How to Identify and Manage Impostor Syndrome

We’ve all been there before: after receiving a job offer, accepting a reward, or earning a bonus, we secretly wonder if we really deserved it. Thoughts of inadequacy, mediocrity, and underperformance race through our minds. Am I worthy?

For most people, moments of insecurity and self-doubt come and go with little to no harm done. But for others, an overwhelming fear of failure is a constant problem. Referred to as impostor syndrome, it’s an overwhelming and neverending sense of impending failure and the unshakable notion that you’re nothing but a fraud waiting to be exposed.

Does this describe your current situation? If so, it’s essential to learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of impostor syndrome and take steps to limit the harm it can do to your mental health and well-being.

The following are several tips on how to identify and manage impostor syndrome:

Learn to spot the signs

The first step in managing impostor syndrome is learning to spot the signs and symptoms. Common signs of impostor syndrome include:

  • A sense that everything you’ve achieved was through luck rather than skill.
  • A desire to reach perfection in everything you do.
  • A belief you will be “outed” as a fraud.
  • A fear you are not good enough.
  • Low self-esteem
  • Reduced self-confidence
  • Self-doubt

As mentioned in the introduction, occasional feelings of self-doubt and reduced self-worth are normal. It’s when these feelings are interfering with our ability to function that further steps should be taken.

Speak with a licensed therapist

Those who think they struggle with impostor syndrome should speak with a licensed therapist. Mental health professionals will be able to assess your situation to determine what the root cause of this feeling is. It’s unlikely you’ll be prescribed any medication for this condition, but some psychiatrists may consider it an option if traditional treatment methods fail to get positive results.

Acknowledge your negative feelings then let them go

Managing impostor syndrome doesn’t mean ignoring your feelings of inadequacy and failure. Instead, it means learning how to acknowledge those negative thoughts and emotions without letting them take control. The key is to stop and ask yourself what’s driving these thoughts and emotions. Is it because you made a mistake, or because you think you made a mistake? If you made an actual error, focus on what must be done to fix it. If you conclude no error was made, then no harm was done. But no matter what, the next step involves learning to let it go. Train yourself to extinguish your negative thoughts by either acknowledging the way to correct the mistake or accepting that no mistake was made in the first place.

Share your thoughts and feelings

The more we bottle up our feelings, the less likely we are to have a realistic grasp on them. By talking to friends and family about what you’re going through, you’ll discover most people experience similar feelings. They may offer tips based on their own methods of shaking off negative thoughts and emotions. You may even get a healthy dose of validation courtesy of your friends and family reminding you of your accomplishments and skills.

Find a mentor

A mentor is often seen as a source of inspiration and insight, especially for those struggling to find their place in the world. But mentors often also provide examples of success despite imperfection. Get to know someone long enough, and you get to see their flaws and insecurities. If they can function healthily and productively despite these weaknesses – and reach success in the process – that goes to show you don’t need to be perfect to do the same.

Develop an internal locus of control

Generally speaking, there are two ways of looking at the world: we believe outside forces are chiefly responsible for what happens to us, or we think we control our destiny. While the reality is that life is a mix of both, having an internal locus of control – a belief that you are the one in the driver seat and not fate or destiny – is essential in ultimately overcoming impostor syndrome. It won’t happen overnight, especially if your current outlook pins an unfair amount on the universe and not on yourself – but as time goes on, you’ll start to appreciate the role you’ve played in shaping your destiny.

Everyone goes through phases of insecurity and self-doubt. But some people can let it consume them – convinced they’re destined for failure and that every accomplishment up to this point has been an accident. Those struggling with impostor syndrome have an obligation to themselves – past, present, and future – to identify the signs and manage the symptoms. The time to start taking credit for your success starts now!