So, you’ve had some success with your writing, and you’re beginning to measure progress.
You should celebrate.
After all, you work hard on your craft; you put in the hours.
Instead, you feel anxious.
You say, “I don’t deserve this.”
“I’m not good enough.”
You suspect you’re dealing with Imposter Syndrome, but you’re not sure how to deal with it.
Every day now, it drags you further down.
And no matter what you accomplish, that nagging voice won’t let up.
Ready for the truth?
It’s time for an intervention.
Otherwise, you’ll have to settle for less – less than you desire, less than you deserve.
So, before taking another class…
Before putting another project on hold…
Before waiting another week, month, or year to feel worthy enough to publish…
You need to stop.
Stop giving Imposter Syndrome the upper hand.
It’s time to unravel the mystery, to take away its power.
To conquer Imposter Syndrome, you first need to understand it.
Remember, knowledge is power.
And after becoming familiar with it, you’ll begin to recognize it in all its forms.
Instead of fighting against it, you’ll walk around it, saying, “not today.”
“I have work to do.”
And guess what?
It’s going to lose its grip on you.
Let’s jump in.
Imposter Syndrome: Background & Definition
In 1978, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes identified Imposter Syndrome.
In simple terms, Imposter Syndrome causes you to doubt your skills, your knowledge, your hard-won accomplishments. Instead of acknowledging your competence, you attribute your success to other factors, such as luck, timing, or assistance from others.
And despite having clear proof of your worthiness — degrees, accomplishments, publications, career success — you can’t help feeling like a fraud.
Instead of growing in confidence, you fear someone will expose you.
Sound familiar?Do you often attribute your progress to luck, to having the right connections, to random circumstances? Click To Tweet
Do you often attribute your progress to luck, to having the right connections, to random circumstances?
You should know better, but you’re not thinking clearly.
Today, you see the topic everywhere: in the news, on social media, in self-help books and personal blogs.
Culturally, we’re starting to prioritize mental health, to explore ways to enhance and sustain well-being.
And Covid-19, for better or worse, changed the workplace forever.
Since the pandemic, work habits continue to evolve. Many now work from home, and they experience higher levels of anxiety and self-doubt. Without daily peer interaction and social routines, everyone’s feeling isolated, uncertain about their place in the world.
This increase in uncertainty and self-doubt in the workplace creates the perfect environment for Imposter Syndrome.
Let’s take a closer look.
Imposter Syndrome: How it Feels
Imposter Syndrome involves more than simple fear. It’s a complex collection of feelings and responses, affecting your career, relationships, health, and finances.
For example, imagine landing a challenging new project at the office. It’s reasonable to think you’d feel honored in this position. After all, your boss chose you over other colleagues, offering you a new opportunity to shine.
Instead of feeling trusted and respected, however, you feel terror, imagining blowups and blunders, imagining close colleagues discovering your incompetence.
So, instead of planning and organizing the logical steps for completion, you worry and catastrophize.
When you finally summon the energy to perform, you second guess every move.
As a writer, you understand the terrain too well:
Maybe it was your first book.
Maybe it was the last article you published.
In either case, you gained traction, finding new readers, fans, and followers — praise for your work.
Now, after making progress, you’re feeling anxious, uncertain, unworthy.
Instead of capitalizing on momentum, you can’t seem to return to the page. You’re preoccupied with fear, worry, and doubt.
So, you take time off to gain clarity, but it never arrives.
You ruminate and procrastinate, dreaming up frightening scenarios involving failure and ridicule.
Meanwhile, your manuscript sits untouched. Your blog needs an update. You find yourself wasting enormous amounts of time on social media (while telling yourself it’s good for marketing).
Common Signs & Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome, especially common in writers, artists, and creatives, shows up in myriad ways.
And these symptoms bring their own consequences, killing motivation, self-confidence, and creativity.
Pay attention to the following symptoms:
- Despite your many accomplishments, do you experience chronic self-doubt?
- Are you unable to accept criticism, equating it with your self-worth?
- Do you have difficulty accepting praise for your work?
Self-doubt is one of the most common manifestations of Imposter Syndrome. Regardless of the number and quality of published works (or recognition received), you continually question your abilities.
- Do you feel chronically dissatisfied with your work?
- Do you have a substantial number of abandoned writing projects taking up space on your laptop?
- After revising and editing, do you need “one more round” before publishing?
Imposter Syndrome makes you try to meet impossible standards. In writers, this shows up as compulsive revision, endless editing, starting over without a valid reason. When you consistently raise the bar, it becomes impossible to finish.
- How much stress do you feel when thinking about your work?
- Are you trying too hard to prove yourself?
- What internal dialogue pushes you to work longer and harder than anyone else?
To allay fears surrounding being not good enough, a hack, or a fraud, you work obsessively, pushing yourself to the point of burnout. Ironically, this extra effort never delivers satisfaction.
Undermining One’s Achievements
- Do you frequently disparage your accomplishments?
- Do you feel defensive about previous achievements?
- Are you unable to take credit for your success?
When dealing with Imposter Syndrome, you tend to minimize any prior success stories, attributing them to luck, timing, or deception. You tell yourself that talent, competence, and hard work played only minor roles in your success.
Fear of Failure
- Are you terrified of failure?
- Do you exaggerate the repercussions of failing?
- Do you internalize failure, rather than using it as a tool for growth?
As a creative person, the fear of not living up to expectations paralyzes you, so you procrastinate, delay submitting work, and shy away from growth opportunities. Not meeting a predetermined quality standard or time frame confirms your imposter status. Failure, rather than providing valuable feedback, only proves your inadequacy.
Comparison with Others
- Do you consistently compare yourself with others?
- Do you feel envious of other writers’ success?
- Do you feel diminished by other writers’ success?
Living with Imposter Syndrome drives you to compare yourself with others. These frequent comparisons reinforce your feelings of incompetence, your feelings of inferiority. These constant comparisons, in turn, fuel envy and resentment, further intensifying your feelings of illegitimacy.
Difficulty Accepting Praise
- Do you find it difficult to accept praise?
- When someone offers congratulations, are you suspicious of their motives?
- Do you avoid the spotlight?
Praise and recognition can trigger discomfort or suspicion in people suffering from Imposter Syndrome. You’ll find yourself questioning an evaluator’s judgment or believe the praise is undeserved or exaggerated. You find it hard to take pride in your work and avoid attention.
Fear of Success
- Does each success trigger more fear?
- Does success make you feel like a fraud?
- Do you sometimes sabotage your success to avoid attention?
For someone with Imposter Syndrome, success makes you feel like a fake. The higher the level of recognition or praise you encounter, the more you fear exposure. This fear leads to self-sabotage to avoid the spotlight, which you fear will lead to detection.
For writers, Imposter Syndrome can be particularly devastating due to the subjective nature of the work. Because you can interpret your performance in infinite ways, you judge your work harshly, becoming your own worst enemy.
What the Experts Say
Researcher George Chrousos and his team found that Imposter Syndrome (IS) occurs across all demographics and occupational fields, particularly those in high-achieving environments (“Imposter Syndrome Threatens Diversity”). His research supports the notion that IS can happen to anyone with the right combination of environmental circumstances and personality traits.
According to a 2023 study, Imposter Syndrome appears more frequently in people scoring high in neuroticism (Sawan et al.). High neuroticism correlates with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Left unchecked, IS negatively impacts mental health and can lead to burnout.
IS has strong links with perfectionism (Cusack et al.). This correlation is unsurprising. Because perfection doesn’t exist, people struggling with Imposter Syndrome never find satisfaction from their efforts, believing they’re missing the mark.
Imposter Syndrome and Procrastination
A 2020 Romanian Study found that study participants who “experience higher levels of impostor syndrome tend to procrastinate more” (Maftei et al.). Using procrastination as a coping mechanism perpetuates a cycle of anxiety, procrastination, increased anxiety.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome requires awareness and a willingness to explore and address deeply-help beliefs and behavioral patterns.
The following steps are key to recovery:
Recognize and Label Your Feelings
The first step forward is admitting and accepting that you’re experiencing symptoms of Imposter Syndrome. Reading articles like this will help you recognize IS in yourself and others. Understand that you’re not alone, that IS is real. When you’re feeling anxious, unworthy, and critical of your work or performance, recognize these feelings as symptoms of IS. Remind yourself that feelings don’t equal reality.
Reframe Failure and Mistakes
To successfully overcome Imposter Syndrome, it’s important to reframe your associations with failure. Failure and mistakes are integral parts of everyone’s learning process. Failures aren’t final, and they don’t accurately reflect your worth or capabilities. In many contexts, they’re essential steps for moving forward. After each mistake, correct your course, and try again.
Talk About Your Feelings
Share your thoughts and feelings with a friend, mentor, or mental health practitioner. It’s important to adopt and practice healthier coping mechanisms. Often, reaching out to a trusted ally can help alleviate much of your stress and anxiety.
Document Your Successes
Keep records of all your achievements. Record every incident of positive feedback. When doubt creeps in, consult your evidence. Over time, these reality checks will help overwrite any negative self- talk, reminding you that you’re capable, worthy, and thriving.
Do you treat your friends better than you treat yourself?
Show yourself the same level of kindness you’d offer a close friend. When you notice critical self-talk, respond with kindness. You’re only human, so remind yourself that you’re allowed to have flaws. You’re allowed to make mistakes.
Challenge Your Thoughts
When imposter thoughts surface, challenge them immediately. Learn to differentiate between anxiety-based imposter thoughts and fact-based reality. Find ways to disprove negative thoughts immediately.
Seek Professional Help
If Imposter Syndrome causes you significant stress or interferes with your life, seek professional help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you identify and change the problematic thought patterns associated with IS.
Develop a Healthy Response to Failure and Mistakes
Learn to view mistakes as part of any healthy learning process. Plan to make mistakes. Visualize yourself making them and learning valuable lessons. Embrace them as part of your path forward.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
You can’t adequately compare yourself to anyone because circumstances differ. Comparisons can only lead to distortions. Instead, try comparing yourself to your past self. Acknowledge and honor your growth and progress.
Celebrate Your Achievements
Celebrate all achievements, big and small. These frequent, mindful celebrations reinforce trust in your capabilities.
Remember that overcoming Imposter Syndrome doesn’t mean you’ll never doubt yourself again. It means you’ve found better ways to respond, ways that won’t hold you back or keep you stuck.
Hopefully, you’re feeling better about your work, your capabilities, your value.
Now, take a moment to share your experiences with Imposter Syndrome.
Join the conversation below.