the questions below. Remember, there are ways to prevent and overcome imposter syndrome.

  1. Do you feel like you don’t know much in your chosen area of study?
    An inability to perceive accomplishments can make you feel like you don’t know much. You should try to pay more attention to positive feedback.
  2. Have you drawn on your skills and knowledge to make progress in your work environment or in your studies?
    For a positive difference, be confident when bringing ideas to the table.
  3. Is the real reason you feel like a fraud related to your abilities, or is it just your internal insecurities?
    Positive self-talk can help overcome the internal doubt-filled voices. You are great and doing well!

For more imposter quizzes, we recommend checking out these resources:

The infographic provides tips on how to fight imposter syndrome and what are its signs

Devote 15 minutes to read our recent article about growth mindset. You will learn how to perceive your skills and efforts, and why it is important to make mistakes.

🤼 How to Prevent and Beat Imposter Syndrome?


There are several recommendations for preventing and fighting imposter syndrome:

Preventing Imposter Syndrome

  1. Know the signs of imposter syndrome. We tend to overlook the symptoms in our day-to-day lives. Pay attention to how you talk about yourself, especially regarding education or work.
  2. Remember that you’re not alone. When you need praise or advice, ask your friends or family members for some comfort.
  3. Always distinguish humility from fear. There is nothing wrong with being humble until you stop giving yourself enough credit, which causes a fear of failure.
  4. Remember to be kind to yourself. Try to avoid negative self-talk to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
  5. Track and measure your success. Keep track of your achievements in a private diary. Reread it to show yourself that you’re doing great.
  6. Say “yes” to new opportunities. Learning new things can save you from imposter syndrome in the future.
  7. Discuss imposter syndrome with your mentor. Share your thoughts with someone authoritative to be better equipped.

Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

For those who already suspect they have imposter syndrome, here are our tips on overcoming it:

  1. Try to separate feelings from facts. Recognize that you’re not an impostor just because you have self-doubt and negative thoughts.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to others. Focus on celebrating your achievements rather than holding them up against others.
  3. Talk about your imposter syndrome with a therapist. A therapist can help you recognize the feelings linked to imposter syndrome.
  4. Try to reframe your thinking. Be mindful of your thoughts and emotions to learn how to control them.
  5. Make a list of things that make you stand out. Think about the accomplishments and personality traits that you’re proud of.
  6. Visualize your success. Visualize how you navigate the situation to ease anxious feelings.
  7. Celebrate every tiny victory. If someone congratulates you, try to embrace the excitement.
  8. Cultivate self-compassion. Let go of your perfectionism! Remind yourself that your self-worth isn’t only based on accomplishments.
  9. Share your failures with other people. Discussing mistakes in a group can help you relate to other people’s struggles.
  10. Accept the fact that you have imposter syndrome. Acknowledge that you have this condition to better prepare for upcoming challenges.

🔗 References

  1. Impostor Syndrome Experts – Impostor Syndrome Institute
  2. 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome and How to Stop Them | The Muse
  3. Feel like a fraud? |
  4. Imposter Syndrome | California State University, Long Beach
  5. Impostor Phenomenon in the Classroom | Sheridan Center | Brown University