How to Spot the Signs of Imposter Syndrome and What To Do About It

Imposter Syndrome

Many of us have tougher periods followed by easier ones. When it gets truly tough, we try our best to survive, and we can experience how differently we think and behave during times of emergency. Before beating yourself up, you should accept that it is entirely normal in our modern society. The endless pressures can pile up now and then, before we switch into a high-alert mode, feeling like we cannot tackle the mount of hardships in our life. 

In 1978, clinical psychologists came up with the term imposter, following an observation. Even though it applies to any gender, according to initial studies, very smart female students often assigned their achievements to luck. So after studying 150 female students, they realized a common pattern of behavioral symptoms demonstrated by the most successful. This is what we call imposter syndrome today. 

How to Spot the Syndrome

It can help tremendously to be aware and recognize that when you are in this state, it is only your mind’s reaction to a possible threat. Imposter symptom usually appears in a cycle, feeling like you aren’t adequate or clever enough to complete something, so you may work very hard on the task or something else instead, to avoid it. Many of us can worry about our imperfections and as a result get a task done way too longer than it needs to be, making too many small changes. 

Spot the Syndrome

Getting good grades and approval bot largely count to these individuals. Although the initial study involved women, it applies to anyone who feels different from the given social norm, be it a close social circle or a Facebook group for instance, or identifies with an unequal group for any reason. All of us have a survival brain that could serve as the foundation of the syndrome, but if you also feel underprivileged for any reason, it could double its negative impact. 

Additionally, people who are overwhelmed or overworked, experienced trauma, or are going through traumatic events when imposter syndrome strikes, or anyone who steps out of their comfort zone is more prone to develop the syndrome. Your brain’s survival mechanism always watts to keep you in the safe zone, doing what’s familiar. It doesn’t want you to stretch it, which in fact could make you grow immensely. We can differentiate typical imposter syndrome categories.

Imposter Syndrome Categories

  1. The Perfectionist. You question how you are getting things done, and setting unrealistically high goals for yourself. When you don’t deliver a perfect job, you could potentially beat yourself up! Instead of honoring your achievements, you worry about tiny mistakes that don’t matter. When you accomplish your goal, you could still feel something is missing. 

You may worry about others being disappointed due to not giving 100%. You might lack the ability or willingness to delegate tasks because you want to be in control all the time. You may even manage a multitude of tasks at the same time, including family life, your work, and the tough course you are trying to study… Not to mention the tiny details in your work, of course! Chances are, you don’t like starting something until you are aware of all the small details.

  1. The Superhuman. You question how many hours can I work, or how many things can I get done? You perhaps work a lot more or harder than you see people around you. But if you work a lot harder than others, you easily burn out yourself, being less good than others. And you probably wanted to achieve the opposite. 

You could generally be up early, or stay up late to tackle all your tasks because otherwise, you cannot manage. To the point of exhaustion and self-blame if you don’t succeed. Chances are you don’t rest enough, or allow yourself days off or holidays. Which can badly affect your mood, productivity, creativity, and showing up for clients. Chances are, you have difficulties saying no, and could feel down when missing out on something. 

  1. The Natural Genius. You ask how and when. You might feel you are only good at something if it is easy to reach, hence you could be easily frustrated when you don’t get immediate results. You may refuse help from a mentor as it could be a sign of weakness to you. In the past, you could have been recognized as an outstanding individual among your peers by your teachers, or bosses. You could have procrastinating tendencies. 
  2. The Soloist. You ask who. You are independent, to the extent of feeling like a lone wolf. You may as well be proud to tackle obstacles alone, even if they get too hard. You may don’t want help because it could make you feel undeserving of your achievements. You may say you don’t need help. You prefer stretching so much and refuse help until you feel burnt out. You may be keen to prove your worth by working solo instead of working with others. 

The Soloist

  1. The Expert. You question what. You could feel competent only if you know everything on a given subject. This could freeze you at the beginning of a project. It’s ok to ask for help and learn this way. And it is also okay not to always know the answer! You could always say, that’s a great question, but I don’t know the answer, or that’s not my area of expertise

What Can You Do

You may even experience a combination of some of these, or all of them at once! It is okay to recognize some of these symptoms, as most adults reportedly come across the syndrome at a tough period of their career. If you identify the symptoms, you should realize that you are still in the learning process of something which hasn’t become a routine yet! Be mindful of life’s ups and downs, including days when you cannot provide top performance!

You should accept where you are in your career, and that you cannot always get the things you aim at, but you are good enough if you keep pushing your boundaries for advancing. Even though we learn from our experiences, our next decision isn’t always better than the previous ones. Trying new things, taking different steps, and learning from them is valuable! Try to look at your average performance instead of blaming yourself for a month of lower profit or performance!


Try to focus on validating yourself from within, not seek it externally! Have breaks and give yourself enough time to recharge through leisure programs! When you feel burnt out, your brain will ask for a pause and sabotage you. Remind yourself before starting a project that your brain will naturally put walls up. It’s ok since you are a work in progress. 

We all need to start somewhere, and it takes time to become good at something. You could encourage yourself instead since you keep learning something new! Replace your short-term goals with investing in long-term growth and development. You should always celebrate your progress and success! Asking for help sometimes and collaborating could benefit you!

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