The telling signs of Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome them

Picture13112424 - Global Banking | FinancePicture13112424 - Global Banking | FinanceBy Jeannette Linfoot, CEO at Jeannettelinfootassociates           

Feeling like a fraud in your professional life is something that many highly successful people battle with. Thoughts of not being good enough, lacking necessary experience, or simply not deserving your success are known popularly as imposter syndrome.

The phenomenon is not as uncommon as you might think, with one recent study estimating that up to 82% of people experience it at some point in their professional lives. It’s particularly widespread in high-achieving individuals, and if not identified early on, can create feelings of self-doubt that can hold you back from your true potential.

So, what are the common signs of imposter syndrome, and what can you do to banish it?

Minimising success

Have you ever brushed off an achievement with phrases like “anyone could have done this” or “it was down to luck”? A consistent pattern of dismissing your successes and downplaying otherwise impressive achievements is a widespread symptom of imposter syndrome, indicative of an inability to look at your own competence and skills in a positive light.

While a certain amount of humility in one’s achievements is admirable, a long-term pattern of minimising your achievements can be very damaging. It feeds into a negative self-view, bolstering those feelings of doubt that can make you reluctant to really showcase your skills and expertise.


A tendency towards perfectionism may seem like a rather positive trait. While this can certainly be true, more often, perfectionism involves holding oneself to an unattainably high standard. Far from pushing you to be better, failure to live up to unrealistic expectations can be incredibly harmful, resulting in feelings of unworthiness, or in this case, feeling like an imposter.

This behaviour goes hand in hand with low confidence in one’s own abilities, and the need to prove oneself by striving for perfection. At the root of this is the fear that you may be regarded as incompetent or found out as a fraud if you don’t produce what you consider perfect results.

Far from being a motivator, the need to perfect everything you do can hold you back considerably. Not only can it lead to feelings of inadequacy and failure, but can result in getting lost in a maze or details, micromanaging work and projects, and generally expending energy in unnecessary areas.

Struggling with feedback

No-one enjoys their work being criticised, and though it can be a struggle for many people to accept even constructive criticism, for those suffering with imposter syndrome, it can hit much harder. Every piece of feedback, no matter how well-intentioned, can feel like you are on the verge of being exposed as a fraud, bringing those feelings of inadequacy to the forefront.

Rather than viewing constructive feedback and criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve, imposter syndrome can make it feel like it’s only a matter of time before you are “found out”.


The deep-seated feelings of inadequacy in those struggling with imposter syndrome can give rise to an unconscious effort to self-sabotage one’s chances of being recognised or praised for one’s work and efforts.

This can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where your belief that you don’t deserve your success, or are simply not good enough, can cause so much anxiety that it can make it harder to function.

If not kept in check, these feelings of self-doubt and unconscious attempts to self-sabotage can make you your own worst enemy, making you reticent to lead projects, go for promotions or embrace opportunities.

Overcoming imposter syndrome

Perhaps the hardest part of overcoming imposter syndrome is addressing your underlying feelings. It may be tempting to simply push these thoughts down, but recognising your own negative self-talk will help you begin putting these feelings into context, and is the first step to forming more positive habits around acknowledging your success and accomplishments.

Likewise, it’s important to seek support and speak out. Low confidence in your abilities can seriously hold you back from your full potential, particularly if you’re in a vicious cycle of self-criticism. Confide in those you trust about how you are feeling. Not only will this help you to gain some outside perspective and escape the cycle, but you may be pleasantly surprised by what others see in you.

Perfectionism can be a particularly difficult habit to break, but start by setting small, realistic goals. Change your focus from aiming for perfection to instead making continual positive progress, and begin reframing setbacks not as bitter disappointments, but rather chances to improve and learn.

Overcoming imposter syndrome requires a commitment to practising self-compassion. This can be difficult when you’ve convinced yourself of your feelings of inadequacy, but treating yourself with kindness will help you to break the habit of beating yourself up for minor perceived failures.

Final thoughts

For those highly motivated to achieve in life, imposter syndrome can be especially common. Though difficult, it is not impossible to overcome, and begin to change the narrative you use about yourself. You have worth outside of any one specific goal or achievement, and understanding this is key to overcoming the feelings of inadequacy holding you back and stopping you from reaching your full potential.