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  • Writer's pictureAntonia Higgins

What is imposter syndrome anyway?

You’ve likely heard the phrase 'imposter syndrome’. It’s one of those terms that seems the be bandied about everywhere. It certainly comes into my counselling room as a topic of conversation often. But what is it really?

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a common experience that can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, or accomplishments. It is characterised by feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy and a persisent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

People with imposter syndrome often feel like they don't belong in their current position or role. They may believe that their success is due to luck or other factors outside of their control, rather than their own efforts and accomplishments. They may also be perfectionists who set unrealistic expectations for themselves, and they may be quick to discount their own achievements.

Imposter syndrome can have a significant impact on a person's life. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and stress, and it can make it difficult to reach their full potential.

What it is not - according to the American Psychological Association - is an official mental health diagnosis listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders). Despite that though, many mental health professionals do acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. And it can be really debilitating.

How do I recognise imposter syndrome?

There are many ways that imposter syndrome can show up in your life. Fear, self-criticism and perfectionism play a big part in imposter syndrome. You could be experiencing imposter syndrome if you:

  • Feel like you don't belong in your role

  • Doubt your own abilities, even when you have evidence to the contrary

  • Are scared of being ‘found out’ and exposed as a fraud

  • Are overly critical of your work

  • Have difficulty accepting compliments

  • Avoid taking risks or challenges for fear of making a fool of yourself or failing

  • Set unrealistic expectations for yourself

  • Compare yourself to others excessively

  • Feel like you're not good enough

What can I do to help myself?

If you are struggling with imposter syndrome, there are a few things you can do to overcome it.

Own it!

The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is to acknowledge that you are experiencing it. It is quite normal to feel this way (lots of people do) and there is nothing wrong with you. If you can learn to recognise when you are spiralling into it, you can face imposter syndrome head on and work to minimise the impact on your self-esteem.

Challenge your negative thoughts

When you start to have negative thoughts about yourself, challenge them. Ask yourself if there is any evidence to support your thoughts, and remind yourself of your accomplishments.

Set realistic goals

People with imposter syndrome often have unrealistically high expectations of what they should be able to achieve, and so set unrealistic goals for themselves. This can lead to disappointment and frustration. Instead, set realistic goals that you can achieve. Setting yourself up to fail feeds into the imposter narrative and perpetuates those unhelpful negative thoughts and beliefs.

Seek support

If working through this feels like a struggle try reaching out to friends or family members who could help keep you on track with any strategies you want to try. Talking to a counsellor or therapist can help you to understand what lies beneath your imposter syndrome, which could help you overcome it.

Celebrate your successes

When you achieve something, own that success and take the time to celebrate it. It really is ok to feel proud of your achievements, and to want to share them with others. Taking pride in your success will help you to build confidence and self-esteem.

Seek out feedback

Ask for feedback from your colleagues, friends, and family about how they experience you and what they value about you. This can help you to get a more accurate assessment of your skills and abilities.

Take care of yourself

Self-care is an essential building block for self-worth. Taking the time to nurture your mind and body can go a long way to helping you believe that you are worthy of being valued and loved. So make sure to get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly. Taking care of your physical and mental health will help you to feel better about yourself.

Be kind to yourself

Everyone makes mistakes, so don't be too hard on yourself when you do. Own it, make amends if you feel you need to, and move on. You’re only human after all. If you can, try to see your mistake as an opportunity for growth. What can you learn from it that will help you in the future?

I hope you find these blogs interesting and helpful. If you’d like to read more of my musings you can subscribe to my blog at and follow me on Facebook at

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Contact me at to discuss how counselling might be helpful for you. I am currently working face to face from my therapy room in Falkirk, and online.

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