Imposter Syndrome makes a very frequent and common appearance in the early stages of many of my client coaching calls.  This might be surprising to some, since I work with a lot of highly successful women.

I just don’t feel good enough.’, said the Executive Board member.

I don’t want to speak up, others seem to be more confident and know much more than I do.’, said the highly regarded medical tutor.

I still don’t think I’m really very smart.’ said a client with a Masters degree.

Honestly, I’m scared they’ll find out I’m no good, said another coaching client who’d avoided going for promotions for over 10 years.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?  Perhaps you’ve seen it in action, in a colleague or friend.  Maybe they’re words you say or think of yourself.

These kind of phrases have something in common – they’re all spoken by people with Imposter Syndrome.  And, sadly, it’s rife, especially in successful women.  It seems that despite the brilliance and capability that everyone else can see and admire, many people carry an inner torment that makes them feel pretty crappy about themselves.

As life coaching clients of mine have uttered these or similar phrases, I nod in empathy, I know exactly how they feel.  I’ve been there myself.  They feel stuck and don’t know how to get out of this self-defeating spiral.  But I also smile and know that together we can overcome it.  They just need to understand how to deal with it.

Seemingly success does not equal self-belief or self-worth, so I wanted to explain more about Imposter Syndrome and share some tried and trusted advice on how to overcome it.  

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is where someone feels like they’re not good enough, despite their achievements, status or successes.  They doubt, undermine or cannot recognise their capability, competence and intellect and don’t believe they’re worthy of success.  They think and worry that they’ll be discovered as the fraud they believe themselves to be. In a nutshell, they think negatively of and don’t believe in themselves. 

Classic signs of Imposter Syndrome

If you experience any of the following on a frequent basis you’ve fallen into the Imposter mind-trap:

  • You don’t believe you’re good enough, you doubt or harshly critique your own abilities
  • You compare yourself to others and don’t feel as good or as deserving as them
  • You believe any successes or achievements to date were a fluke or good luck 
  • You procrastinate over or avoid the things you really want or need to be doing (also known as self-sabotage)
  • You worry you’ll be ‘found out’ as incompetent or inadequate in some way
  • You’ll be the first to put yourself down with a self-deprecating remark or rebuff of a compliment
  • You seek external validation to feel good or make decisions, always seeking others’ ideas, input, feedback, advice or counsel but are left feeling confused, frustrated or disappointed.
  • You try to be perfect, productive, in-control and confident all the time and feel exhausted trying to keep up the facade.
  • You never settle and keep doing more (gaining qualifications or experience, working harder or longer hours, micro-managing others) in a bid to feel competent but nothing seems to make you feel good enough 
  • You don’t believe you deserve to or can be successful and fulfilled

Does this sound like you? 

Any or all of these symptoms can crop up in your work-life, your relationships, as a parent, a carer, a friend.  They can hit you consistently, sporadically, or at different times in your life. Imposter Syndrome has no boundaries. We’re all prone to it as human beings, but those people who suffer from its affects just don’t know how to recognise and deal with it properly and see it for what it really is.

So if you recognise yourself in the signs above, this is great news because the first step to overcoming Imposter Syndrome is to be aware that it’s happening.

The impact of Imposter Syndrome

The Inner Imposter has a lot to answer for.  It’s debilitating and is one of the biggest things limiting your life and happiness.  

Sadly, it’s often the cause of:

  • Crippling unworthiness, self-doubt and inner unhappiness and discontent
  • Not putting yourself forward for promotions, opportunities or new challenges
  • Feeling stuck, frustrated, unfulfilled and resentful.
  • Stress, anxiety, burnout, insomnia
  • Staying out of the limelight, not being visible, holding yourself back and limiting yourself
  • Settling for ‘this’ being as good as it gets, when so much more and so much better is available to you.
  • Intense and constant worry where you even believe and accept you’re just a worry-wort, it’s just who you are.

What causes Imposter Syndrome

Fear is the main driver behind Imposter Syndrome. Fear of failure, fear of being excluded, fear of disappointment, fear of rejection, fear of shame … the list goes on.  Fear is an emotion, which means it drives how we think and consequently how we behave.  It can be really helpful to keep us safe, to keep us alert, but in modern times what we fear often isn’t ever going to happen in reality, kill us or cause us harm. In the case of Imposter Syndrome, the fear is subconscious and/or unquestioned, it clouds your judgement and rational mind often without you realising.  It causes you to attach a meaning to the fear you’re feeling, which isn’t actually true.  

Imposter-inducing fear can be triggered in a number of different ways:

  • Being in a competitive work environment
  • Facing a new challenge, like a new level of responsibility or taking on an important project
  • Experiencing a significant life change, like redundancy, parenthood, promotion, losing someone special
  • Feeling different in some way from the rest of the group, e.g. being the only female or person of colour, being a different age to everyone else
  • Having personally set high standards perhaps as a consequence of actual or perceived parental or societal expectations of you

In each of these scenarios, you can see how any fear or anxiety rising inside of you can be interpreted to mean ‘I might fail’, ‘I will be excluded’, ‘I’m going to disappoint’, ‘I’ll be rejected’ or ‘I will be shamed or caught out for not being good enough’.  You can understand how and why you therefore get stuck, procrastinate, work harder or worry and get caught up in a vicious cycle.  And hopefully you can also recognise the imposter and the fear for what they are – they’re just protection mechanisms to keep you safe from perceived harm.  The truth is you are not an imposter and your fear is not real.  

So now that you can see the ‘Imposter‘ through a new lens, you can recognise the signs, change your view of fear, and more importantly, choose to change how you see yourself.  You can actually take charge and ditch this unhelpful cycle and the untrue stories that you’re telling yourself.  How liberating that is!  Imagine a life where anything IS truly possible for you!

If you’d like support to overcome Imposter Syndrome and reclaim your inner confidence and self-belief here’s how I can help you further:

With love,

Jo xx