Combatting Imposter Syndrome


“Fake it ‘till you make it,” is a trite and common saying in modern American culture, but that notion is the source of a great deal of anxiety, angst, and even depression. According to research published in 2020, in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 82 percent of adults report struggling with Imposter Syndrome (called “imposter phenomenon” in the research, and sometimes “imposter experience”; Imposter Syndrome is not a recognized clinical term). 



The syndrome is widely understood to be the persistent feeling that you are a fraud, not worthy of the job you’ve been hired to do, or whatever position you’ve been given. Statistically, people of color are more like to suffer from the syndrome, as are women in traditionally male-dominated professions. 


Although it may sound almost like a made-up problem, the syndrome is actually quite real. It can lead to significant mental stress and distress from worry that the sufferer will be revealed as completely unqualified for the position they occupy. It can lead to clinical anxiety and depression. It can also have real-world effects, creating a fear of failure that stops people from taking chances, experimenting with novel solutions, and advocating for one’s own case (such as not lobbying for a raise that is overdue and well-deserved). 


Over time, the syndrome can lead to career and personal burnout. The bizarre reality is that the syndrome can affect even highly successful individuals who fearing failing in the future and being revealed as incompetent. Fortunately, just changing perspective, along with a few simple strategies, can go a long way toward diminishing the impact of the syndrome. 


Four Helpful Tactics

The first step in conquering Imposter Syndrome is acknowledging that it’s playing a role in your mental well-being. Once you identify feelings of low self-worth and fraud, you can isolate and deal with those feelings, and stop them from causing you suffering.


  • Be self-kind. This is a great principle in life, but extremely important in diminishing the impact of Imposter Syndrome. Be as kind, understanding, and compassionate with yourself as you would be with a close friend or family member. Give yourself room to have the feelings you have, but be supportive in acknowledging what you’ve achieved and the effort you expend in your work and social lives.


  • Mark milestones. It is extremely important in fighting the pervasive nature of Imposter Syndrome to celebrate success. Get a raise or a promotion? Finish a big project? Realize that those types of milestones are not the product of faking abilities and drive. Do something to mark those occasions and acknowledge your abilities and talents. 


  • See the perfection of imperfection. Sometimes you’ll fail, too. Don’t take that as a sign of personal flaws. Recognize that the most successful people in the world regularly fail. The important takeaway is to learn from your failures and build on that learning. 


  • Open up. A hallmark of the Imposter Syndrome is a destructive inner dialog that prevents you from admitting your feelings to others because, ironically, that can seem like you’re revealing yourself as a fraud. Opening up to a close, trusted friend or a therapist can go a long way toward putting the feelings in perspective and diminishing the syndrome’s power over your mental state.


In some cases, the Imposter Syndrome can be a spur to greater achievement and creativity. But those individuals are in the minority. For many people, Imposter Syndrome is far too real and a source of mental suffering. It can also impact job performance. Don’t suffer in silence or discount your feelings. Take steps to be the best you, including understanding that you’re well on your way to that goal.

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