Over half of women admit to suffering from imposter syndrome – how to overcome it

·8-min read
Image of women suffering from imposter syndrome. (Getty Images)
Over half of women admit to having experienced imposter syndrome. (Getty Images)

Women are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome than men, new research has revealed.

The study of 4,000 adults found over half (53%) of women have experienced feelings of unfounded self-doubt, incompetence and being under-qualified.

While women are more likely to experience it in the workplace with 72% admitting to experiencing self-doubt in their career, there are other areas of their life they will also doubt themselves including during education (29%) and when out with friends (29%)

Interestingly though, the majority of men admit they only ever feel like an imposter in the workplace (63%), while over half (54%) say they have never felt it at all.

When it comes to how imposter syndrome impacts women, almost a quarter (24%) say it gets in the way of romantic relationships, and 18% say it affects their parenting.

Turns out the pressure to "have it all" is a key trigger for one in five to experience imposter syndrome, while 63% say a lack of confidence initially contributed to these feelings.

Just under half (44%) believe constantly comparing themselves to others was another root cause, while three in 10 think being a "perfectionist" has influenced it.

Read more: Vicky Pattison shares tearful selfie about her anxiety: 'I struggle to push toxic thoughts away'

On average, women start to question themselves at the age of 23, according to the poll by Galaxy confectionary, as part as part of its video series launch, 'How to Thrive' with the Young Women’s Trust.

Worryingly, just a quarter of women who feel like an imposter have spoken openly about it, compared to 37% of men.

And only around a third (30%) of women with these feelings have tried to reduce them.

Of those who have not attempted to mitigate imposter syndrome, 45% conceded they "don’t know where to start" to overcome it.

While half admitted they have just learnt to live with it.

Commenting on the findings, Claire Reindorp, CEO at Young Women’s Trust, said: “Young women face many challenges reaching their potential, progressing in life and earning what they should.

“They’re more likely to be in lower paid jobs and sectors of the economy and more likely to get stuck there.

“At a time in life when women should be growing and learning, they’re instead too often trapped in a struggle just to get by."

Holly Willoughby said she had  'imposter syndrome' early in her career, pictured in March 2022. (Getty Images)
Holly Willoughby said she had 'imposter syndrome' early in her career. (Getty Images)

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is something that has impacted female celebrities too, with Holly Willoughby revealing she experienced feelings of self-doubt in the early days of her TV career.

The This Morning presenter, 42, said in her younger years she “underestimated” herself.

“In my 20s and 30s, I felt incredibly grateful I was given presenting jobs in TV," she told the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine.

“I never really thought I was good enough, I felt lucky people liked me.

“I had massive imposter syndrome and yes, I was underestimated but, more importantly, I underestimated myself.”

In order to overcome her feelings Willoughby revealed the biggest lesson she has learnt is to be herself.

“I am not and will never be perfect as a presenter," she added.

“I don’t try to be perfect anymore because it really doesn’t matter.

“I listen to the production team but I’ll then ask the questions I want to ask, things I think are important.

“Even if I don’t say things exactly right or words still come out wrong, because I’m dyslexic, people understand where I’m coming from. They get me.

“That’s given me confidence, changed me and my life."

Watch: Dame Helen Mirren: I don't feel deserving of a lifetime achievement award

Holly Willoughby isn't the only celebrity to admit suffering from imposter syndrome – singer Adele also previously shared feelings of inadequacy.

During her special homecoming concert, to celebrate her album, 30, the star admitted she had been "s***ing herself" with fright about her ability to perform.

She went on to say she'd felt most proud of herself after agreeing to headline at Glastonbury, despite being terrified: "because I've got imposter syndrome."

According to Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, imposter syndrome is a thought pattern where we doubt ourselves and find it difficult to accept our achievements and successes.

"Somewhat counterintuitively it tends to affect 'high achievers' more, but that could be because accumulation of certificates, medals or goals is symptomatic of feeling inadequate in some way," she previously told Yahoo UK.

"Unfortunately, this can lead to a vicious cycle where the individual, as if in a hamster wheel, simply keeps working to achieve more and more, without feeling the actual satisfaction, pride or success in what they have done.

"Worse still, should they make a mistake – which can happen through no fault of their own, this can consume them with anxiety or defensiveness and they struggle to grow beyond this negative spiral."

Read more: The most common mental health conditions – and where to get help

Image of a women appearing to suffer from imposter syndrome. (Getty Images)
More women than men admit to suffering from imposter syndrome. (Getty Images)

Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, says many of us will suffer imposter syndrome at some point or other, but some people live with this feeling on an almost daily basis.

"It’s usually what we would call schema-driven and can be traced back to our early childhood experiences," Dr Touroni explains.

"A schema is essentially a blueprint through which we see ourselves, other people and the world around us. Imposter syndrome stems from the belief of not being 'good enough' in some way, and feeling like there’s something inherently wrong with you.

"This can develop into an overwhelming fear of being 'found out' and exposed as a fraud. It can happen following neglect, abandonment or growing up with parents who were extremely critical or who placed a lot of emphasis on outwardly success."

Signs you're suffering from imposter syndrome

Health organisation BUPA explains that there are several signs of imposter syndrome to look out for particularly "feeling like a fake or a fraud", but others include:

– never feeling good enough

– feeling like you don’t belong

– being filled with self-doubt

– feeling uncomfortable when people praise you

– having a habit of playing down your strengths

– finding it hard to take credit for your accomplishments

How to overcome imposter syndrome

The good news is there are some ways to break free from this negative cycle of thinking.

Recognise the signs

According to Dr Tang, it is important to recognise imposter syndrome as simply a thought pattern and understand that you can choose to think differently.

"It can help you to reflect on the consequences of the actions that imposter syndrome drives you to do," she explains. "For example when you are focusing on little quick wins, are you really heading towards your goal or is it just a 'feel-good fix'?"

Read more: 'Hag', 'witch' and 'crone' voted most offensive terms for women over 45

Be inspired by others' success

A simple tip is to come off social media unless for work purposes and cultivate the relationships that make you feel great off-line.

"If you choose to remain on social media, reframe the anxiety you feel at someone's success with gratitude," Dr Tang suggests.

"Say to yourself 'I'm grateful I got to see X's happiness,' then use that feeling of gratitude to inspire you to move towards your own goal."

Women are suffering impostor syndrome at work. (Getty Images)
Feelings of inadequacy at work are common when experiencing imposter syndrome. (Getty Images)

Be kind to yourself

Dr Tang suggests trying to reassure yourself through self-compassion rather than self-esteem statements.

"When something doesn’t go your way try: 'I’m proud of X elements because I worked hard on them/I contributed creatively/I pushed my boundaries' instead of 'I did X better than everyone else,'" Dr Tang suggests.

"There is a very subtle difference, but self-compassion focuses on you and your response. It is quite empowering; self-esteem focuses on praise and even acceptance, but in the context of comparison with others."

Record your past achievements

Screenshot or photograph the times when you have done well, for example when clients have thanked you.

"This reminds you to hold that moment for a little while before rushing into the next, and in doing this, you remind yourself, subconsciously, that you are doing ok," Dr Tang explains.

Dr Tang also suggests trying to hold onto and appreciate thanks you receive from others, rather than shrugging it off with a 'Oh it’s nothing' or 'It was everyone else.'

"Even if you can’t quite hold the praise yet, simply say 'Thank you so much for saying that – I really appreciate it.' And try to hold that thought for a moment too."

Additional reporting PA and SWNS.