According to the Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome can be defined as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success … and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence”. Imposter syndrome persists in individuals who frequently have tendency to perform well in their field or even studies and are often left underappreciated, or their efforts invalidated.

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The Imposter Syndrome_ © Thrive Global – featured photo

In essence, imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud,” despite evidence of their competence and success. It is characterised by feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and a tendency to attribute successes to external factors like luck rather than their own abilities.

Root Causes of Imposter Syndrome

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Breaking down the Cause_ © thesociallyconnected

Imposter syndrome can take varying shapes and forms depending on individuals. It instals itself in individuals due to varying causes, some of which are listed below:

1. Family Dynamics and Upbringing

High Parental Expectations: Growing up in an environment where parents set excessively high standards can lead to feelings of never measuring up. Constant pressure to excel can create a deep-seated fear of failure.

Overpraising: Parents who constantly praise their child’s intelligence without acknowledging effort may inadvertently contribute to imposter feelings. The child may believe that success is based on innate talent rather than hard work, making them fear any future failure as a sign of inherent inadequacy.

Comparative Parenting: Being compared to siblings or other children can foster self-doubt. If a child is constantly told they need to be like their high-achieving sibling, they may internalise feelings of inferiority.

2. Personality Traits

Perfectionism: Perfectionists set unrealistically high standards for themselves. When they inevitably fall short, they may feel like frauds.

High Achievers: Those who have historically excelled might feel constant pressure to maintain their success, leading to fears of being exposed as a fraud if they ever falter.

Neuroticism: Individuals who are highly sensitive to stress and prone to anxiety are more likely to experience imposter feelings.

3. Academic and Professional Environments

Competitive Atmospheres: Environments where there is intense competition can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy. The constant comparison with peers can make individuals feel they do not measure up.

Lack of Mentorship: A lack of guidance and support can leave individuals feeling isolated and more prone to doubting their abilities.

Subjective Evaluation: Fields like the arts and architecture, where work is subject to subjective critique, can make individuals more vulnerable to self-doubt.

4. Societal and Cultural Factors

Stereotypes and Bias: Gender, racial, and cultural stereotypes can contribute to imposter syndrome. For example, women and minorities in STEM fields might feel additional pressure due to societal biases about their capabilities.

Media Representation: Idealised portrayals of success in media can create unrealistic benchmarks for achievement, making individuals feel inadequate in comparison.

Ways in Which Imposter Syndrome Instills Itself 

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All I Am Is a Fraud_ © Comic by Honey Dill

Understanding these causes and mechanisms is crucial for addressing and mitigating the effects of imposter syndrome. By recognizing the root causes and patterns of thought and behaviour that contribute to these feelings, individuals can take steps to develop healthier self-perceptions and build resilience.

Internalisation of External Criticism

Individuals with imposter syndrome can often misinterpret constructive criticism as a reflection of their incompetence and spiral into a cycle of negative self-talk and self-depreciation, leading to a lack of confidence and a poor judgement of their own capabilities.

Cognitive Distortions

Viewing situations in black-and-white terms (e.g., “If I’m not a complete success, I’m a failure”) can lead to imposter feelings, while drawing such straight conclusions can undermine self-confidence. Often, even in the face of success, one may be inclined to dismiss achievements and positive feedback. 

Behavioral Patterns

To compensate for perceived inadequacies, individuals may overwork, leading to burnout and reinforcing the cycle of self-doubt. This gradually leads to a tendency to avoid challenges and reject opportunities due to fear of failure.

Social Comparisons

Constantly comparing oneself to peers who seem more competent or successful can lead to feelings of inferiority, whereas being surrounded by high-achieving peers can aggravate feelings of being the only one who does not belong.

Fear of Failure and Success

The fear of failing and being exposed as a fraud can prevent individuals from taking risks and pursuing opportunities. Success can sometimes lead to increased visibility and expectations, which individuals with imposter syndrome may fear they cannot sustain.

Effects on College Students

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Hiding my Identity_ © Pablo Stanley

Self-Doubt and Anxiety

Students experiencing imposter syndrome often doubt their abilities, which can lead to significant anxiety and stress. This is particularly true in high-pressure environments like college, where academic performance and peer comparison are prevalent.

Decreased Academic Performance

The anxiety and stress caused by imposter syndrome can negatively impact students’ academic performance. They may avoid seeking help or participating in class discussions due to fear of being judged.

Procrastination and Perfectionism

To avoid the fear of failure, students might procrastinate or strive for perfection, leading to burnout. This can create a cycle of increased pressure and continued feelings of inadequacy.

Lack of Participation in Opportunities

Students with imposter syndrome might avoid applying for internships, leadership roles, or other opportunities because they feel they are not “good enough.”

Specific Impact on Architecture Students 

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The feeling of not being enough_ © sketchplanations

Creative Pressure

Architecture is a highly creative field where students are constantly asked to produce innovative and original designs. The subjective nature of creativity can make students doubt their talent and originality.

Critique and Feedback

Architecture education involves frequent critiques and reviews of students’ work. While constructive criticism is crucial, it can be perceived as a confirmation of their inadequacy by those experiencing imposter syndrome.

Competitive Environment

Architecture programs are often competitive, with students vying for top grades, recognition, and opportunities. This competition can worsen feelings of not measuring up.

Workload and Deadlines

The demanding workload and tight deadlines typical in architecture can lead to high stress levels. The fear of not completing projects to a high standard can contribute to imposter feelings.

Public Presentation

Architecture students regularly present their projects to peers, professors, and external critics. The public nature of these presentations can intensify the fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Coping Strategies

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First step to getting over Imposter Syndrome_ ©

Creative Pressure

While imposter syndrome remains a constant in a person’s psychological depreciation, there are ways to get over it. It requires effort and takes time, but the results, which may be gradual for some, are ultimately a help in the long run.

Acknowledge and Understand Imposter Syndrome

Awareness is the first step. Understanding that imposter feelings are common can help normalise the experience. Knowing that even highly successful people experience these feelings can provide perspective. 

Seeking Support

Talking to peers, mentors, or counsellors can help students realise that they are not alone in their feelings and gain perspective on their accomplishments.

Celebrating Achievements

Keeping a record of achievements and positive feedback can help counteract negative self-perceptions.

Focus on Learning

Shifting focus from perfection and external validation to personal growth and learning can reduce pressure and improve confidence.

Confront Fear and Take Risks

Taking on challenges and stepping out of your comfort zone can build confidence. Each success, no matter how small, can help diminish imposter feelings. Instead of fearing failure, view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Reflect on what went wrong and how you can improve in the future.

To implement these strategies effectively, create a personal action plan. Set specific, achievable goals for each area and track your progress. Regularly review and adjust your plan as needed, ensuring it remains tailored to your evolving needs and experiences.

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You’re not an Imposter_ ©

Harvard Citation Style Guidelines:

  1. Editor, O. (2022). Imposter syndrome is real among college students, The Commonwealth Times. [online] The Commonwealth Times. Available at:
  2. university (n.d.). Freshers, Take it From a Second Year: You Will Beat Your Imposter Syndrome. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 June. 2024]
  3. ‌3. readers, G. (2023). ‘Don’t let “impostor syndrome” hold you back’: Student tips from Guardian readers. The Guardian. [online] 11 Sep. Available at:
  4. ‌Varsity Online. (n.d.). Feeling like a fraud: imposter syndrome and me. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 June. 2024].
  5. ‌5Klawe, M. (n.d.). Let’s Talk About Impostor Syndrome With Incoming Students. [online] Forbes. Available at: [Accessed 17 June. 2024].
  6. ‌Abramson, A. (2021). How to overcome the impostor phenomenon. [online] Available at:
  7. ‌Eruteya, K. (2022). You’re Not an Imposter. You’re Actually Pretty Amazing. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at:
  8. ‌Impostor Syndrome Institute. (2017). 10 Steps You Can Use to Overcome Impostor Syndrome. [online] Available at: