Skip to main content

How often do you feel overwhelmed or in doubt of your skills or abilities?

Do you constantly fear being inadequate and getting ‘found out’ for not being as good at your job as everyone thinks you are?

Do you always feel like you must be the most clueless person in the room?

If the answer’s yes, you might be suffering from imposter syndrome – and it’s more common than you might have ever realised… Countless individuals around the globe struggle with imposter syndrome in their personal and/or professional lives. It’s a feeling which can be crippling, especially in the workplace, affecting your ability to move up the career ladder or confidently express new thoughts and ideas.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of imposter syndrome – including how it manifests, how it can impact your mental health and wellbeing, and the surprisingly simple steps you can take to overcome it. Let’s get started!

What is Imposter Syndrome?

The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was first coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes to categorise feelings of being a “fraud or phoney”. These feelings persist despite signs of success and high performance that show otherwise. In the workplace, people suffering from imposter syndrome may feel that they have fooled others into believing they are more capable than they actually are when, in reality, their work and professional success attests to their skills, so there’s no logical reason to feel this way.

Certain personality types are more likely to experience imposter syndrome in the workplace. These include:

  • Perfectionists who struggle to make or move on from a mistake.
  • Experts who believe they must have complete knowledge about every aspect of their jobs.
  • Naturally gifted people who find it difficult to accept that there may be a learning curve when it comes to unfamiliar tasks and responsibilities.

Such personality types may believe themselves to be failures or worry about underperforming because they set very high – and often unreasonable – expectations for their success. They find it hard to recognise their progress or celebrate their successes, and instead, they doubt their accomplishments and excessively dwell on their perceived ‘failures’.

Signs of Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

To effectively tackle imposter syndrome, it’s important to recognise its signs and symptoms. You may be experiencing imposter syndrome if you:

  • Face persistent self-doubt and undermine your skills and abilities.
  • Feel as though someone else could be the ‘better option’ for a role or responsibility.
  • Fear that your colleagues and/or managers may discover you are not as competent as you seem.
  • Overwork to compensate for your self-perceived inadequacies.
  • Do not value or appreciate your progress and always feel you could have done better.
  • Attribute success to luck or chance rather than feeling proud of your skills and abilities.
  • Find it difficult to accept praise or feedback.
  • Have a chronic fear of failure, i.e. begin every task with the negative mindset of believing you’ll “mess up” or end up disappointing those around you.
imposter syndrome

A consistent pattern of such behaviours points towards imposter syndrome. It’s important to recognise and acknowledge these patterns so that you can take the necessary steps to combat them and escape the negative impact imposter syndrome can have on your life.

Imposter Syndrome and Women: Research shows that imposter syndrome disproportionately affects women in the workplace. The Telegraph cites recent statistics published by NatWest which saw 28% of working women in the UK describing imposter syndrome as having stopped them from contributing openly in the office, with 26% reporting having to change their career or find a new job as a result of their self-doubt The Independent documents similar figures, highlighting a 2023 survey of 4000 adults where 53% of British women reported suffering from imposter syndrome, especially in the workplace. These staggering numbers emphasise how any wellbeing initiatives must focus on uplifting and empowering women especially so that they can learn to leave self-doubt behind and thus be fairly represented in high-level positions across industries.

Imposter Syndrome and Wellbeing

Imposter syndrome can be inherently harmful to your mental health and wellbeing. Worrying about your abilities and anticipating failure can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression.

Imposter syndrome can lead to:

  • Chronic stress and anxiety disorders: Your first response to any work-related task may be apprehension or fear, prompting persistent stress and anxiety. Chronic stress and anxiety can cause the body to constantly be in fight-or-flight mode, leading to muscle tension, chest pains, and high blood pressure.
  • Depression: Self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy can lead to longer-term sadness and hopelessness, which can manifest in depression. Feeling inadequate can also cause you to isolate yourself from colleagues and those around you for fear of being “found out”, and this social isolation can worsen or trigger depression.
  • Burnout: As mentioned earlier, you may overwork to compensate for imposter syndrome. This can result in burnout, i.e. a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive work and/or stress.

Of course, the manifestations of imposter syndrome vary across individuals and don’t always result in serious mental and/or physical health issues. However, the general impact of self-doubt and the fear of being “exposed” can impair your work performance, slow down productivity, lower your self-worth, and prevent you from reaching out for help.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Tips and Strategies to Boost Confidence and Self-Esteem

Small adjustments to your daily routines, a conscious effort to be more positive, and unlearning negative behaviours can help you be your most confident self in the workplace.

At Thrive4Life, we suggest the following key tips and tricks to help you beat imposter syndrome:

1. Practise Positive Self-Talk:

Practising positive affirmations can help reframe negative thoughts and retune your internal dialogue. This begins by acknowledging negative thoughts and challenging them. For example, you may find yourself thinking “I’m not up to the task of leading this meeting”. Instead of trying to drown out this negative thought, confront it with a positive affirmation along the lines of “I am competent and skilled, I can make a sincere effort and let my abilities speak for themselves”. Other affirmations include “I welcome the opportunity to showcase my skills and learn” or “This is an opportunity to challenge myself and grow; nothing bad can come out of it”. Such positive self-talk can help you navigate difficult situations by reframing your point of view and preventing self-doubt from spiralling.

2. Seek a Mentor:

Reaching out and sharing your fears with someone you trust can help you confront the negative emotions and fears imposter syndrome brings to the table. This could mean talking to a colleague, a family member or friend, your manager, or a professional such as a counsellor or therapist. A trusted mentor can provide support and perspective, helping you identify how your flaws and faults are self-perceived. Thrive4Life offers an MHFA England accreditation for you or members of your team to train as a Mental Health First Aider. Equipped with the knowledge and education on how to deal with the mental health issues that can come hand-in-hand with imposter syndrome (like stress or anxiety), this First Aider can act as a point of call for you and other members of your team to talk through your concerns with. Work mental health support provisions and counselling resources can also help anyone grappling with their fears to learn coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety.13

3. Plan Your Success:

Imposter syndrome spirals from a fear of unexpected failure. Planning your steps forward and knowing how you plan to progress can help counter such fears and prepare you for any obstacles or challenges you may face along the way. We often make long lists of goals and deadlines without strategising how to achieve them or giving ourselves reasonable targets to help us get there. As a result, we can feel overwhelmed and underconfident from the get-go! Instead of dwelling on far-reaching potentialities, break down goals into smaller steps and deadlines. For instance, instead of starting work on a big presentation all at once and feeling overwhelmed and like you’re not capable of doing it, plan out what topics/points of the presentation you want to research today. Take the project in small chunks until you reach the end goal. A systematic, reasonable schedule and workload can help mitigate obstacles that may frustrate or overwhelm you down the road.

4. Celebrate Yourself:

People with imposter syndrome fail to recognise their own success, instead focusing on the possibility of mistakes or failures. Remember to reflect on your progress and be proud of your accomplishments. Forbes recommends “being your own booster” by making a note of these accomplishments – however minor they may be. Document every time you have made a difference to someone’s work, raised an interesting idea in a meeting or delivered an excellent presentation.Review these lists any time you feel self-doubt setting in, and remind yourself of how much you achieve everyday. These lists can help you track your contributions and recognise how your daily input amounts to long-term success. The written reminders can help drown out negative thoughts by proving that you have succeeded before and can do so again.

Having unreasonable expectations of yourself, downplaying your achievements, and attributing success to external factors like luck are the most common signs of imposter syndrome among working professionals in the UK. These symptoms were outlined in a 2022 study by YouGov, which found 64% of Britons reporting more than two traits of imposter syndrome! The tips highlighted above can help tackle imposter syndrome and improve confidence.

A Closing Note

Above all, be kind to yourself and remember that you’re not alone – everyone deals with symptoms of imposter syndrome at one point or another. Major business leaders, entertainment professionals, acclaimed writers, and industry experts have all publicly described suffering from feelings of imposter syndrome even at the highest points of their careers, including the former COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg, tennis star Serena Williams, and even Poet Laureate Maya Angelou. It is natural to doubt yourself and struggle with self-worth, but remember that daily positive practices can prevent these behaviours from turning into more crippling and harmful patterns. We hope the insights from this blog post can help you better recognise signs of imposter syndrome and take the steps you need to address them. Confidence is the key to unlocking your full potential, so let’s commit to celebrating ourselves and all our accomplishments in style.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Subscribe to our email newsletter