Imposters! All Around Us

Health & Fitness

  • Author Nouf Khalifeh
  • Published December 24, 2020
  • Word count 835

Did you ever feel like you didn't belong? That all your achievements and accomplishments are fraud and you got them only by chance?

If your answer is yes, then you are not alone. Imposter syndrome or phenomenon is defined as experienced anxiety induced by the individual’s feelings of fraudulence, fear of being revealed as a fraud, and incapacity to internalize private achievement (Clark et al., 2014). People with impostor syndrome fail to correctly assign their success to their real competence; they usually attribute accomplishments to external variables such as chance or support from others and attribute failures as proof of their professional inadequacy. Self-doubt affects people at all levels in various ways, it is estimated that 9 to 82% of the population are affected in a way or another (Bravata et al., 2019).

Dr. Valerie Young in her book “The secret thoughts of successful women: Why capable people suffer from the impostor syndrome and how to thrive in spite of it” defines five separate imposter syndrome subtypes based on self-imposed competence evaluations:

1- Perfectionist: Perceives competence as excellence of 100%. Anything short of that is known as a failure. This person often reflects on how things could have been better done.

2- Natural genius: Measures competence by how easily the accomplishment reached him/her. Hard work and perseverance are considered negative traits because this individual believes that they should have achieved success more naturally.

3- Superman/woman or super student: Perceives competence as an ability to simultaneously juggle different tasks and obligations. Even in the sense of major achievements, falling even marginally short in one position (parent, caregiver, researcher, etc) constitutes overall failure.

4- Expert: Measures competence by the amount of skills or expertise. Due to a lack of expertise, this person fears being revealed as inexperienced.

5- Soloist: Perceive competence only if the accomplishment has been completely accomplished on its own without the assistance of external resources. Asking for support is perceived to be a sign of failure.

Why do we experience imposter syndrome?

There is no single reason identified. Some researchers suggest that it has to do with personality traits—such as anxiety or neuroticism. However, imposter syndrome is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or International Classification of Diseases as a psychological disorder. Other researchers concentrate on family or behavioral factors such as Professionals of the first generation, people with high-achieving parents, members of minority communities, or people for whom success came quickly (Sherman, 2013).

Strategies to overcome Impostor Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can generate anxiety about success and lead to burnout and depression. It is therefore important to learn how to handle these feelings. Here you can find some useful strategies that may help you ( Chandra et al., 2019):

1- Recognizing the imposter syndrome and calling the impostor-like emotions for what they are is the most important initial step in coping with it. This will allow one to comprehend the feelings of inadequacy and fraudulence in a proper context.

2- Ask for objective and real input from mentors and trustworthy peers. You can distinguish what's true from your illusions of insecurity by expressing your insecurities with someone you trust and admire.

3- Create a list of the qualities you have. Take the time to list your strengths and what you are contributing to. Ask others for feedback, and in times of self-doubt, refer to the list.

4- Break the impostor-like thought loop.Thought stopping and shipping are two approaches that can be used to modify thought patterns. The cornerstone of the thought-stopping approach is to be mindful of negative thoughts and to substitute something more positive for them. It helps one to create a more optimistic and uncritical view of one's abilities by rooting these positive thoughts into self-compassion and kindness towards oneself. Though shipping represents the concept of not waiting until an idea is flawless before releasing or introducing it. Shipping pushes one beyond the comfort zone, which is a powerful stimulus for growth and innovation, especially for the imposter syndrome subtypes of perfectionists and experts.

5- Professional therapy and counseling can also provide insight to interrupt the impostor-like thought loop if needed.

Overall, there are moments of doubt most people encounter, and that's natural. The crucial part is not to let your actions be controlled by that doubt.


Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., ... & Hagg, H. K. (2019). Prevalence, predictors, and treatment of impostor syndrome: A systematic review. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 1-24.

Chandra, S., Huebert, C., Crowley, E., & Das, A. M. (2019). Impostor Syndrome: Could It Be Holding You or Your Mentees Back?.

Clark, M., Vardeman, K., & Barba, S. (2014). Perceived inadequacy: A study of the imposter phenomenon among college and research librarians. College & Research Libraries, 75(3), 255-271.

Sherman, R. O. (2013). Imposter syndrome: When you feel like you’re faking it. Am Nurse Today, 8(5), 57-58.

Young, V. (2011). The secret thoughts of successful women: Why capable people suffer from the impostor syndrome and how to thrive in spite of it. Currency.

Nouf Moh’d Khalifeh, MD is a Master student in healthcare innovation at Arizona State University (ASU).

In 2019 She received a Bachelor in Medicine from the University of Jordan. During undergraduate studies, she focused on developing her clinical research skills and participated in many studies in different fields.


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