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Who Gets Imposter Syndrome, And How Do You Deal With It?

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Do you ever get that feeling that you just don’t belong? That you’re a fake who might be found at any minute? There’s a term for that — imposter syndrome. In this video, we explore why this feeling exists and what you can do to fight against it.

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Click to see this video and lesson plan on KQED Learn.

So what, exactly, IS imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills. But, it’s not its own, diagnosable condition. You won’t find it in the DSM, which covers all the different categories of mental health disorders. That’s because it’s usually thought of as a symptom of a larger problem like depression or anxiety. Because of this, mental health professionals actually prefer the term imposter phenomenon.

Why and how do people feel like imposters?


Researchers call it the imposter cycle. You might successfully complete a project, but people with imposter syndrome push away any positive feedback they get. It wasn’t skill or talent or intelligence that created the success. It was over-the-top effort or sheer luck. That leads to self-doubt and feeling like a fake. And when it’s time to tackle the next project, the cycle starts all over again, trapping you in this feeling of being an imposter. And imposter syndrome can be a result of factors outside of the individual, too. Like being part of an under-represented group. For example, a woman in a male-dominated profession or the first person in their family to go to college. Feeling a sense of belonging helps with confidence, but if there aren’t people around who look like you or sound like you or have similar experiences, it can be easier to feel like you don’t belong.

How do you overcome imposter syndrome?

There is no silver bullet, but adopting a growth mindset can help. With a growth mindset, your beliefs about yourself aren’t stuck at a certain level forever. They can change and grow. Failure isn’t evidence that you’re not intelligent or talented. It’s an opportunity to learn and stretch your abilities. In the end, a person’s true potential is unknown. And that is kryptonite for imposter syndrome. Talking about imposter syndrome with others can help, too. Remember – feeling like a fraud requires you to think that you’re fundamentally different and not as good as the people around you. If those other people ALSO feel like an imposter sometimes, you might be less likely to feel like an imposter, too.


 What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means

5 Types of Imposters

Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review 

Feeling Like an Imposter: The Effect of Perceived Classroom Competition on the Daily Psychological Experiences of First-Generation College Students

Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome” 

First-Generation Students: College Access, Persistence, and Postbachelor’s Outcomes 


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