There might be affiliate links on this page, which means we get a small commission of anything you buy. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Please do your own research before making any online purchase.
How often, when someone asks for your opinion, have you panicked, thinking they won’t like it?
Or when you held a presentation at work, and you thought others would realize that you’re not competent enough for your job title.
It happened to me many times, and in my journey, I’ve learned that many others are dealing with the same problem.
It even has a name – imposter syndrome.
In short, it is the tendency to believe that we are not as intelligent, competent, or interesting as others perceive us.
After years of dealing with these doubts, I have realized that the tendency to underestimate and doubt myself stems from perfectionism, low self-esteem, and (surprise, surprise) unpleasant childhood experiences.
But enough about me.
Let’s take a closer look at the main signs & symptoms of imposter syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
In psychological terms, imposter syndrome is a cognitive distortion that prevents you from internalizing any sense of success or confidence you can gain from achieving something through personal effort.
Imposter syndrome is associated with unpleasant feelings such as insecurity, fear, and self-doubt, which can negatively impact your professional and academic performance.
These feelings stem from beliefs such as I’m a fraud who will soon be exposed or I’m not as good/smart/capable as others see me.
The stronger you hold on to such self-defeating beliefs, the worse you feel about yourself.
The more you believe in this story, the more you sabotage any opportunity to prove yourself wrong by achieving something through personal effort.
In other words, when dealing with imposter syndrome, you often feel like professional advancement and career success are not the result of your hard work but rather pure luck.
Although imposter syndrome manifests differently from person to person, the good news is that those who experience this problem can learn how to identify the signs and manage the situation so that it doesn’t ruin their professional life.
10 Signs & Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome:
1. Fear of Being ‘Found Out’
The fear of being ‘found out’ is one of the main signs of imposter syndrome.
When you’re feeling like an impostor, you probably have a deep fear of being discovered as inadequate, incompetent, or ‘unfit’ for a certain role.
Depending on the insecurities that drive you to feel like an impostor, this fear can sabotage your romantic relationship, affect your performance at work, and ruin your self-esteem.
Sometimes, this fear can be so intense that it lingers in the back of your mind, although you’ve consistently proven your performance, competence, and value in various roles.
Other times, this fear can be so intense that it affects your ability to engage in new activities or accept new challenges for fear of being discovered as an impostor.
2. Persistent Feelings of Inadequacy
Dealing with imposter syndrome means you feel unreasonably incapable in your day-to-day roles and responsibilities.
No matter how much you accomplish, at the end of the day, you feel as if you’re somehow tricking everybody into believing you’re valuable and capable.
These feelings can be profound and persistent, leading to a constant fear of being discovered as an impostor and a high level of performance anxiety.
On top of that, you may have difficulty accepting your achievements. Instead of celebrating them, you tend to minimize the impact of your success or attribute it to other factors.
One example is when someone congratulates you on a job promotion, and you reply, “I was lucky a position opened up.”
3. Avoiding Activities that Test Your Knowledge and Skills
People with imposter syndrome often avoid putting themselves in situations that test their abilities because they’re afraid of being discovered as ‘fake’ or unable to meet other people’s expectations.
This feeling could get a lot worse when you’re comparing yourself to others and end up believing you’re not as good or capable as them.
Unfortunately, whenever you avoid a situation that tests your abilities, you miss out on the opportunity to overcome your imposter syndrome by proving that you’re capable.
If you continue to resort to avoidance, sooner or later, this attitude will harm your personal and professional growth by keeping you from testing your limits and acquiring new skills.
4. Intense Feelings of Stress and Performance Anxiety
As you can probably imagine, dealing with imposter syndrome takes much mental space, inevitably translating into stress.
Feeling insecure about your skills and achievements can negatively impact your relationships, motivation, and ability to pursue goals.
Getting involved with people, activities, and daring projects is tough when you underestimate yourself at every turn and believe that your success results from pure luck or external factors.
5. Fear of Failure
In essence, fear of failure is a sense of insecurity that you experience whenever you’re faced with the possibility of making a mistake or, for various reasons, being unable to achieve a goal.
Mistakes are a normal part of the human condition, and most things we try to achieve are not entirely in our control.
In other words, failure is an ever-present shadow for those who wish to move forward in life, and the more you fear it, the more it affects your self-confidence.
In general, fear of failure can result from rigid expectations, society’s pressure to do things in a certain way, constant comparison with others, and imposter syndrome.
For people dealing with this syndrome, fear of failure is a feeling they carry with them all day, affecting their performance and negatively influencing their well-being.
6. Trying Too Hard or…
When you consider yourself a ‘fraud’ and are constantly worried that others will find out, you might try to hide it by keeping yourself as busy as possible.
In other words, you strive to become the ‘busy bee’ at work, the one everyone relies on to get the job done.
Regardless of what you might be dealing with in your personal life, you are always the first in and last out when it comes to working.
You take on task after task and volunteer to help others to convince them (and yourself) that you’re capable, valuable, and knowledgeable.
Unfortunately, all the hard work you put into maintaining a certain image comes at the expense of your health and well-being.
That’s why people with imposter syndrome may struggle with burnout and depression.
7. … Doing the Bare Minimum
On the opposite spectrum, there are those who, because of feeling like imposters, choose to run away from responsibilities.
Instead of taking on tasks and projects that can demonstrate their abilities and build self-confidence, they choose to do the bare minimum.
Before you rush to label them as ‘lazy’ or ‘immature’, know these people struggle with intense feelings of inadequacy.
This feeling can be so intense that they even avoid participating in volunteer activities because they’re afraid not to compromise others’ efforts.
If you feel like you might be one of them, know that it takes time to build self-confidence, and one way to do it is by having the courage to take a small step out of your comfort zone each day.
8. You Feel Overwhelmed by Negative Self-Talk
At its core, imposter syndrome is founded on a set of beliefs you hold about yourself.
These beliefs shape your perspective in the sense that you consider yourself unworthy of your achievements, doubt your abilities, and reject the appreciation you receive for a job well done.
Some examples of beliefs that fuel imposter syndrome are:
Although you have all the proof you need to feel confident and capable, when dealing with imposter syndrome, you find it challenging to get over the idea that ‘you’re not good enough.’
This syndrome is often associated with perfectionism or the tendency to set extremely high or unrealistic standards hoping that once you achieve them, you will finally feel good/competent/intelligent enough.
9. Attributing Success to External Factors
Think about the last time you had an accomplishment.
Maybe you completed a work project before the deadline, and your boss congratulated you for your hard work.
Or maybe you made a nice gesture for a friend who was deeply grateful for your help.
Think about the way you replied.
Did you feel confident and proud of your actions, or did you say something like “It was an easy task” or “Anyone would have done the same.”
You tend to attribute success to external factors because, deep down, you feel like you’re not competent enough to deserve others’ appreciation.
Paradoxically, this attitude can make you excel in your field. In other words, it makes you try harder, work smarter, and give it your all.
On the downside, it is unpleasant to live with the burden of inadequacy and never let yourself experience the sense of pride and confidence you get when you achieve something through your skills and efforts.
10. Inability to Accept Constructive Feedback
Let’s get something straight – no one can do everything right from the first try.
Think about the time when you were little.
You didn’t know how to do many things, like writing or counting.
You didn’t magically wake up knowing how to do these things one day.
You learned them with the help of adults who showed you how to do them and corrected you until you finally mastered the skills.
What I’m saying is that sometimes, we need people to tell us what we’re doing wrong so we can learn how to do things right.
When dealing with imposter syndrome, every piece of advice, feedback, or recommendation feels intolerable, even though the other person might be well-intentioned.
That’s because, despite the good intentions behind the feedback, your profound feeling of inadequacy makes you see it as absolute proof that people are starting to notice you’re a ‘fraud.’
Final Thoughts on Imposter Syndrome
As you can see, imposter syndrome can be a complicated emotional issue.
It’s difficult to recognize your negative self-talk and see your self-sabotaging attitude when you’re stuck in them.
But what makes it worse is that people who experience it often avoid speaking about it for fear of not being understood or labeled as ‘crazy.’
One of the first steps in dealing with this problem is finding the courage to break the silence.
Remember that you’re not the only one struggling with this problem, and once you talk about it, you might be surprised to discover how many of us are dealing with all sorts of insecurities.
Now that you know the signs & symptoms of imposter syndrome, take a moment to think about your personal experiences and filter them through everything I shared with you earlier.
Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.
Alexander Draghici is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner, and content writer for various mental health websites. His work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common emotional problems – anxiety and depression.