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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Buckland

The 5 Faces of Impostor Syndrome: Recognising and Overcoming Self-Doubt

Have you ever felt like you're just pretending to be competent, worried that others will uncover your supposed inadequacies? If so, you're not alone. Imposter syndrome symptoms that many of us can relate to at some point in our lives and can manifest in various ways, often stemming from deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Despite external achievements and accolades, when we experience imposter syndrome, we perceive ourselves as frauds, believing that our successes are merely the result of luck or circumstance rather than our abilities. This disconnect between external validation and internal beliefs leads to a pervasive sense of in-authenticity, as individuals present a false persona to the world, hiding aspects of themselves they fear others will judge or reject.

It's more common than you think.

Imposter syndrome symptoms, though often misunderstood, are widespread experiences shared by many of us often with root causes that happen early on in life. Even some of the most celebrated figures in our society have openly grappled with its challenges. Take, for example, Tom Hanks, a Hollywood actor known for his remarkable performances in iconic films. Despite his tremendous success and widespread acclaim, Hanks has admitted to experiencing moments of self-doubt and insecurity, questioning his own abilities, and fearing that he might be exposed as a fraud.

Similarly, acclaimed author and poet Maya Angelou, whose words continue to inspire and resonate with millions worldwide, confessed to feeling like a fraud despite her numerous accomplishments. In her autobiography, she famously revealed, "I have written eleven 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”.

The 5 faces of imposter Syndrome. 

Dr Valarie Young shed light on the unique challenges we face within each sub-type.

1. The Perfectionist:

As Perfectionists, we set incredibly high standards for ourselves and fixate on flawless execution. Despite achieving success, we struggle to accept anything less than perfection, leading to heightened anxiety and self-criticism.


  • Do you find it challenging to accept criticism, even when it's intended to be helpful?

  • Have others remarked on your controlling behaviour during group tasks or in your managerial approach?

  • Do you tend to meticulously plan every aspect in preparation for tasks or events?

How to overcome:

  • Embrace imperfection and prioritise progress over perfection.

  • Practice self-compassion and challenge self-critical thoughts.

  • Adopt a “this is good enough” mantra.


2. The Natural Genius:

As Natural Geniuses, we believe success should come effortlessly and become frustrated when faced with challenges or setbacks. If we don't meet this high standard, they perceive themselves as incompetent.

Can you relate to this?

  • Do you shy away from tasks if you're uncertain of immediate success?

  • Do you feel a sense of satisfaction when others acknowledge your intelligence and frustration when it goes unnoticed?

How to overcome:

  • Cultivate a growth mindset, embracing effort and perseverance.

  • Prioritise learning over the outcome and celebrate progress over perfection.

  • Focus on developing specific skills and seeking opportunities for growth.


3. The Expert:

As Experts, we seek validation and recognition from others, constantly striving to prove our worth through knowledge, achievements and awards. Despite our expertise, we feel fraudulent and avoid new challenges for fear of failure.

  • Do you feel compelled to demonstrate extensive knowledge on a topic when sharing ideas in social or professional settings?

  • Are you driven to continue researching areas of expertise to feel you can compete with others you interact with?

  • Are you hesitant to perform a task unless you feel confident that your knowledge matches or exceeds the people you are interacting with?

How to overcome:

  • Acknowledge the value of lifelong learning and embrace new challenges.

  • Focus on targeted skill development and seek growth opportunities.

  • Practice self-validation and celebrate achievements without seeking external validation.


4. The Soloist:

As Rugged Individualists, we pride ourselves on self-reliance and independence, often to the point of isolation. We struggle to ask for help or collaborate with others, viewing vulnerability as a sign of weakness.


  • Do you avoid asking for help?

  • When there’s a group task, do you find yourself working independently?

  • When offered support, do you view this as someone perceiving you as weak?


How to overcome:

  • Develop connections and seek support from peers and mentors.

  • Embrace vulnerability and recognise the strength in asking for guidance.

  • Cultivate a sense of community and collaboration to overcome isolation.


5. The Super Person:

As Superwomen/Men, we take on excessive responsibilities and neglect our wellbeing in pursuit of success. We struggle to set boundaries and prioritise self-care, leading to burnout and exhaustion.


  • Do you over-commit at the expense of your wellbeing

  • Do you find it difficult to say no to people?

  • Do you constantly experience stress and burnout from being too busy?


How to overcome:

  • Establish boundaries and prioritise self-care practices.

  • Delegate tasks and ask for help when needed.

  • Practice saying no and setting realistic expectations for ourselves.

In summary

Seeking support from various sources can significantly aid in this journey of self-discovery and growth. Whether it's confiding in friends and family, seeking guidance from mentors at work, attending courses or workplace training, or engaging in counselling sessions, reaching out for support can provide invaluable insights and encouragement. By opening up to others about our experiences and challenges, we create opportunities for learning, growth, and transformation.

But recognising the signs is just the beginning. In our subsequent blog entries, we'll delve deeper into the underlying causes of imposter syndrome, shedding light on why these feelings emerge and persist. By understanding the root causes, we can gain valuable insights into how to address and overcome imposter syndrome, reclaiming our confidence and authenticity along the way.


Bravata DM, Watts SA, Keefer AL, Madhusudhan DK, Taylor KT, Clark DM, Nelson RS, Cokley KO, Hagg HK. Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Apr;35(4):1252-1275. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1. Epub 2019 Dec 17. PMID: 31848865; PMCID: PMC7174434.

Young, V. (2011). The 5 Types of Impostor Syndrome. [online] Impostor Syndrome Institute. Available at:

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