How to Stomp on your Imposter Syndrome

Sad-looking woman in shadows with only her profile showing. Caption reads, "How to Stomp on your Imposter Syndrome". Black background.

Introducing Imposter Syndrome (the Imposter Phenomenon)

If you’ve ever felt like a fake or imposter in your personal or professional life, you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world experience Imposter Syndrome, no matter their race, country, gender identity, sexuality, profession, income, or level of education.

Because I’ve been through this myself, I understand what you’re going through. And because I’ve been successful in overcoming Imposter Syndrome in my own life, I’ve found specific techniques that work, beliefs that can contribute to self-doubt, mindset changes you can make, and steps you can take to significantly improve your work and home life. So, let’s get to it!

“Impostor” or “Imposter”?

It seems that Australians and New Zealanders use “Imposter” more frequently, while the rest of the world tends to use “Impostor”. While both are used around the world, the thinking seems to be that “Impostor” is correct.

I might just switch between them in this post (and it will take me a while to get used to adding the “o”)!

What is Impostor Syndrome really?

It’s not a “real” disease but a pattern of thinking

Imposter Syndrome isn’t actually a real “disease” or “syndrome”. Instead, it’s a collection of thought patterns, beliefs and internalised ways of thinking that cause people to lack confidence, doubt their accomplishments and fear that others will find out they are frauds or imposters.

People with Impostor Syndrome often have feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and lack of belief in their own abilities. Such feelings may lead to growing self-esteem problems and insecurity, like the person doesn’t belong or that they are not as good as others.

Imposter Syndrome affects people at work and in relationships

Imposter Syndrome at work can set back a person’s career and discourage them from trying to fulfil their goals. Imposter Syndrome in relationships can often manifest and can cause difficulty for the person suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

It can cause huge difficulties for its sufferers

Severe Impostor Syndrome can lead to anxiety and depression (or make existing conditions more severe) and can have a substantial negative impact on the sufferer’s professional and personal life.

Because of this, it’s important to take this syndrome seriously.

Crying woman, hand over her face. Black background and the woman's photo is black and white.

Which factors make Impostor Syndrome worse?

(1) Expectations of society and professional roles

Expectations of society and traditional gender roles can be big factors in Imposter Syndrome, especially for women in the professional world.

Women may feel pressure to prove themselves in a male-dominated professional field, which can lead to strong feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt and the need to force themselves to be high achievers. I remember clearly the time I had an interview with a male Partner for a senior role, and he forced me to justify that I hadn’t lost all my skills and experience simply by going on maternity leave.

Where Imposter Syndrome is a factor, women often find themselves taking a step back, even when they are otherwise equal to a male colleague. Because of this, pay parity often suffers and many women are not given the best work and salary opportunities that are given to male colleagues. Some feel guilty for putting themselves forward, others feel like an imposter or focus so much on their small mistakes that they think other people would never choose them first.

(2) Traditional gender roles

The pressure that women face is often compounded by traditional gender roles. Many women these days work fulltime, then are expected to carry the majority of household duties at home as well. because of this, many women struggle with keeping all the “balls in the air”. They feel unworthy, like they are failing at being a good partner, mother, employee, business owner, friend, and community member.

Women are still often seen as the primary caregiver, and despite a degree of change in many countries, are most often still the ones who place their careers on hold to have (and take care of) young children.

Many of the “invisible” tasks fall on women in two-parent households, including using their sick leave to stay at home and care for children, taking sick children to hospital while their husbands sleep (even if both partners are working full-time), attending all the many appointments that are required for families (such as doctor and vet appointments), even while working full-time, and so on.

Three images of women with children. The first image shows a woman with dark hair with a sick child lying on her lap. The second image shows a stressed woman holding a squirming toddler. The third image shows an anxious woman trying to do work at her computer while holding a baby on her lap and with a young child drawing beside her.

These expectations that are placed on women in their careers and their personal life can damage many women’s self-esteem and cause many women to feel inadequate and that they are not coping.

(3) Discrimination and lack of representation

Discrimination and a lack of representation can also cause Imposter Syndrome. Many people feel like they don’t fit into society’s norms, and many don’t have the same opportunities as others in their professional and personal lives.

This is especially true for minority groups who are unrepresented (and often undervalued) in their field.

Under-represented and minority groups may experience Imposter Syndrome in a number of ways, including in feeling like they aren’t worth as much as others, that they have to hang back, that it’s wrong to stick out and that they are lucky to be where they are (so have no right to complain).

(4) Having children and taking parental leave

New parents and stay-at-home parents might also be more prone to Imposter Syndrome because of the big life changes and extra responsibilities that come with these roles, especially for parents who used to work.

Almost every new parent worries about making a mistake and hurting their baby, and Imposter Syndrome in parents can therefore be a serious challenge. It can make new parents hesitant to take action and want to isolate themselves from others, and it can lead to anxiety and depression, among other things.

Stay-at-home mother lying on bed with sleeping baby while her husband leaves for work in a business suit, looking at his watch

Imposter Syndrome in parents is more common when there is a big difference in income between the parent who stays at home (who is more often likely to suffer from Imposter Syndrome) and the one who continues to work.

The extra stress and lack of a clear career path for a lot of stay-at-home parents can cause self-doubt and insecurity and exacerbate Imposter Syndrome.

(5) When stay-at-home Mums go back to work

Additional problems can arise when stay-at-home Mums (in particular) start to think about going back to work.

There is a reason why so many women make a career change at this stage of life – they often feel that they are no longer capable of performing their former role and struggle with finding all the answers.

I know that I felt like I had “lost something” during my maternity leave and that I was no longer as skilled and experienced as I had been beforehand. This feeling can make many women question their own ability to return to work after having children.

If someone else they encounter also questions their abilities or their capacity to work, it can be extremely damaging and hard to deal with those negative emotions.

(6) Men suffer from Imposter Syndrome too

While women are often said to be the main sufferers, men suffer from Imposter Syndrome too.

Women seem more willing to speak out about Imposter Syndrome and admit that it is affecting them. Whereas men often suffer its effects in silence or only recognise the individual components of Imposter Syndrome (eg feeling unqualified for their particular role), not the syndrome as a whole.

(7) Its effects on LGBTIQ+ people

Imposter Syndrome has a significant impact on the LGBTIQ+ Community, arguably in a greater proportion than in the cisgender community. This leads to massive challenges for its sufferers, who need supporters who understand the impacts of gender, preferences and identity on themselves, their emotions and their home and work lives.

Note: When reading the words “men” and “women” in this post, please interpret them in the way that best suits you. There is no intention to exclude any person or marginalise their suffering simply because of their gender, preferences or identity. My use of this language is simply intended to reflect that the majority of sufferers of Impostor Syndrome are cisgender men and women due to their proportion of the overall population of the world.

How do I know if I have Impostor Syndrome?

The Imposter Phenomenon, as it’s sometimes called, can show up in different ways, including:

  1. being a perfectionist, to avoid being seen as incompetent or inadequate;

  2. being too focused (sometimes obsessively) on their individual differences, which can make them feel like an impostor;

  3. being afraid of getting in trouble with your supervisor for making mistakes, even a small mistake;

  4. struggle to champion their own career growth;

  5. suffers from impostor feelings;

  6. doubting your abilities and accomplishments, regardless of how hard you have worked for them;

  7. having negative thoughts about yourself regularly, and potentially neglecting your well being;

  8. mental health struggles with anxiety and depression;

  9. believing that other factors or reasons were the cause of your accomplishments, rather than your own skills or abilities;

  10. struggling to accept praise or recognition for your achievements – always finding ways to diminish your own accomplishments (either in your own mind or out loud to others, by brushing off compliments);

  11. being afraid you will be exposed as a fraud or an imposter because you are just not good enough or feeling like a fraud at work (ie “I feel like a fraud, that I don’t belong in my current role, that my co-workers are so much better than me”);

  12. doubting your own judgment and decision-making skills, even when a significant part of you knows that you have the right qualifications or experience;

  13. feeling like you’re not as good at something, or as capable at a particular skill, as other people are (or as others think you are), and that you don’t deserve success, promotions, pay rises, etc;

  14. always expecting failure rather than success, that you are falling short despite all the hard work you put in and despite reassurances from any relevant co-worker;

  15. procrastinating on tasks because you feel that you are not good enough to do them properly, and you are not sure whether you will be able to do them “right”; and

  16. avoiding taking on new challenges or responsibilities because you’re afraid of not meeting the expectations that other people have of you.

Most people with Impostor Syndrome suffer from a number of the above all at once (or at different times). However, if you only experience one or two of the above from time to time, it doesn’t mean you necessarily have Imposter Syndrome.

A way for you to determine whether you have Imposter Syndrome is when:

  • you have all (or many) of these above manifestations of Impostor Syndrome;

  • they are present in you most of the time in your professional life (ie Impostor Syndrome at work or in your job); and

  • they are often present in your personal life as well (including Imposter Syndrome in relationships and Impostor Syndrome as parents).

How can Impostor Syndrome affect your life? Impostor feelings

When you listen to your Imposter Syndrome, it can affect your life in a number of ways.

Among other things, it can increase (or bring about) anxiety and depression, make you feel like you’re worth very little and like a failure, cause you to defer to others who are less senior or who don’t know as much as you in your job, make you hang back, lead you to not apply for promotions despite previous success and hold you back and prevent you from achieving your full potential.

Impostor Syndrome can also make your self-esteem plummet, cause you to question decisions you make, impact your relationships (and cause you to retreat from others), as well as lead you to feel worthless and useless, and that you will never be a success.

Because of its many potential negative impacts, once you realise you have it, the best thing you can do is take positive steps to stomp on Impostor Syndrome.

How can I overcome Impostor Syndrome?

While there are a number of strategies that can help you conquer Impostor Syndrome and build your confidence in your professional and personal life, here are 6 of the ones I prefer (and which helped me in my own journey):

1. Challenge any negative thoughts and beliefs and reframe them positively

These negative thoughts and beliefs are often based on unrealistic or irrational expectations, like the belief that you must be perfect or that you are not good enough, or that there’s no such thing as successful women.

By identifying and questioning these thoughts and beliefs as soon as they occur, you can start to recognise when they are false and unhelpful, that they are part of the impostor phenomenon, and you can then start to reframe your thoughts in a more positive and realistic way.

2. Use visualisation techniques to imagine yourself as confident and successful.

Create a positive and inspiring image in your mind to help you stay focused and motivated. Even a few seconds each day can make a huge difference.

Or you can go deeper and visualise yourself supporting your inner child, reminding yourself how awesome you are, or being your own best cheerleader. Visualisation can be amazingly helpful when you’re feeling anxious or nervous – it can help you relax and focus your mind, allowing you to push any negative feelings away.

Woman in a blue hoodie looking sad. Thought bubble beside her with a smiling woman hugging a smiling child.

3. Actively seek out feedback at work instead of being scared of negative feedback

Fearing negative feedback can hold you back and stop you from seeking out opportunities for career growth and development, and it can also make your working life incredibly stressful.

By regularly asking for feedback, you can get a better understanding of your strengths and areas for improvement, and you can also show that you’re open to learning and growing. You may also be surprised to find that you receive positive feedback, which can make you feel like much less of a fraud.

4. Find a role model or mentor who can offer you kind words, guidance and support

A role model or mentor can give you valuable insights and advice, help you navigate your work environment, and also help you stay motivated and focused on your goals. Whether you find a mentor through a formal program, find a coach like myself or build a relationship with someone who inspires you, having someone to turn to can make a big difference in your journey to overcome Impostor Syndrome.

5. Do activities that boost your self-esteem, make you feel good about yourself and give you a sense of accomplishment

This could include volunteering, participating in hobbies you enjoy, or taking on leadership roles in your profession or your community. By focusing on activities that you’re good at, and which bring you joy, you can start to see yourself in a more positive light and overcome feelings of inadequacy.

6. Set small, achievable goals

By setting small goals and celebrating your progress, you can start to see that you’re capable of many different achievements and that you have the skills and abilities to succeed in whatever you turn your mind to. This can help you feel more confident in your abilities and take on bigger challenges with greater self-assurance.

So, what is the best way to overcome Impostor Syndrome?

The most reliable way for you to stomp on Imposter Syndrome is to seek the help of someone who has gone through that journey and has overcome Imposter Syndrome themselves.

It may be a mentor, a psychologist, a counselor, or a coach like me who has been there, found results that work and who genuinely believes they can help you make a substantial improvement to your professional and personal life.

That is why I’m in the process of writing an eBook about how to conquer Imposter Syndrome, and why I’m about to publish several Workbooks to give you practical guidance and tools in your journey to conquer Imposter Syndrome.

Conclusion

Impostor Syndrome is normal and is experienced by millions around the world.

If you do have Imposter Syndrome, it is important that you seek out support and find ways to improve your self-confidence and combat the negative feelings that affect you in your professional and personal life.

While Impostor Syndrome can have a substantial impact on you, it can also be overcome. I’ve managed to do this myself, and I’m now in the process of writing down my Framework in eBooks and Workbooks to help other people stomp on Imposter Syndrome.

Sign up for my Email List, where I will be announcing my upcoming eBook, Workbooks and support group dedicated to conquering Imposter Syndrome.

In the meantime, by using the above strategies and seeking support when needed, you can work to overcome your own Impostor Syndrome. Remember that you are capable and competent, and with a little effort, you can stomp on Impostor Syndrome and learn to love yourself as you are.

Blaze Professional Learning

About The Author

Scroll to Top