Impostor Syndrome: What Is It And How To Deal With It


Have you ever felt like you aren’t good enough or that you aren’t capable of getting the job done? If so, you are not alone. This feeling of “not being able to” has a name: impostor syndrome. It is a phenomenon that is scientifically proven to exist and that can be treated in psychology when you fully believe that you are not capable of doing something that you really know how to do.

Impostor syndrome, or fraud syndrome, is self-doubt taken too far. Dealing with it is much easier if you understand what it is and how it works. In this article, we’ll talk about those things as well as discuss why fraud syndrome seems to latch itself onto freelancers and the best strategies to deal with it:

  1. What is impostor syndrome?
  2. What causes impostor syndrome?
  3. Types of people most likely to suffer from fraud syndrome
  4. Freelancers and impostor syndrome
  5. How do I know if I suffer from impostor syndrome?
  6. What are the best ways to deal with impostor syndrome?

What is impostor syndrome? 

Impostor syndrome is defined in psychology as a phenomenon in which the person is unable to accept that what they have they have obtained by their own merits. 

It all started when the former noticed traces of the syndrome in herself: “I would take an important examination and be very afraid that I had failed. I remembered all I did not know rather than what I did.” 

And what did Clance do? She investigated the origin of that feeling and came to the conclusion that it is merely a trick that the human brain plays on us.

Fraud syndrome, as described by the two researchers, causes people to believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative, despite being successful.

It is also known as faker syndrome and can occur in a timely manner, when a specific change occurs, or it can be felt over time. This second case is the one to which we must pay special attention.

What causes impostor syndrome?

Causes Of Impostor Syndrome
Causes Of Impostor Syndrome

It seems that people who suffer from impostor syndrome have insecurity as a common trait amongst them. Therefore, the syndrome can be associated with:

  • Gender pressure: Women tend to suffer from this syndrome more than men. 
  • Demanding childhood: Those who had parents who were too demanding (for example, with studies) and whose achievements were not recognized
  • Comparisons: Those who were or are constantly being compared with others
  • Self-demand: Those who have too high expectations of themselves

Types of people most likely to suffer from fraud syndrome

Valerie Young, who studied this topic in depth, managed to define the 5 types of impostor syndrome and the people most likely to suffer from it:

  • Perfectionists: These are the people who always think that they can do better and therefore set goals that are too high
  • Superhuman: These people feel insecure and believe that they have to work more and more because they can still do more
  • Geniuses: They are those who get frustrated when things don’t work out the first time
  • Individualistic: These people are those who do everything by themselves. They do not ask anyone for anything in case they see that they are not capable of doing it alone
  • Experts: These are the kinds of people who believe they will never be enough and are afraid of being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.

Freelancers and impostor syndrome

There are a couple of reasons why a freelancer might experience this syndrome more than regular employees. The  main reason is a lack of feedback sources. When you work in an office, there’s often an integrated reward system or people around you to see how good you are at what you do.

As a freelancer, people often only get to see the end product rather than all the hard work that went into it. In a way, you’re the only one that can remind yourself of how much work it took to become as good as you are.

How do I know if I suffer from impostor syndrome?

In general, if you tend to undervalue your efforts or do not recognize your achievements thinking that it was simply luck that has brought you where you are, it is likely that you are suffering from fraud syndrome.

Here are some examples of the type of thinking related to impostor syndrome:

  • “I don’t know why someone trusted me to do that”
  • “I have to enjoy this before someone unmasks me”
  • “Anyone could do what I do”
  • “I only got here by luck”
  • “I can’t raise my rates, I’m already expensive enough for what I do”

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Symptoms of impostor syndrome include: 

  • Feeling that others may not want your services
  • Not being aware of or recognising personal capabilities
  • Believing you are undeserving of what you have
  • Thinking that your clients will think that you are a fraud and that you do not know what you are doing
  • Feeling of failure in everyday cases
  • Anxiety, sadness and demotivation at work
  • Never being satisfied with the results

Keep in mind that one should not confuse modesty with impostor syndrome. Self-criticism is good and no one is going to want to work with someone who constantly believes they are above you.

But you have to be careful and make sure that this syndrome does not paralyze you and prevent you from continuing to be successful and, above all, that it does not affect your physical and mental health.

Impostor Syndrome Poll Results
Impostor Syndrome Poll Results

In a recent survey, we asked freelancers if they too struggled with impostor syndrome. The results showed a tie between those that do and those that don’t. It should also be noted that 14% of freelancers said they used to struggle with fraud syndrome but don’t anymore.

What are the best ways to deal with impostor syndrome?

If you relate to everything mentioned so far, don’t worry! There are loads of things that you can do to overcome this feeling of insecurity!

1) Relax, self-doubt is just a part of being human

Dealing with impostor syndrome is, first and foremost, changing your state of mind. Everyone doubts themselves from time to time but as mentioned above, that can be a good quality to have. But the next time that little voice calls to you too often, remind yourself that it’s just a part of your human brain and you can choose to tell it that it’s wrong.

2) Surround yourself with positive people

Positivity is the key to life and therefore it is essential that you surround yourself with people and colleagues who help you see the bright side of things. 

You should also take a moment to ask your inner circle if any of them have ever felt this way. You will realize that even people who are seen as role models have also thought that they are fakers at some point. 

3) Remind yourself of your achievements

Think of all the things you have achieved and write them down. You can do this exercise as much as you need, but you should do it at least once a year.

Keep this list of successes on hand so that when those feelings of: “I am a fraud” come up, you can read it and recover your motivation.

It is very important that you also learn to accept praise towards your work. Oftentimes when someone tells us that they like something we have done, we say (or think) that “I could have done this a little better”, or “I’m not entirely convinced with the results”.

Enough! Someone actually told you that they like your job. Thank them for their words and accept this recognition for a job well done.

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4) Control perfectionism

Perfection is impossible to achieve, so quit trying so hard to find it and worry instead about delivering things as best as you can. Accept the good results and if something goes wrong, accept that failure and learn from it.

5) Don’t let fear stop you

The bad thing about impostor syndrome is that it can make you not accept a project that you would love to do for fear of not getting it done the way you want.

If you want to work with Client X, don’t let fear stop you from moving forward and achieving your goals.

6) Remember comparisons are hateful

Everyone is in the habit of comparing themselves to others. And while this is something that is in our nature as human beings, it can be a great danger.

If we compare ourselves to someone who appears to be less experienced, we gain self-confidence as we seem to be doing better. However, if we compare ourselves to someone very successful, our self-esteem vanishes.

You need to instead focus on yourself and be the best version of yourself that you can be.

7) Seek help

If impostor syndrome has taken over your brain and prevents you from working, it’s time to seek help outside.

You can talk to other freelancers, your family or your mentor (if you have one) and if they can’t change your mind either, seek professional help from a psychologist.

In conclusion, remember, our brain is just one more part of our body that must also be taken care of. Don’t forget that this feeling is much more common than you think and that often, having this feeling is because you are really good at what you do.

Don’t let that little voice tell you otherwise!

We would be happy to hear your stories on dealing with impostor syndrome. Leave a comment on the section below!

Viktor Marinov

Viktor is the voice behind the freelancermap blog. Every week he comes up with helpful hints, checklists, and guides for freelancers and independent workers. If you would like to know how to find remote jobs online or how to niche yourself as a freelancer, don't miss his freelancer tips!

By Viktor Marinov

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