What is Imposter Syndrome & How to Cope With It

Imposter syndrome can leave us feeling like a fraud and a fake. Learn why you feel like an imposter and how to cope with these feelings.

“Why the hell would anyone want to listen to me?” “I don’t belong on this team, I’m not as good as the other players.” “I hope they don’t find out I’m not as good as they think I am!”

Have you ever had any of these thoughts or something similar? Do you feel like a fraud who is hiding behind a mask, hoping to not get caught? These thoughts cause you to go through life never feeling qualified or as good as those around you, constantly questioning the validity, authority, and skill level you possess. Well, there is a name for this type of thinking and it’s known as the imposter syndrome. I would like to shed some light on what the syndrome consists of and how we can better cope with the negative thoughts and feelings it causes.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

I can trace the feeling of being an imposter all the way back to when I was eleven years old. I was in the fifth grade and had just moved schools. This move meant I would be playing baseball that year for the new town rather than the old one.

Surprisingly enough, I had developed a little bit of a reputation among the who’s who in Dixie League baseball for the town (that was the name of the little league association for the area). You see, this was due to the Dixie League World Series appearance I had made with my previous town two years earlier.

Going into that spring season, I had already gained some recognition as being a good player, before I even put on a uniform. For many eleven-year old’s, this kind of admiration would have only boosted their ego. Yet, for me, it only produced one simple thought, “I hope they don’t find out I’m not as good as they think I am.”

With that thought, I welcomed a guest into my mind which has made residency even to this day, a form of thought known as the imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is defined as feeling like a fake or a fraud. There is doubt in your mind that you hold the competencies or skills to be regarded as knowledgeable or good at whatever it is you are doing.

This can be experienced in sports (as with the example I provided), school, or your career. The likelihood that you experience this across many different areas of your life is high due to the underlying causes of the syndrome.

When you are dealing with imposter syndrome, you always feel a little out of place. Also, there is the sense of not wanting to be found out, because you feel as if you are misleading others or being phony.

To this day I still experience feelings of being an imposter, which lead me to second guess my ambitions and the skills that I do possess. It can be dreadful to live with since you never feel good enough to give yourself permission to succeed.

However, as with any form of thinking, we can change how imposter syndrome affects us. But, before we do so, we must first understand the characteristics which make up the syndrome.

Characteristics of Imposter Syndrome

  • Self-doubt: When you are dealing with imposter syndrome, you will be constantly doubting yourself. You’ll question your knowledge, abilities, past successes, and skills. This leads to you constantly second-guess how good you actually are.
  • Anxiety: Feeling as if you are a fake or fraud results in continuous feelings of anxiety. This comes from the constant fear of being found out and due to the pressure you put on yourself to live up to the perception of others.
  • Inability to accept compliments: When you feel like an imposter, compliments can be your enemy. They make you feel even phonier because somehow you believe you’ve tricked this other person into thinking you deserve a compliment. You will either reject the compliment by downplaying yourself or produce negative self-talk in your mind to diminish the effects of the compliment.
  • Altered self-image: If we feel like a fraud, then our self-image will always be at least one level below what it actually is. We will have faulty perceptions of ourselves which line up with the feeling of inadequacy, rather than how others truly see us.
  • Overachieving: This is one that I have thought to be a good quality in the past until I realized the unnecessary stress and anxiety it produces. When we feel like an imposter, there can be a response where we feel as if we must work extra hard to live up to the image others hold of us. The funny part is, we already live up to that image, it’s just that we don’t see ourselves that way. What then occurs is constant overachieving because we tell ourselves we must become better. This is not a healthy desire for self-improvement, but rather unhealthy because we are coming from a place of unworthiness.

Why We Experience Imposter Syndrome

It can seem frustrating and confusing as to why we experience imposter syndrome. Why would we allow ourselves to feel inadequate or not good enough when we know how this will only hinder our chances of success and happiness?

Well, as with many negative forms of thought, there are typically underlying causes we can point to as to why the imposter syndrome becomes present.

Imposter syndrome is definitely felt much more when in a new environment, such as starting a new job or joining a new team. However, it is not limited to only those settings and there are other factors that come into play as well.

Here are the main reasons we experience imposter syndrome:

New Experience

This is probably where most people point to when they begin to feel like an imposter. They’ve just taken on a new experience, whether that be a new job, a new team, or a new profession.

It is common for us to experience imposter syndrome during this time. We have just started something new, so naturally, we will feel as if we must make a name for ourselves.

What accompanies this can often be feeling as if we are tricking everyone to believe that we actually know what we are doing. Even if we are highly skilled and competent, it can be easy to fall into thinking we are being phony since the experience is not something we are used to.


When we suffer from constantly feeling like a fraud, it can be derived from an underlying degree of self-doubt. We are continually doubting ourselves, whether that be how much we know or our skill level.

You may be an athlete who is constantly doubting your skills, or maybe a student who doesn’t believe they are very intelligent. This type of uncertainty we hold about ourselves leads to us feeling like an imposter whenever we are in a situation that we believe requires higher talents than we possess.


Perfectionism occurs when our desire to be the best is taken to an unhealthy level. Here, we are constantly seeking an ideal perfection that does not exist, while self-deprecating and berating ourselves when it is not attained.

As we experience perfectionism, it seems incomprehensible that we are actually as good as others believe us to be. In our minds, we have yet to reach the level which we are seeking.

So, the result is feeling like an imposter.

Somehow, we must have tricked or deceived these people into thinking we have reached a certain level when in our minds we only see ourselves as having fallen short of perfection.

Social Anxiety

Not all people who have social anxiety will have imposter syndrome and not all people who experience imposter syndrome will have social anxiety. However, there is definitely a link between the two, with social anxiety driving feelings of being an imposter in many instances.

For example, if you have anxiety whenever you are in public, feeling like a fraud in any social situation can become normal.

Whether you’re talking to a group of friends, speaking with strangers, talking in a meeting, or out on a date, you can feel as if you have on a mask.

This mask is worn because you feel as if you have to pretend to be a social person when deep down these situations make you feel terrified and inferior.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is not felt by everyone in the same way. Just as there can be different causes of the syndrome, the way it is expressed in each of us may vary.

In determining which form of imposter syndrome we present, there are five types we can examine.  As with the causes, you may experience more than one of these or an alteration of one. These are not final but serve as a good resource in helping to understand imposter syndrome.

Impostersyndrome.com defines the five types of imposter syndrome as follows:

  • The Perfectionist: As a perfectionist, we will never feel satisfied with ourselves or our work. This leads to a continuous feeling of being inadequate. When we are a perfectionist, there is an underlying feeling of being a fraud since we never see ourselves as being perfect.
  • The Expert: As an expert, we will feel like our knowledge and what we know is never enough. We will be constantly striving for more information. As a result, our feelings are centered around not knowing enough, therefore we will feel like an imposter.
  • The Soloist: Soloists seek to achieve success on their own. If an achievement is not felt to be of your own doing, then you may feel like a fake or a fraud.
  • The Natural Genius: Natural geniuses tend to prefer ease whenever completing a task. If it can be done with little effort, then you feel adequate and skilled. However, if a certain achievement requires more work, then it can feel as if you are not that skillful and thus are an imposter.
  • The Superhero: As a superhero, we feel compelled to push ourselves to extraordinary levels. The rationale for this lies in trying to “live up” to our imposter persona. We feel phony in who we are, so the solution seems to be an excess of hard work in the hopes to line up with the image we believe we must attain.

How to Cope with Imposter Syndrome

There is no questioning when we feel like an imposter. We begin to feel scared and anxious due to our desire not to get caught in what we believe is a lie.

What’s worse is that it can seem ridiculous that you feel this way. Everyone around you is explaining how talented or smart you are, yet you can’t escape the fact you feel completely inadequate.

Well, the good news at this point is you recognize the feeling of being an imposter within yourself. Now, you must begin to focus on how this will be handled.

Everyone else is right in thinking we are talented and smart enough. Our job is to get our own self-image to line up with how others view us.

In order to do this, the process must be completely personal. Either by yourself or with the aid of a professional, you must figure out how to raise your own self-image so that you can be confident and comfortable in who you are, no matter what situation you are in.

When I think about how to cope with imposter syndrome, my mind goes straight to building up our self-worth. That is what I can point to as the trait which has helped me achieve a reprieve from constantly feeling like a fraud.

On top of that, we must start shifting our perceptions and the way we view ourselves being an expert and in new experiences. Knowing this, here are two ways you can better cope with imposter syndrome.

Build Your Self-Worth

Think of self-worth as your armor against imposter syndrome. If it is weak, then you become vulnerable, but once it is strong, it becomes almost impenetrable.

In order to build our self-worth, there are four steps we must take. I am going to briefly go over each step here so you can get an idea. However, if you would like a more complete overview of how to build self-worth, I wrote a whole article on the subject which you can check out here.

Step #1: Identify Negative Beliefs

When we feel like an imposter, there are underpinning negative beliefs we hold about ourselves which are driving this feeling. So, we must first identify them.

Two great activities to help with this form of self-reflection include mindfulness meditation and writing.

Mindfulness helps us gain a better understanding of the inner workings of our minds. Writing allows us to capture these negative thoughts on paper.

Step #2: Change Your Narrative

The second step involves using the information discovered in step one to change the way you view yourself.

To do so, you must incorporate affirmations and visualization. Affirmations allow us to repeat a statement that counteracts a negative belief we hold. Visualization helps us build a more empowered image of who we want to be in our minds.

Step #3: Identify Your Strengths

One fantastic way to build up our self-confidence and the way we view ourselves is by identifying and focusing on our strengths.

Make a list of strong qualities you possess. Once this is comprised, try to focus your life the best you can around these qualities, at least the majority.

By doing so, a lot of self-doubt will be removed from your days, and you will no longer be judging yourself so much on your shortcomings.

Step #4: Take on Small Challenges

When we feel like an imposter, a great tool we can employ is taking on small challenges.

With whatever it is you believe yourself to be an imposter in, begin to set small goals for yourself.

As you accomplish each challenge, you will begin to realize you do possess the necessary skills and competence and are not an imposter after all.

Change Your Perspective

Feeling like an imposter often stems from our faulty perceptions of ourselves when it comes to being an expert or starting something new. We often feel inexperienced or underqualified.

So, to better cope with imposter syndrome, we must shift this point of view. To do so, there are two simple guidelines we can follow.

You Can Only Become an Expert Through Action

Let that sink in for a moment.

So many times, we feel like an imposter because we do not view ourselves as being an expert. But what is the definition of an expert? It’s someone who took action to the point where others recognize them for their talents and knowledge.

We cannot wait to be an expert before we take action. Doing so will always keep us on the sidelines, continuing to feel like a fraud. Instead, we must simply start.

Anyone who is an expert began just as you and I did, feeling like an outsider. It wasn’t until they began taking repeated action that they were seen as someone with expertise.

So, forget about not feeling like an expert. Just push forward with whatever it is you are passionate about doing. The title of expert will follow in due time.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

This is a phrase used quite often when it comes to bettering ourselves. Yet, in my experience, it leads to more frustration than solutions. Mostly because, I did not fully understand what this meant or how to stop comparing myself, especially in sports where comparisons are made every day.

The more we tell ourselves not to do something, the more we seem to want to do it. This is purely human nature. So, we should stop trying to not compare ourselves to others and start comparing ourselves to ourselves.

What I mean is, use yourself as a marker for growth, knowledge, and skill, not someone else. If you do this, then you will see yourself steadily progressing. As a result, you will be much less susceptible to feeling like an imposter.

In order to be an imposter, we must be using some outside standard as reference. Once we shift that point of reference inward, our perspective begins to change.

Final Thoughts

Imposter syndrome leaves us feeling like a fake or a fraud. We believe we do not possess the proper skills or knowledge for the setting we are in. As a result, it appears to us that we are wearing a mask in an attempt to trick those around us.

The good and bad news is that imposter syndrome is a child of our own minds. Our self-image is the reason we feel like an imposter. The good news lies in the fact that we can shift the way we see ourselves and our talents.

By building your self-worth and altering the way you view yourself, imposter syndrome can become something of the past.

Do you ever feel like an imposter? How do you cope with feeling like a fraud? I would love to hear your take on imposter syndrome so please leave a comment below.

If you have any questions about imposter syndrome or any other performance psychology topic, please feel free to reach out to me.

I hope that this article was helpful, and you can use the information outlined to better cope with imposter syndrome.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all you do.

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Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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