man holding his head confused

Why is it so hard to accept praise?

Do you find it hard to accept praise for something you have done?

What if you receive an excellent mark in an assessment, but your first thoughts are of self-doubt?

“Maybe the assessment wasn’t that hard and that’s why I got a good mark… everyone else probably did too…”

S.T.O.P! See how you’re gaslighting yourself there? This is the imposter complex.

Imposter syndrome can be explained as feelings of inadequacy despite evident success.

What we have read about the imposter phenomenon has highlighted common themes in how it is closely linked to perfectionism, and that it is more common than you think!

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The impostor syndrome is not a clinical disorder recognized by the DSM-V or ICD-10. This is a psychological term first coined by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes in 1978. Research has shown that this syndrome (i.e. a group of symptoms) is usually due to a reaction to certain circumstances or situations, usually when you are learning something new (i.e. a graduate student’s life) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I first heard about the impostor syndrome when I entered my master’s. Our director of clinical training normalized it for us and mentioned that most graduate students feel it at some point in their 6 years of the program. I didn’t think much of it until a year later when I started to experience the symptoms myself. They were manifesting as anxiety and low self worth for me. My coping mechanism was to procrastinate till the very last minute because in my mind, no matter how hard I’d try, I won’t meet the standard of work expected of me anyway. Although these feelings are not completely gone, I have learned to significantly minimize them by 1) talking to my peers and realizing that most of us are feeling similarly and 2) focusing on my progress rather than comparing it with my peers. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Internalizing these symptoms may limit us from going after new opportunities or putting ourselves out there. This is why it is good to recognize that this is a feeling a lot of us go through at one point or another. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you are not alone. Although they tend to subside with time and experience, there are some ways that we can combat these feelings of inadequacy and move through them faster. I will share them with you in my next post💞. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In the meantime, I want to remind you that you know more than you give yourself credit for. Most, if not all, of us experience self-doubt when faced with new challenges. Take care of your mind and body. Love, Nawal ♥️

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Many people (almost everyone) has experienced imposter syndrome in a variety of ways, including:

  • Perfectionism – not recognising your own success because you only see the flaws.
  • Overworking – is also related to perfectionism and can be a way to avoid finishing a task or assessment due to the fear of the outcome of the task.
  • Undermining your achievements – includes procrastination and leaving things till the last minute as a way of putting off a task that might intimate you, and pointing out your mistakes before accepting your success – “oh I don’t like the way I wrote the intro… I could have done that better… but yeah I got a distinction that’s nice…”
  • Fear of failure – similar to the above, putting off starting something, avoiding taking on new challenges, and reluctance to ask for feedback (or even ignoring the feedback on your assessments) as you can’t face potentially failing.
  • Discounting praise – pointing out or comparing yourself to other people’s performance before your own, and assuming praise given is fake or exaggerated.

Imposter complex was first discovered in the 1970s, but many psychologists believe it is becoming much more relevant in our high-pressure and competitive times. Some other factors include pressure from a young age, anxiety and high standards set by us or others.

A study by the International Journal of Behavioural Science highlighted that 70% of people feel like they are “imposters” at least once in their life. Even Oscar-winner Tom Hanks and Emma Watson have publicly spoken about them feeling like an imposter.

Triple J in a recent blog about Imposter Syndrome highlighted how our very own Kevin Parker from Tame Impala has admitted he has imposter syndrome – “I used to have a massive imposter complex,” he told Triple J, “it’s funny I didn’t really cure my imposter complex until I realised it was a ‘thing’. I heard this word ‘imposter complex’ and I was like (omg) I have that.”

Imposter syndrome is not a mental illness, and it is not a disease. It is very normal and very common! However, continually doubting your hard work and success can have you limiting yourself to your full potential!

The imposter complex is something that you can manage. One of the easiest ways to overcome it is to talk about it! Acknowledge your feelings and understand that many successful people you see today have probably felt the exact same as you!

Another really important thing to note is to keep trying! If a task intimidates you, and the fear of failing finds you procrastinating then continue to push yourself! Because the more you face your fears – the smaller they become!

Most times failure is a gift (yeah, we are being serious) because failure isn’t a failure if you see it as a way to learn from it and use it constructively next time.

An example is forcing yourself to look at those (dreaded) comments we receive on our assessments, and realising how super important they are for improving on your next assessment!

And finally – be kind to yourself! You are allowed to make mistakes and you are allowed to forgive yourself – and don’t forget to reward yourself for getting things right!


UNE students can access free counselling through UNE Student Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS). They are fully qualified and registered psychologists, offering on-campus appointments and phone/video chat sessions for online students. The service is confidential and free for UNE students.

You can contact them Monday- Friday, 9am-4 pm, on (02) 6773 2897.

For more urgent assistance, UNE offers After Hours Support on weekdays from 4.00pm to 9.00am AEST, weekends and public holidays. Phone 1300 661 927 or text 0488 884 169. Alternatively, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you have concerns about how stress and mental health are impacting your studies, contact Advocacy & Welfare on (02) 6773 3116 or at advocacy@une.edu.au.