What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where high-achieving or successful people  doubt themselves and feel that they don’t deserve their success. Those with imposter syndrome might struggle to enjoy their success, because they think to themselves, I’m a fraud, or, I’m unfit for this leadership position, or, I don’t deserve this achievement.

The negative feelings associated with imposter syndrome often stem from low self-confidence where successful people feel undeserving of the high-status accolades they’ve achieved, or feel unfit for a prestigious position they’ve been given.

These individuals might be viewed by society as an expert in a certain field, but they don’t actually view themselves as an expert, so they start to feel like a fraud or an ‘imposter’.

Those with imposter syndrome tend to be incapable of taking responsibility for their own success. They might tell you they just got lucky, even though you can plainly see that their creativity and intelligence got them where

they are today.

Low self-esteem is one of the primary causes of imposter syndrome. Since impressive achievements and success won’t necessarily magically get rid of your self-esteem issues, it makes sense why imposter syndrome occurs for so many people.

A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science found that approximately 70 percent of the population has experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives – both men and women.

It’s frustrating when you have a long list of impressive achievements, and you’ve reached very obvious pillars of success, but you don’t feel successful or don’t embrace your own success.

Embracing your own success is important, because if you don’t, you’ll be less likely to maintain or grow what you’ve built for yourself.

Where Does the Term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ Come From?

The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was coined by two female clinical psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, when they noticed a discrepancy in people’s external success compared to their internal self-perception. These two psychologists found that despite having external evidence of success and accomplishments, many people were unable to accept and internalize their success, and remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they achieved.

When someone’s internal beliefs about themselves don’t match the external recognition they are getting due to their success or accomplishments, they feel like ‘imposters’.

Who is Most Likely to Have Imposter Syndrome?

Those who have trouble being kind to themselves and have an inner voice that is a harsh critic are more likely to have imposter syndrome.

Furthermore, those who suffer with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or a perpetual sense of inadequacy will be more likely to have imposter syndrome if they achieve success.

From a more general standpoint, if someone has low self-worth or low self-love, they may by default start dismissing their own accomplishments instead of giving themselves appropriate recognition.

Sometimes, imposter syndrome happens because people became successful by chance, rather than pursuing success. Their sudden success might catch them off guard, or they might believe they lucked out rather than earning it.

An example of success happening to someone unexpectedly would be if a writer’s investigative journalism article went viral, and they were approached by a producer about adapting their article into a film. This achievement may not have been expected by the writer, who may not attribute this to their writing skills, but rather to a stroke of luck. When they start getting recognition from their article, they might get imposter syndrome because this type of success was not planned or anticipated.

However, other people develop imposter syndrome because they’ve been positioned as an expert in a field where they struggle themselves.

An example of this is a busy therapist with lots of clients who pay him to provide advice about coping with mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. However, this therapist struggles with anxiety and depression himself, and thus feels like an imposter when he gives advice during a therapy session. A good way for the therapist to counteract these feelings of being an ‘imposter’ is to recognize that he has earned a degree in this field, and if anything, his mental health struggles will only help him relate to his clients in therapy.

Negative Thoughts in the Mind of Someone with Imposter Syndrome

Do you think you might have imposter syndrome? The evidence lies within your thoughts about yourself.

Below are some examples of the types of thoughts commonly associated with imposter syndrome:

I didn’t earn this achievement, so I can’t accept the praise.

I’m not some genius entrepreneur – I just got lucky.

Any day now, people are going to start to realize I’m a fraud.

I don’t deserve the ‘expert’ status I’ve been given, because I’m not an expert on this at all.

They have no idea how inept I really am.

I won’t be able to keep up this facade for long.

I’m not fit for this role, and soon people will see that I’m not cut out for it.

People will soon catch on to the fact that I’m not worthy of the recognition I’ve been getting.

These examples of self-doubt and negative self-talk are very common. However, often, these negative thoughts are typically not the truth.

People with imposter syndrome will sometimes dismiss their success by telling themselves that it was just ‘good timing’, a stroke of luck, or a ‘fluke’. Or, they tell themselves that they only achieved these marks of success due to the help of someone else, and they’ll undermine their own intelligence.

How Imposter Syndrome Negatively Impacts Your Life

Imposter syndrome can be a slippery slope, because if you don’t feel worthy of your position or your success, you might sabotage it.

We should be harnessing our success, and owning it. It’s important to ride the wave, turning one successful opportunity into another, and leveraging one impressive accomplishment to achieve something else. How can anyone do this if they believe they’re an undeserving or unfit imposter?

Negative thoughts about yourself, such as believing that you are an imposter, negatively impact your life.

Imposter syndrome will also hinder your ability to celebrate or feel pride in your success. It’s much more difficult to feel joy about your accomplishments.

Worst of all, the psychological phenomenon of imposter syndrome can also cause real failures, because imposter syndrome can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is when believing something negative will happen, makes it happen, and anticipating a negative outcome makes the negative outcome take place.

This is why many people who believe they will fail, do fail.

What are Your Genetic Success Traits?

Did you know that many successful traits and talents are genetic? For example, it often runs in families to be gifted at math, and your IQ can be partially genetic as well.

With an at-home DNA test from CircleDNA, you’ll get over 500 reports about yourself, and this includes genetic success traits. You’ll find out whether it’s in your DNA to have a higher AQ (entrepreneurship tendency) or if it’s in your genes to be ultra-creative.

Perhaps it’s in your DNA to be successful, and you shouldn’t feel like an ‘imposter’ at all.


  1. The Impostor Phenomenon (The Journal of Behavioural Science) https://so06.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/IJBS/article/view/521

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