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5 Causes Of Imposter Syndrome And 6 Steps To Build Your Self-Belief

Written by: Victor Mosconi, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


You feel worthless and doubt your every decision. You blame yourself for you not only your situation but the way you are. You see your negative self-thoughts as a reality. You are experiencing imposter syndrome. However, your imposter syndrome thoughts didn’t originate from you but are built from your experiences as a child or due to consistent negative interactions with others.

 Confident woman pointing finger at her reflection in mirror.

Imposter syndrome, also known as imposter phenomenon is the inability to recognize internalized successes and achievements. It’s the constant fear of being a fraud for not being good enough and needing to seek out acceptance from external sources that will never fulfill that need.

What are the causes of imposter syndrome?

What sets this negative mindset in motion that creates such anxiety, stress, and depression and restricts you from achieving what you truly want to achieve?

Here are 5 causes of imposter syndrome, followed by 6 strategies to help you overcome these imposter syndrome thoughts.

1. Highly achievement-oriented family/parents

When parents or family life are focused on high achievements and only the ultimate goal is important, you can believe you aren’t good enough unless you achieve that single goal. You have this tremendous amount of pressure to succeed placed on you. Smaller achievements and successes are dismissed or downplayed.

The external achievement is the focus and you are only good if you achieve it. Approval for your accomplishments and your self-worth get tied to the achievement. Mistakes and failures are highlighted to identify your inability to achieve the desired goal.

You internalize the thought of self-worth through approval and achievement and determine you are only enough when you gain approval through your achievements. Because of this internalized thought and desire, you constantly look toward others for your validation and acceptance of your worth.

2. Highly critical parents/culture/environment

You are not accepted for who you are. Parents, your culture, or your environment frame comments and responses in judgmental ways. High levels of criticism focusing on the negatives and not the positives are expressed and will illustrate how you are not good enough.

If any positives are noticed they are quickly dismissed and your negatives and flaws are directly in focus. “Yes, you did achieve this, but…”. Dominating adults suppress kids’ ideas, thoughts and, creativity, and will constantly put down kids and others for not being good enough.

This can be connected to achievements, but it can also be related to culture, gender, race, or sexual identity. These topics are used to indicate how you don’t fit in, or how you are failing at not being what others expect of you. When your identity as a kid is dismissed, it creates that mindset of not being worthy and being ashamed of who you are.

Over years the criticism will continue to add up and increase and criticisms will be the only thing you see. You turn the criticisms inward and internalize them. You become critical of yourself and your worth. “Well naturally I’m not good at this, I’m (a negative about yourself)”.

3. High focus on your talent over your peers

Having family focusing on your talent as being way above others creates a sense of perfectionism and this mindset of being better than everyone else. There is a high level of pressure placed upon you to maintain a high level of performance. The pressure creates high stress and much in line with the high achievement-oriented origins, you’re criticized for your mistakes and failures and your worth is attached to your quality of performance over others.

When your performance falters, so does your self-worth from others. You then internalize being worthy when you are the best and essential perfect compared to others. When you get into an environment of other high achievers with the same talent, you question your skills and the level of your talent. You have a belief of not being good enough compared to other highly skilled performers and feel like you’ve been a fraud all this time.

4. Early traumatic experiences

Children experiencing trauma such as the loss of a parent, being in an accident, or abuse can create a mindset of being the one to cause this event. If blame is placed on you, you then believe you caused the traumatic event and can feel you are unworthy. When told you always make wrong decisions or constantly made to feel you are incapable, or when guilt is placed on you for the actions of others, you create a self-belief of always being the problem and not being worthy of good.

You can also develop a sense of shame as the bad things that happen(ed) were because you were bad or did wrong. You see yourself as unworthy and not good enough and no matter what good does occur, it won’t be because of you, but outside forces and through chance. You cannot see your worth through the trauma.

5. Fixed mindset

A fixed mindset is the perception of everything being as is and never changing. This focus creates a state of never being able to improve and overcome setbacks. Either you are at the highest level or you’re not. There is no room for growth and development within a fixed mindset.

This mindset then brings about thoughts of not being good enough and never being able to change or improve. This creates constant stress and anxiety and will result in depression. It limits you from striving for new opportunities and possibilities as you don’t see you have the potential to achieve them or succeed.

You see yourself as never being able to change and with a fixed mindset will never be able to. The fixed mindset isn’t something you’re born with but develops over time due to experiences and interactions with others.

These five causes do have a strong effect on the development of your imposter syndrome thoughts and self-belief and they can occur separately or overlap. But they are not your fault.

You can take steps to break down those past thoughts and toxic beliefs to reframe your self-belief and grow from those limitations.

6 Steps to Overcome the Causes of the Imposter Mindset

1. Focus on your qualities

Focus on your qualities and character and not the external goal or achievement. The focus of breaking down your imposter mindset is to see your qualities and internalize your successes and achievements. You have to appreciate your growth and skills. What you achieve is because you desire to for your own well-being, and not for outside approval.

2. Understand criticism

2. Understand the criticisms are based on others’ perceptions and expectations of you and are not reflective of you but of them. This takes time to change. You probably have been focusing on others’ expectations for many years.

You have to start questioning your thoughts and asking where these perceptions of you come from. Are they others’ based upon their opinion or their expectation? Stop focusing on what they expect of you and focus on your goals and journey. Believe in yourself.

3. Accept mistakes

3. Know that mistakes are okay, and they are opportunities to learn and grow. Mistakes are not the end, but a chance to learn and either redo or use that information and new knowledge for later work and growth opportunities. Perfection doesn’t exist and you have to be good at making mistakes and growing from them.

4. Stop comparing

4. Don’t compare yourself to others. Focus on your own growth and development. Comparison only creates anxiety and stress. You aren’t living their life and they aren’t living your life. So, focus on your own life and growth.

5. Accept that it is not your fault

Know traumatic events in childhood are not your fault, but due to others or just by accident or chance. For this one, you may need to seek more therapy to truly work through all the foundational trauma. The most important point is to know that the trauma is not your fault. You can work through those past events and current thoughts to grow your self-belief and self-worth.

6. Develop a growth mindset

Develop a growth mindset where you see your potential to grow and learn. Life is not fixed. There are always possibilities and potential for change. But you have to see this and believe in this. Once you develop your growth mindset, you have more opportunities to develop and achieve the life you desire.

Understand and Grow

When experiencing imposter syndrome reflect on where your imposter thoughts and feelings originate from. Understanding the root cause of the negative thoughts can give you the clarity to know this is not you or your fault. The main focus is to build up from your current situation and implement strategies to break those toxic thoughts down and develop the mindset and life you desire.

Refocusing on your own growth and development and learning to appreciate your own skills, qualities, and character will help you to reframe your thoughts. Understanding that past criticism is based on the fears and expectations of others, and not a reflection of you can help you build the growth mindset which opens you up to possibilities and tears down the limitations of others. It is about you growing your self-belief and knowing your worth.

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Victor Mosconi, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Victor Mosconi, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Psychology, with a Master’s in Psychology of Leadership Development and Coaching, a Master’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and the founder of Imposter Solution Coach. Through his life-long experience with imposter syndrome, his psychology background, and coaching skills, Victor specializes in supporting up-and-coming women leaders and entrepreneurs in overcoming their self-doubt and imposter thoughts to develop a mindset of self-appreciation and strong self-belief. Take his quiz on his website and discover what level of impostor syndrome you experience.



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