• Imposter syndrome will have you believing that you aren't good enough and that you don't deserve your job, skills or relationship

  • Therapist Nicola Thompson explains the five different types of imposter and what you can do to feel more self-assured

  • We have therapists and counsellors available to support you today – find yours here

A lot is talked about imposter syndrome, but do you know what it is? Maybe you feel that it is affecting you right now but you’re not sure and don’t know what to do about it. I wonder if you recognise yourself in any of these situations. You worry that you aren't good enough to do the job you do or to have the relationship you're in. You feel like you must pretend to be someone you're not, to fit in with everyone around you. Or perhaps you set unrealistically high goals for yourself and are disappointed when you don't meet them. This way of thinking about yourself can really knock your confidence.

So, what is imposter syndrome? 

Imposter syndrome is the thought that you have only succeeded due to luck, not by your own talents or skills, and that you don't deserve the rewards and successes that are coming your way. Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first identified it in the 1970s among high-achieving women, but research now shows that it can affect anyone. In fact, around 70% of the population, men and women, all ages and from all backgrounds, will experience it at some time in their life. 

Imposter syndrome usually strikes at moments of success or starting something new: a new job, a new relationship, a promotion, moving house... You find yourself thinking 'I only got this job due to luck' or perhaps ‘I only got the promotion because there was no-one else’ or maybe even ‘I’m only in this relationship because they feel sorry for me.’

It feels exhausting and a little bit scary to think and feel this way, doesn’t it? This fear that you just don’t feel as good as everyone else. On top of this, you feel like you’re the only one who feels this way, and that can be a lonely place to be. I have felt this way too, many times. It’s hard to reach out when you have this feeling of not being good enough, you feel silly, or like you should be able to cope. This has a big impact on your confidence and then it feels even harder to talk about it.

The good news is you are not alone. As I said earlier, around 70% of people from all backgrounds suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their life. It can affect you once in your life, or many times. Another psychologist, Valerie Young, identified five types of imposter.

The five different types of imposter

  • The Perfectionist - you set very high goals and get disappointed at the smallest mistake
  • The Superhero - you push yourself harder than everyone else
  • The Expert - you constantly go on courses because you feel you don't know enough
  • The Natural Genius - you feel like a failure when you don't succeed on the first go
  • The Soloist - you prefer to work alone because asking for help is a sign of weakness

If you recognise yourself in any (or all) of these types, this is a step towards overcoming the problem. I like to use my 3As approach when working with clients: Awareness, Acknowledgement, Acceptance. 

The awareness part is recognising how you feel and recognising if there are certain situations when you feel this way (your triggers). The acknowledgement part is recognising that your feelings are real and a natural reaction to a situation that you find difficult. The acceptance part is accepting that you are not alone in feeling like an imposter at times and there are ways to manage the feelings that go with it.

Here are my five tips for overcoming Imposter syndrome:

  • Think about something that has gone well, this week, this month, this year
  • Accept a compliment without questioning it or brushing it off
  • Make a list of your achievements and skills, anything you are proud of
  • Try a new challenge that feels manageable, no matter how small
  • Accept an offer of help without thinking you could do it better yourself

It helps if you have a notebook where you write down times or places that you feel like an imposter, write down your thoughts or feelings at these times, and write down any changes you feel as you try these tips. 

Another way to overcome imposter syndrome is to be aware of how you use social media. It is a great way to connect and engage with people, especially if you have a small business. However, it is also a place where it is very easy to compare yourself to others and then find that you are criticising yourself or putting yourself down. So be mindful and maybe limit your time on it.

Now you know the five types of imposter and how you can recognise them in yourself. You also know that it is more common than you thought, and you are not alone in feeling inadequate or not good enough. You also now have some tips to begin to overcome the thoughts and feelings that go along with it. They will help you grow in confidence and begin to feel good about yourself.

Nicola Thompson is a verified welldoing.org therapist in Lancashire and online. Nicola runs a course on combatting imposter syndrome, more details here.

Further reading 

Understanding imposter syndrome 

How coaching can help you beat imposter syndrome 

4 practical steps that helped me overcome imposter syndrome 

How hypnotherapy helped me regain my confidence 

The downsides of perfectionism