Is Imposter Syndrome Holding You Back?

You’ve made it through nursing school, or you’ve climbed to the top of the career ladder, so why do you feel like a fraud? Stop waiting for someone to call you out and demand to know how you got there. Don’t let imposter syndrome keep you from reaching your goals. Nurses General Nursing Article

Is Imposter Syndrome Holding You Back?

"Do you think I'm incompetent?" Many years ago, I worked with a physician who had a habit of blurting this out any time a nurse asked a question, or offered a suggestion. The uncertainty laced in his words made it apparent that he wasn't challenging the nurse, but perhaps truly thought others might believe this about him.

At the time, it seemed like just another characteristic of this quirky physician, but since that time I've come to realize that it might have been more. Something that is so common in high achievers that it's identified as imposter syndrome. Granted, this physician is a more extreme example, since most people who have feelings of incompetence, or being a fraud, don't continuously look for verbal validation, but many successful people often suffer from feelings of inadequacy despite obvious evidence to the contrary.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is different than having ongoing feelings of insecurity that can hinder achieving success. Rather someone with imposter syndrome has already achieved some success but they don't believe they deserve it.

The mounting stress from self-doubt and the fear that someone will reveal your weaknesses can have a potential crippling effect. It can ruin your confidence, leave you obsessing about potential mistakes, and hold you back, or undermine your ability to achieve new goals, or enjoy the success you've achieved. Imposter syndrome can be a side-effect of success. Despite being highly skilled and qualified for a position it can result in feelings such as:

  • I'm a fraud, inadequate, or a failure
  • I must hide my weaknesses
  • My success is due to luck, or forces outside of my control
  • I'm not good enough
  • I don't deserve these rewards

Silence Your Self-Doubt

Feeling like an imposter when you're not is even more difficult with the continuous presence of social media. Most people share the extremes of the positive and negative events occurring in their lives. Continuously hearing about the success of others can leave you doubting your own, although some of these very people may suffer from the same internal feelings of self-doubt.

The first step in dealing with feelings associated with imposter syndrome is recognizing that other successful people suffer from the same thing. Then there are other methods to help nurture your self-confidence such as to:

Recognize your strengths

You had a role in your success. Review the steps that lead you to earning your nursing degree, being awarded that promotion, or assigned to lead the team. If you truly didn't deserve these accomplishments, then others would also be incompetent for having faith in your skills and choosing you.

Mentor someone

You may not realize how much knowledge and expertise you've gained until you share it. Acting as a mentor allows you to see just how much you really know and provides you with the opportunity to help someone gain confidence in their new role.

Share your story

Whether you're starting a new role, or it's one you're already working in, gaining feedback from others can help to validate your strengths. Sometimes just verbalizing your fears can reduce their strength, and you might discover that others who you admire may also suffer from self-doubt.

Review your wins

Keep a file of compliments, positive comments and accomplishments. Review these when you feel like a fraud to validate your abilities.

Stop comparing yourself

The only person we should compare our growth to is ourselves. We each have our own unique strengths and are here to live our life, not theirs. Plus, this is often an inaccurate representation since we are only seeing the surface of their lives.

Strengthen your inner voice

Reduce, or eliminate, using words that reinforce your self-doubt such as, "I'll try", "I think", "Probably." Eliminating starting sentences with these words and speaking more confidently can help nurture our own confidence.

Admit your mistakes

Being wrong doesn't make you a fake, and it takes courage to admit that you made a mistake or that you don't have the answer. This can make you appear more genuine and help you gain respect from your peers.

Move forward

Work toward your goals regardless of your doubts. Use relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness techniques or journaling to help loosen the grip self-doubt holds on your confidence.

Enjoy Your Success

Don't allow imposter syndrome to stop you from starting to work toward achieving your goals, or enjoying the success that you've already achieved. We often spend so much time focusing on today that we forget to look back and see how far we came since yesterday, and consider just how much further we can go. Imposter syndrome might be more common than we realize, but it doesn't mean we should allow it to hold us back.

Maureen Bonatch MSN, RN draws from years of experience in nursing administration, leadership and psychiatric nursing to write healthcare content. Her experience as a fiction author helps her to craft engaging and creative content. Learn more about her freelance writing at and her fiction books at

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Wow, I think this article came at the perfect time in my life.

Thank you for sharing this! It's hard not to be my own biggest obstacle some days.

Specializes in Leadership | Psychiatric Nursing | Education.

I'm so glad it was helpful for you!

I think many members of the NP profession suffer from this. They are ok when it comes to working with pts, then they freeze at the documentation.

Only perfect documentation will suffice, but how do you ever define perfect?

Specializes in Nurse Leader specializing in Labor & Delivery.

I've long realized that I suffer from this. Every time I get a promotion, part of me feels like I've somehow tricked them, and I'm not NEARLY as competent as they seem to think I am, and I'm a big fraud and not qualified for the job I'm in. I know on an intellectual level that it's probably not the case, but it doesn't prevent me from thinking I have no idea what I'm doing and don't deserve to be in the job I'm in.

As I was reading I just kept saying, "yes!" I related so well to this article and could see my thinking all the way through. I've often thought that I shouldn't really have qualified and that I don't know half as much as I should. But maybe I do? I came out with seven distinctions on my exams (Australia) so I must know something, right! lol

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development.

I have struggled with exactly this since getting my MSN. I never saw myself getting a graduate degree - I didn't think I was smart enough or focused enough. There have been no women in my family to advance their education this far, though we have several men with doctorates. My family is extremely patriarchal and I didn't realize how much that has impacted me until learning to function in my new role threw up so many insecurities and so much stress.

This is a great article shedding light on a really common phenomenon. Thanks for putting it out there.