Imposter syndrome is a fairly common phenomenon in the work environment. Fear of losing a job, lack of self-esteem and constant comparison to others negatively affect one’s work life. The feeling of not fitting into a job or even thinking that we don’t deserve it leads to a situation where we work below our competence and capabilities. At this point, it is good to ask ourselves, however, don’t I deserve better? And with the problem of accepting one’s own abilities, it is worth seeing a psychologist. Read on.

Imposter syndrome – table of contents:

  1. What is imposter syndrome?
  2. Causes of imposter syndrome
  3. How is imposter syndrome manifested?
  4. How to overcome imposter syndrome at work?
  5. Summary

What is imposter syndrome?

The imposter syndrome is a phenomenon in the field of individual psychology. The term was defined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 while studying imposter syndrome in women. It is a term that refers to a lack of confidence in one’s own abilities, achievements and competence. Imposter syndrome affects many people regardless of gender, education and social and professional position. It is a damaging phenomenon as it can prevent us from pursuing careers and achieving the success we deserve.

People struggling with this syndrome believe that co-workers are mistaken about their high qualifications, which they think they do not possess. This syndrome most often affects people struggling with excessive stress and low self-esteem. They believe that their achievements depend on luck or other external factors, but not on their knowledge, talent and hard work. They minimize or disregard evidence of their competence and attribute success to chance.

imposter syndrome

Causes of imposter syndrome

The reasons for the appearance of imposter syndrome can vary and be related to the environment or family situation. In addition, behavioral factors may also be the source of the problem. Certainly, the syndrome is formed over many years, and manifests itself in early childhood.

Improper values passed in childhood, e.g., telling a child that in order to be loved and deserve love they must excel and achieve something makes them feel worthless in adult life. Putting too much pressure on a child, e.g. “why did you only get a B in a test? After all, it wasn’t difficult, others got As” also makes such a person struggle with low self-esteem in adult life.

On the other hand, with regard to behavioral factors, we should mention excessive feelings of fear and anxiety, neuroticism, i.e. excessive experiencing of negative emotions leading to anxiety states, and a tendency to excessive perfectionism.

With the development of modern technology and widespread access to the Internet, another group of factors contributing to the imposter syndrome has emerged:

  • Information overload – it may make us think that we lack knowledge on so many levels and that there are many topics we are not familiar with
  • Learning curve – this is the relationship between the knowledge we have over time and the conviction of being an expert in a particular field. As we study a given topic, we see how many people are better than us and that we don’t even have a chance to reach their level
  • Little Asian syndrome – the term appeared in online games as a joke that meant that no matter how well someone plays they will still be beaten by some little Asian

How is imposter syndrome manifested?

Imposter syndrome can manifest itself in various ways, and is primarily reflected in the work environment. In professional life, a person with such a syndrome will be withdrawn, and oriented only to survival, without faith in the possibility of success, despite their skills. When performing work duties, they will strive for perfectionism, working under immense pressure and risking professional burnout.

People with imposter syndrome often stay at work after hours. During overtime, they are unlikely to come up with anything new. What they need is the mere feeling that they are spending a really long time at work. They will experience a sense of loneliness and isolation. Their relationships at work will be ineffective and rather cold. Internally, they will have a sense of inadequacy and a persistent and recurring sense of shame and self-doubt.

How to overcome imposter syndrome at work?

Battling imposter syndrome requires first of all changing the way you think about yourself and your own limitations. The next step is to see a psychologist/therapist or find a support group with a similar experience. Assertiveness training or psychological workshops for people struggling with low self-esteem can also be helpful. It’s also a good idea to follow certain rules at work:

  • If you think you are a novice at what you do, then find the benefits and introduce new solutions
  • Focus on the current state of knowledge, not on the learning process itself. This way you won’t undermine your skills
  • Realize that you are not alone with your problem. Imposter syndrome affects many people including those holding senior positions
  • Take notes of your achievements and small successes. The written word has more power and will stick in your memory for a long time
  • Make a list of your skills and competencies. The reason is the same as in the point above
  • Focus on completing qualifications necessary for further development
  • Manage your time and tasks skillfully, this way you will gain more confidence
  • Remember that striving to be the best is not a bad thing, but you can’t be the best at everything. Don’t let perfectionism beat you

It is important for people with imposter syndrome to learn to accept compliments, recognize their achievements and accept that the promotion they receive is the result of their knowledge and hard work, and not a coincidence.


The phenomenon of imposter syndrome is not yet fully explored by psychologists. Special tests have been developed to diagnose this phenomenon, which will help determine the cause and severity of the condition. It is important to remember that this is not a disorder, let alone a mental illness. It is a kind of dysfunction that limits professional development. Working on yourself is never easy, but it is worth the effort to know the feeling of job satisfaction.

Read also: What is a data scientist?

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Author: Nicole Mankin

HR manager with an excellent ability to build a positive atmosphere and create a valuable environment for employees. She loves to see the potential of talented people and mobilize them to develop.