Is Imposter Syndrome Secretly Holding You Back?

Imposter Syndrome

Let me ask you something:

  • Are you constantly chasing perfection but, whatever you do, it’s never quite ‘good enough’?
  • Do you feel the need to do significantly better or more than those around you?
  • Do you become frustrated when you don’t understand something immediately?
  • Do you feel like you’re going to be ‘found out’ at any moment?
  • Are you prone to procrastination?
  • Do you have a harsh and judgemental inner critic?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, then you might have an inner ‘imposter’ secretly holding you back.

Imposter syndrome is extremely common – more common than you might think – and it can affect anyone at any point in their career.

It’s costly too; it not only affects productivity, engagement, motivation and performance in the workplace, it can hold you back in life in more ways than you can possibly imagine.


What exactly is Imposter Syndrome?

According to, impostor syndrome is defined as “anxiety or self-doubt that results from persistently undervaluing one’s competence and active role in achieving success, while falsely attributing one’s accomplishments to luck or other external forces.”

It starts with a feeling of anxiety. A hint of unease – and eventually certainty – that you don’t know what you’re doing, but everyone else already knows it. Or, if they don’t, they’re about to find out. It’s a worry that you’re in over your head. It’s a sick sense of everything about to fall and collapse around you.

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The key components of Imposter Syndrome include:

  • Crippling self-doubt
  • The (absolute) need to do better or more than those around you
  • Never being able to take a compliment
  • Inability to see your achievements
  • The tendency to sabotage yourself
  • A harsh and judgemental inner critic
  • Constantly chasing perfection
  • The feeling others would do better in your job or situation
  • Feeling like you don’t deserve what you have
  • Worry that someone will ‘find out the truth’ about you and expose you as a ‘fake’
  • Fear of failing
  • Never feeling good enough or worthy enough

What’s potentially even worse than how Imposter Syndrome makes you feel (although this is bad enough!), is how it infiltrates every area of your life – not just your work, but your home, your family, your friends, and your health. Imposter Syndrome negates every single one of your accomplishments, achievements, and honours (and yes, you have plenty!) as though they never happened.

The Imposter Within

Have a look at the quotes below, and it might surprise you when you find out who said them:

No matter what we’ve done, there comes the point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?‘” – Tom Hanks

I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.‘” – Maya Angelou

I still have a little impostor syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me. It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know?” – Michelle Obama

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So, you can see that even the most successful people in the world – famed for their various achievements – have felt like imposters at some point or another. But when you understand that 70% of individuals experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives (J. Sakulku, J. Alexander, 2011), it becomes less of a surprise. And hopefully makes you feel less alone!

(By the way, the 70% statistic came from a clinical study, but more informal polls put this number at 87% or even higher, mostly due to the impact of social media upon our lives. I told you it was common!)

And absolutely anyone – including and perhaps, especially – intelligent, skilled, high-achievers like you – can feel like an imposter. It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor. Gender or sexuality doesn’t come into play. Neither does education level, background, race, geography, or any other way we like to pigeon-hole people into categories. Imposters do not discriminate.

That said, Imposter Syndrome can take on different ‘types’ depending on our upbringing, personality, and life experiences. So, let’s take a look at the Five Types of Imposter Syndrome, followed by a series of questions to help you clarify things on your own ‘inner imposter’ a little further.


The Five Types of Imposter Syndrome

Dr Valerie Young was the first to claim that there are five distinct ‘Imposter’ archetypes, each exhibiting slightly different traits of Imposter Syndrome:

  • The Perfectionist
  • The Superman/Superwoman
  • The Natural Genius
  • The Soloist
  • The Expert

Each type is described in detail below, along with a series of questions to help you determine which Imposter you are. See how many of the questions you answer “yes” to. Everyone will experience some of these symptoms at some point in their life, so what you’re looking for is a pattern or a frequency of “yes” answers.

What you’ll likely find is that you’re a blend of more than one archetype (personally I have traits from all five). This is partly what makes Imposter Syndrome so interesting … and so frustrating, because it can make it harder to figure out on your own what kind of imposter you are, and therefore what the solution is.

And don’t panic if you answer “yes” to many (or all!) of the questions, or you find yourself shouting “That’s me!” Remember, more than 70% of us experience Imposter Syndrome at some point and it can be easily overcome (get in touch if you’d like to learn more).


1.      The Perfectionist

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No one can ever set the bar as high as the perfectionist. Some might argue (and I used to be one of them!) that this is a good thing. Shouldn’t we all aim for ‘perfect’? Aren’t perfectionists good at doing things really well? Well, not as much as you might think. They want to do things well, but they’ll take a much longer time to get tasks done because things will never quite be good enough or it’ll need to be tweaked. And tweaked again. And again. Because ‘good enough’ isn’t perfect, right? Perfectionists need to be in control of the ‘how’; how the work is done and how the outcome turns out – which can make them terrible procrastinators and micromanagers.

And when you understand The Perfectionist in the light of Imposter Syndrome, they are constantly setting themselves up to fail. They’ll never get anything ‘right’ to the extent they want it – and demand it – because it’s never perfect in their eyes. And, as a result, they’ll beat themselves up endlessly for not achieving the goal in the way they want to. And this is aside from the fact they typically set themselves unrealistic and unachievable goals in the first place!

Perfectionists see themselves as a failure, even when they’ve already succeeded past what’s expected of them. And they’ll continue to see themselves as a failure even if they surpass those levels of excellence. Why? Because The Perfectionist negates every single past accomplishment and achievement as though they never happened; so, one single ‘flaw’ or ‘imperfection’ equals failure and shame, regardless of any past successes.


Is your imposter The Perfectionist?

  • Do you frequently feel like you don’t have enough time to complete things even though others get the same tasks done in less time?
  • Do you feel like things will never be good enough?
  • Do you go back to tweak things to the point where it’s difficult to declare a project ‘finished’?
  • Do you have trouble accepting a compliment?
  • Do you frequently think they’ve picked the wrong person when someone wants to give you recognition for something you’ve done?
  • Do you have a sense of ‘having gotten away’ with something when you turn in work, and people accept it as being okay?
  • Do you feel like things are never done?
  • Have people called you a perfectionist?

If so, you might be dealing with an Inner Perfectionist (like you didn’t know already!)


2.    The Superman/Superwoman

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Need something done? Now here’s your imposter type who’s ready to take on anything, no matter how busy they are. The Superman or Superwoman is the archetypal overachiever. They put in more time than anyone when they’re at work, to the point where it’s a wonder if they ever go home. If they do, you can bet they’re still working into the night and at the weekend. To Superman or Superwoman, there’s no such thing as a day off.

Nor do they limit their projects and time to just one area in their life. Their work life, home life, and even how they parent their children, is all about quantity at all costs. The Superman/Superwoman believes they should be able to handle everything easily and excel in all roles, so falling short in any area of their life leads them to feel like a failure and full of shame.

Why do they work themselves to the bone and give up so much of themselves to do it? At the heart of the Superman and Superwoman is the person who’s so convinced they have no true worth, that everyone else around them is more deserving than they are. It’s why this imposter can easily fall into people pleasing behaviours, as they try to keep all the plates around them spinning while they neglect their own needs.

The Superman/Superwoman also needs constant validation from those around them. They live for the praise which others heap on them, even while disbelieving every word of it. Not that this stops them from going out and doing it all over again. Unfortunately, while this person might accomplish crazy amounts of work in a day, they can never truly enjoy the outcome or relax. Imposter syndrome tells them there’s still more that needs to be done.


Is your imposter The Superman/Superwoman?

  • Are you known for getting things done?
  • Do you frequently take on new tasks even though you’re already busy?
  • Do you accomplish more than those around you and still feel like it’s not enough?
  • Do you keep working long after everyone else has gone home for the day?
  • Do you keep so busy your family is starting to wonder where you are?
  • Do you work extra hours, evenings, and weekends even when you don’t need to?
  • Are you secretly proud of how much work you get done?
  • Even if you’re secretly proud of how much work you’re getting done, do you still feel like you could do better and do still more?
  • Have you been accused of being an overachiever?
  • Do you frequently have many projects going on at once?
  • Do you tend to start a lot of things but have trouble finishing them?

If so, you might be dealing with a Superhero Imposter.


3.    The Natural Genius

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The moment you see the word “genius,” you probably picture someone like Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, or Elon Musk – super smart people who are very high achievers. While this might be true to an extent, the Natural Genius is a bit different. The Natural Genius typically has an innate talent in one (or maybe two) very specific areas but isn’t necessarily special or talented in other regards.

For example, some people might be natural geniuses when it comes to maths. They happen to have a knack for understanding numbers and probably did well in school … until they had to show their workings.

This is the problem with The Natural Genius. They understand things almost instinctively, but they’re not necessarily very good at explaining how they got their answers. This means the Natural Genius can become very frustrated when they come up against knowledge they have to work hard to learn. More often than not, they don’t understand how to learn what they don’t have, at least not on the first try. This is where Imposter Syndrome kicks in. Because the Natural Genius is someone who knows everything about a particular subject, they set themselves unrealistically high standards for everything else. And when they’re not good at it on the first try, they feel like they’ve failed. They might even fight against learning, getting caught up in self-doubt until they hit a shame cycle and spiral on down.

Why? Because they’re so used to knowledge, this comes easy. They can’t handle it when their genius betrays them, and they find out they’re not as good as they might have thought.  And the Imposter negates everything else they’ve accomplished previously.


Is your imposter The Natural Genius?

  • Do some things come very easily to you?
  • Do you become frustrated when you don’t understand something immediately?
  • Do you struggle with learning new things even though you’re knowledgeable in other areas?
  • Are you considered an expert in some areas but have trouble explaining your knowledge?
  • Do you feel like a failure if you don’t understand something immediately?
  • Do you obsess about what you don’t know when you do know so many other things?
  • Do you feel stupid when something needs to be explained to you?
  • Do you believe that everyone else sees you as stupid if you don’t understand something?

If so, you could be dealing with a Natural Genius Imposter.


4.    The Soloist (or ‘lone wolf’)

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If you’ve ever felt like the last thing you wanted was for others to find out that you didn’t know what you were doing, you’re dealing with the Imposter known as The Soloist. This individual is the lone wolf. They’ll do everything on their own, precisely because they feel like such an imposter. They won’t ask for help for fear they’ll be judged for not knowing and see asking for help as a failure.

For this reason, Soloists are often seen as antisocial or ‘standoffish’, though this might not be the case at all. The Soloist’s desire to push people away stems entirely from their fear of being found out. In the beginning, deep down, they might truly want help or to at least have the support of others. But if they’re flying solo for too long, this could eventually change. The hardcore Soloist might even begin to resent the fact they can never get help on things – and even hate how others seem to have no problem getting help when they have to do everything alone.


Is your imposter The Soloist?

  • Do you frequently feel like you’re pretending to be something you’re not?
  • Do you deliberately choose projects where you can work alone?
  • Do you micromanage things?
  • Have people said you’re not a team player?
  • Do you push people away, so they don’t find out about the ‘real’ you?
  • When doing group projects, do you volunteer to take on a piece by yourself, so you don’t have to work with others?

If so, you might be dealing with a Soloist Imposter.


5.    The Expert

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“Just one more thing” is the mantra of The Expert. No matter what they’re doing or how familiar they are with a process, The Expert never feels like they have enough knowledge or skills to get things done. The Expert needs to learn everything about a task or job before starting it and will often go back for ‘just a little more research’. They’re constantly double and triple-checking themselves or looking for additional training.

Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone who likes research or constant learning has Imposter Syndrome. The difference is that at the core of the Expert Imposter is the feeling of not being qualified or capable enough – because they expect to know everything! We all feel this way sometimes, especially when we’re doing something new or we’re in a situation we’ve never encountered before. But if you’re constantly gaining certifications, college courses, and other skills and qualifications but you still never feel quite ready, or you feel like a failure if there’s even a tiny gap in your knowledge, you’re likely an Expert. Especially if you find this need to learn more or achieve ‘just one more qualification’ is keeping you from starting what needs to get done.


Is your imposter The Expert?

  • Do you constantly seek out certifications, degrees, or other achievements as a means of showing others you know things?
  • Do you still feel like you don’t know enough despite this?
  • Do you get stuck in research to the point where it’s hard to begin the project itself?
  • Are you constantly fact-checking things you already know because you don’t trust yourself?
  • Do you feel like you shouldn’t apply for a job unless you have every qualification they might need?
  • Do you panic at the idea of being hired in a position you’re not trained to do?
  • Have you ever been surprised by a promotion because you don’t feel like you deserve it? Has this happened more than once?
  • Do you feel like you got lucky if you were promoted or received some sort of commendation?
  • Do you put down your achievements, telling yourself anyone could do what you do?
  • Do you insist your accomplishments are because of people around you rather than anything you gained through your own merits?

If so, you might be dealing with an Expert Imposter!


Moving Forward

Which one of the 5 types of imposter – The Perfectionist, The Superman/Superwoman, The Natural Genius, The Soloist or The Expert – do you resonate with the most? Are you, like me, a blend of different imposters? Please get in touch – I’d truly love to know!

You might even have some additional imposter traits that I haven’t mentioned because these five archetypes don’t encompass every kind of imposter – although they’re a good starting point.

The main thing to remember is that each variety of imposter has one crucial thing in common: they never feel like they’re good enough, worthy enough, or deserving enough, and they feel like they’re going to be found out at any moment. 

Whichever type of imposter you are – and don’t forget, more than 70% of us experience imposter syndrome at some time in our lives – if left unchecked, impostor syndrome will be costly – not only for your sense of self-worth, self-esteem and confidence, and your mental and physical health, but also for your engagement and performance at work, your relationships, and your quality of life

The good news is that Imposter Syndrome can be defeated!

For more information on how I can help you and your teams overcome imposter syndrome and become high performers, please schedule a call today.



Dr Marcelle Crinean, PhD is a highly respected Clinical Hypnotherapist & Psychotherapist, Mindset Coach & Certified High Performance Coach™. Marcelle focuses on helping driven, ambitious high-achievers perform at their highest level and accelerate extraordinary success in all areas of their work and life – without compromising their health, relationships or happiness. She offers high performance coaching and stress-management & wellbeing training to individuals and companies all over the world. In her capacity as founder and owner of Brain Reframe, she also mentors small businesses and offers courses and workshops in overcoming imposter syndrome and avoiding burnout.


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