BreatheUni: Imposter Syndrome – What it is and what you can do about it?

Bianca R., MSc Psychology Student and volunteer


Do you struggle to recognise and internalise your achievements and other’s praise? Are you often working yourself into the ground to deliver on an assignment, or put it off until the last minute (while remaining anxious during your procrastination) because you are worried people will find out you’re not as capable as everyone seems to think you are?

Well, there is a chance you may be experiencing something called imposter syndrome.

So, I hear you say, what exactly is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome (a syndrome is a group of symptoms) is a very real phenomenon, a type of intellectual self-doubt that causes you to believe you do not deserve your accomplishments. You may think you lack competence although, objectively, your achievements at university or at work say otherwise.

At university, for example, this may look like:

• If I do that presentation, everyone will find out I don’t know what I’m talking about

• I’m not good enough to be here – I should have picked something easier

• Everybody else is smarter than me

• I didn’t deserve that grade – I must have just gotten lucky

• I must work twice as hard to achieve the same as everybody else

You may also be a perfectionist in your work—always focussing on “bad” feedback while easily forgetting the good; feeling like your successes don’t prove anything and won’t last.

Imposter syndrome may be causing you a lot of stress, anxiety, and worry.

Okay, so what can you do about it? Here are a few tips.

1. Internalise your skills and your achievements.
We know it sounds cheesy, but remind yourself of the things you are proud of. It can be as small as making a list and reading it right before you start on a new assignment. Another way to do this is by celebrating, to show yourself this achievement is worth noting – and that you are worth celebrating!

2. Challenge your ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts
If you have dealt with this for a while, there is likely to be a negative script in your head around success, accomplishments, and your competence. You may be overly self-critical and often have automatic assumptions (i.e. I only got that grade because of luck). Next time you think like that, and recognise it, write it down – and then list all the objective evidence you have to support this statement – for and against. This should show you that many of your thoughts are irrational, and you have no real reason to believe them. So, recognise, write down, and challenge.

3. Seek support
Our advice is, don’t go at it alone! You are most certainly not alone in feeling the way you do. So many of us are navigating these feelings of inadequacy or not belonging, so try to seek out support individuals in similar places or roles as yourself; connect with likeminded people. This may be especially helpful if you are from a minority ethnic group, where you really might feel like you don’t belong. In the UK, minority ethnicities are often unfortunately underrepresented in so many fields and industries. This may unconsciously increase thoughts of ‘I don’t belong here,’ – which is entirely untrue! Seeking support for these sorts of feelings may then allow you to connect with others; then you can use your connections to build each other up.

4. You are more than your achievements
We get it – you’re at university to get your degree and move on, and only grades matter, right? Wrong. This is a time for you to get to know yourself and grow in many ways, not just academically. Remind yourself of who you are outside of your achievements; and if you don’t know yet – as is true for most of us! – be curious, experiment, find new hobbies and interests. Your grades and achievements don’t define you… as much as society may tell us they do. Don’t base your self-worth on your academic achievements.

Feel like learning a bit more about other people’s experiences and get a chance to share your own? Come join us at 7pm on Thursday 4th of March at our BreatheUni café, which will be all about imposter syndrome! And follow us on Instagram @breathe_uni!