Breaking the Cycle of Self-Doubt: 5 Different Facets of Imposter Syndrome

7 Feb ‘23
6 min
Arianna Freni
Reviewed by psychologist Eva Rüger
Let’s rip off the band-aid and face some tough questions from the start. How often do you question your abilities, despite your successes and hard work? Do you ever catch yourself comparing your life to others and feeling inadequate? And what about that annoying little voice in the back of your mind that makes you feel like you did nothing special, even when you know you’ve earned your accomplishments?


If any of these sound familiar to you, here’s the thing: you are not alone. There will always be moments when we feel self-doubt, but for some, these feelings are more persistent. This is where imposter syndrome comes in.


What is imposter syndrome?


Imposter syndrome is a topic that is often discussed in the mental health community (check out our previous article about it). In a nutshell, it is a common psychological phenomenon that affects many high-achievers, in which individuals doubt their abilities and fear being exposed as a “fraud”.


It goes hand in hand with feelings of insecurity and a persistent belief that one’s success is the result of luck or case rather than their own qualities. Despite their achievements, people who experience imposter syndrome often feel like they don’t deserve their success and are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. 


Different types of imposter syndrome (and how to challenge them) 


According to many researchers and practitioners in the field of psychology, people who experience imposter syndrome can be categorised into five main groups, each with its unique characteristics. These five kinds of imposter syndrome personalities include:


1. The Perfectionist:


This type of imposter syndrome is characterised by an excessive need for perfection and an inability to accept mistakes. Individuals with this type of imposter syndrome may feel that they are not good enough unless they meet 100% of their goals. 


If this is you:


  • Practice self-compassion, be kind and understanding with yourself when you make mistakes. “Question the belief of ‘only perfect is good enough’”, says OpenUp psychologist Eva Rüger. “ Is this really a helpful belief? Or is there a more realistic and helpful motto you can formulate for yourself?”
  • Set realistic and achievable goals and celebrate small wins along the way. 
  • Remind yourself that perfection is not necessary or attainable and that making mistakes is part of the learning process.


2. The Superhero:


This type of imposter syndrome is characterised by an excessive need to prove oneself, often driven by a fear of being exposed as a fraud. Individuals with this form of imposter syndrome may feel that they need to be better than everyone else in order to be accepted.


If this is you:


  • Remember that external validation is not a direct measure of your self-worth.
  • Find other ways to define your identity beyond “success”, through new hobbies or routines, for example. 
  • Set boundaries and learn to say “no” when you need to.


3. The Solo:


This type of imposter syndrome is characterised by a fear of seeking help or asking for assistance. Individuals with this type of imposter syndrome may feel that they need to do everything on their own and that asking for help would reveal them as not worthy.


If this is you:


  • Learn to recognise and challenge negative thoughts about asking for help.
  • Develop a support system of friends, family, and colleagues whom you can trust and rely on.
  • Practice delegating tasks and responsibilities, and remind yourself that it takes a team to accomplish big goals.


4. The Natural Genius:


This type of imposter syndrome is characterised by a belief that success should come naturally and that any effort put into achieving success is a sign of inadequacy. Individuals with this type of imposter syndrome may feel that they are not good enough because they had to work hard to achieve success.


If this is you:


  • Remind yourself that success takes effort and hard work and that it’s okay to put in the time and determination to achieve your goals.
  • Talk with other people and share struggles and concerns. You will find out that even experts had to start somewhere.
  • Embrace the process and enjoy the journey, not just the destination.


5. The Expert Impostor:


This type of imposter syndrome is characterised by feeling like a fraud or imposter in a specific field or area of expertise, despite having enough qualifications and experience.


If this is you:


  • Remind yourself that it’s normal to have imposter syndrome in a new field or area.
  • Seek mentorship or guidance from someone who has more experience in your field.
  • Continuously educate yourself and expand your knowledge, this will help you to gain more confidence in your area of expertise.
Some more practical tips

It’s important to note that the different forms of imposter syndrome may overlap and it’s not uncommon for an individual to experience multiple types at the same time. For example, someone may feel like a natural genius imposter, but also have a strong need for perfection and a fear of asking for help.


Understanding the different types of imposter syndrome can help you better understand your own experiences and find the most effective strategies for coping with and overcoming these negative feelings.


Here are a few more practical tips:


  1. Recognise that imposter syndrome is a normal feeling. Many people experience it, and it doesn’t mean that you’re weak or that you’re not good enough.


  1. Speak to someone about your feelings. Talking to a friend, family member, or therapist about your feelings can help you gain perspective and see that you’re not alone in your struggles.


  1. Keep a record of your accomplishments. Make a list of all the things you’ve accomplished, and refer to it when you’re feeling down. This can help remind you of your strengths and abilities.


  1. Practice gratitude. Take the time to appreciate what you have and what makes you proud of yourself. When we’re not at our best, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have, but focusing on how far we’ve come can help shift our perspective. Need a boost? Try out our guided meditation for positive energy

Masks off


Imposter syndrome is a common experience that affects many of us at some point in our lives. Overcoming these feelings and thoughts is a process and it’s not always an easy or quick journey. However, thoughts remain thoughts. They don’t define us nor are they a permanent state. 


“Embrace life as a learning process in which doubts and development, challenges and growth are part of the journey” concludes Eva. “Doubts are not something to get rid of entirely, but something you can learn to accept or react to with some practice”. 


Take the time to acknowledge your achievements, surround yourself with a supportive community and remember to focus on self-compassion, self-awareness, and self-care. Don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back from reaching your full potential. Your success is not a fluke, it’s the result of hard work and determination – so go ahead and let it shine. 


💡 Seeking professional help and guidance is a valuable step to take in overcoming imposter syndrome. A therapist can help you identify the underlying causes of these feelings, develop a personalised plan for coping and recovery, and provide support throughout the process.

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