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Imposter Syndrome: Why You May Feel Like a Fraud

Imposter syndrome is the internal psychological experience of feeling like a phony in some area of your life, despite any success that you have achieved in that area.

You might have imposter syndrome if you find yourself consistently experiencing self-doubt, even in areas where you typically excel. Imposter syndrome may feel like restlessness and nervousness, and it may manifest as negative self-talk. Symptoms of anxiety and depression often accompany imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is not a diagnosable mental illness. Instead, the term is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, although it also has links to perfectionism and the social context. Psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance first used this term in the 1970s.

Here, we share the signs of imposter syndrome and some of the risk factors for developing it. We also cover different types of imposter syndrome and ways to cope with the feelings that it can create.

What Are the Five Types of Imposter Syndrome?

Based on Dr. Valerie Young’s (an expert on impostor syndrome and co-founder of the Impostor Syndrome Institute) research, imposter syndrome can be broken down into five basic types:

The Perfectionist. This type of imposter syndrome involves believing that, unless you were absolutely perfect, you could have done better. You feel like an imposter because your perfectionistic traits make you believe that you’re not as good as others might think you are.

The Expert. The expert feels like an imposter because they don’t know everything there is to know about a particular subject or topic, or they haven’t mastered every step in a process. Because there is more for them to learn, they don’t feel as if they’ve reached the rank of “expert.”

The Natural Genius. In this imposter syndrome type, you may feel like a fraud simply because you don’t believe that you are naturally intelligent or competent. If you don’t get something right the first time around or it takes you longer to master a skill, you feel like an imposter.

The Soloist. It’s also possible to feel like an imposter if you had to ask for help to reach a certain level or status. Since you couldn’t get there on your own, you question your competence or abilities.

The Superperson. This type of imposter syndrome involves believing that you must be the hardest worker or reach the highest levels of achievement possible and, if you don’t, you are a fraud.

Very Well Mind

What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like?

Some common characteristics of imposter syndrome include:

An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills

Attributing your success to external factors

Berating your performance

Fear that you won’t live up to expectations


Sabotaging your own success


Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short

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