What is imposter syndrome and how to overcome it

The key is to embrace both our failures and successes.

Matthaeus Choo

Published: 17 February 2021, 1:27 PM

Ever made an achievement but felt like you lucked your way into it? Or felt like a sore thumb in a group or meeting with those you consider to be far more skilled and smarter than you? 

Sometimes these might just be us being humble. On the other hand, these underlying emotions might also eventually fester and negatively impact relationships and personal well-being. While not officially acknowledged in psychology manuals, psychologists have recognised and termed this tendency as imposter syndrome.


Imposter Syndrome visualised. PHOTO CREDIT: FUNNY OR DIE


Common signs of imposter syndrome include self-doubt, a lack of self-confidence, the feeling that success only came because of luck, and constant fears of being exposed as a fraud. A more comprehensive list can be found here

Imposter syndrome can seep into our lives through a few key ways, perhaps most apparent on the work front. Fears that you will not be able to live up to previous expectations, or underachieving on tasks, can lead to overworking, immense stress, and dissatisfaction with any achievement. 

Imposter syndrome rears its ugly head when it comes to interpersonal relationships as well. Those afflicted may find it difficult to accept gestures of love and complement from loved ones, believing themselves to be undeserved of any attention.

Taken together, both make attaining happiness difficult and make self-confidence building impossible. For some, it may feel manageable or ‘normal’ — after all, Singaporeans are brought up in a highly-competitive environment. 

However, imposter syndrome might negatively impact those around us too. In relationships, it might breed a vicious cycle of complements and gestures being swatted away, leading to loved ones feeling inadequate and helpless.

As with most issues surrounding mental wellness, speaking to a professional would be the best way forward. Tackling the issue may also be helped by differing your approach based on five identified types of the syndrome

Nevertheless, here are three general strategies that may be of immediate help for you.

1. Share your emotions

It doesn’t necessarily have to be with therapists either. Anxiety and self-doubts can make anyone feel alone but impostorism may be more common than you think. Studies estimate 70 per cent of adults experiencing imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime, with women and women of colour particularly susceptible. Share your emotions with loved ones and you may be surprised by the solace found.

Similarly, self-reflection can do wonders. The key to overcoming negative emotions is to acknowledge them. 

Keep a journal and note down feelings of inadequacy and reflect on why those feelings arose. This may be able to help you separate between your doubts, and what actually happened and how others reacted. 

Journaling can also create a positive loop, where similar situations can be looked back upon in the future as a reminder that everything will be alright eventually.

2. Celebrate your achievements

There are definitely achievements that happen out of sheer luck. Yet, more often than not, all the luck in the world wouldn’t have brought you to where you are without hard work on your end. 

Remember and celebrate your achievements; look to be kinder to yourself with positive reaffirmations. 

Keep in mind the importance of not comparing your achievements with those of others, be it as a way to belittle yourself or as a form of validation. What may be achievable or realistic for someone else might not be the same for you, and vice versa. As much as society tries to convince us otherwise, everybody will and should move at their own pace. 




3. Visualise your success

It’s common for a lot of us to not expect anything to prevent disappointment. While this may make success a pleasant surprise, not embracing both the possibilities of failure or success can also make yourself feel helpless about every situation. Be familiar with failure and look to see it as key learning opportunities and not just as a way to validate fears of fraudulence. 

Most with imposter syndrome would have probably done a lot of preparation for just about any situation. However, it is also equally important to visualise success beforehand, rather than only expecting disaster. This way, no matter the outcome, healthy responses to just about any situation can be developed. 

Similarly, to a certain degree, embrace being an imposter and decide to be confident instead. It requires courage to fake it till you make it — more courage than you might give yourself credit for — and developing a positive mindset and finding support from loved ones can be able to turn these flaws into strengths.

You can also check out, an online platform dedicated to improving the mental wellbeing of Singaporeans. Its numerous self-care exercises, such as on developing positivity and more control over emotions, may be of help.

If you are looking for more mental well-being resources, check out Youthopia’s resource page with everything from mental health self-assessments to tips for coping with challenging seasons in life.

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