Impostor Syndrome: When Self Doubt Belittles Success

Last updated May 7, 2021 

“Fake it till you make it” is a classic piece of advice, but what happens if you still feel like you’re faking it after you’ve made it? What if a new challenge or a new environment makes you question yourself and your ability? Doubts such as these are more common than you might think and could be a sign that you are experiencing what has come to be known as Impostor Syndrome.

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What is Impostor Syndrome?

When psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first identified Impostor Syndrome in 1978, they described it as believing your success was the result of luck rather than talent. Yet, it has come to apply to all those who are unable to “internalize and own their successes,” according to psychologist Audrey Ervin in a recent Time article on the subject.

Although Impostor Syndrome can manifest differently depending on the individual, there are some common mindsets and behaviors that can indicate a person is either suffering from it or could be vulnerable to it:

  • Denial of praise and potential. “I am successful or receive compliments because of luck, not ability. No one, including me, should have faith that I can continue to succeed.”
  • Denial of talent or effort. “What I’ve achieved isn’t special. It was easy, and anyone could have done it.”
  • Denial of success and assistance. “If I attempt something, I can’t make any mistakes. I have to know everything and fulfill every expectation, and, if I have to work harder than others or rely on others to do so, then I am a failure and a fraud.”

Since it is typical for everyone to relate to at least one of the above on occasion, what determines if, and how severely, someone is suffering from Impostor Syndrome is how persistent and frequent these attitudes are. 

Who does Impostor Syndrome Affect?

Time reports that about 70% of people will feel like an impostor at some point, and that it can affect anyone. That said, there are some populations who are more likely to experience these feelings, and some who are more vulnerable to the persistent suffering that characterizes Impostor Syndrome. While gifted students are routinely linked with Impostor Syndrome, NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) singles out first-generation students, and Thrive Global agrees, adding that “low income” students and “students of color” are also at risk. Moreover, Dawn X. Henderson, PhD reports in her article “The Trajectory of Race” for Psychology Today that “impostorism predicted anxiety among Black and Latino students but may have more adverse effects than discrimination on the psychological well-being of Black students.”

How to Cope

Instead of letting Impostor Syndrome bring you down, you can fight back with a few simple strategies.

  • Realize you’re not alone.  While you might think you are the only one with self-doubt or who feels out of place, the truth is that it’s common to feel insecure. So, don’t beat yourself up for how you feel. Instead, express your feelings; talk to someone you trust and find support from those who feel similarly. You can also confide in a journal.
  • Seek out mentors and role models.  When someone in a position to which you aspire or someone whom you admire can understand what you’re going through and offer advice, it can give you the strength and insight you need to persevere.
  • Change your thinking.  Identify your negative thoughts and remind yourself that no one is perfect and mistakes can be opportunities for growth. But, also remind yourself that you are talented and capable. You can even keep a list or collection of compliments you’ve received to reflect on when you’re feeling especially insecure.

Early Intervention and Lasting Impact

Whether you or someone you care about is at risk or currently suffering from Impostor Syndrome, the important thing to remember is that you are not alone and that there is hope. The sooner you recognize you might be suffering from Impostor Syndrome and the sooner you apply some of the above strategies, the better your outcome will be.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley or Susan Ware can be reached at 215-886-9188


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