It’s a term used fairly widely in the mindset and psychology space, but what is Imposter Syndrome? In this post, I’m going to clarify and answer what it is, how does it develop? how do you know if you have it? And give you my 5 effective tips on how to stop feeling like an imposter. Let’s dig in.
So what is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome describes the little voice in the back of your mind that wonders when you’re going to be found out. The voice that thinks you’re unsuitable, you don’t belong, you’re not qualified enough, not prepared enough, and generally not good enough, you’re a fraud – you get the picture.
It’s surprisingly common for people to feel imposter syndrome, but rare that people speak about it. Spread evenly between females and males, it’s thought that anywhere up to 82% of people suffer from imposter syndrome at sometime in their lives 
I can distinctly remember a time when I was studying for a PhD, I was sitting in front of my computer, papers and journals in front of me, and I looked around the room at the other 3 students.
They were busy tapping away at their keyboards, deep in work and I remember thinking “I wonder how long before they realise I don’t belong here and they’ve made a huge mistake”.
My stomach flipped over and I felt myself shrink in my chair. I always worked at full capacity to make up for my perceived lack of credentials, intelligence and capability, terrified I’d fail and prove myself right, they’d made a mistake and I was a fraud.
As it so happens, my illness relapsed and I never got to feel differently in that situation… but that’s another story!
Yet, imposter syndrome followed me as I started recovering, and reared its head again as I ventured into self-employment and entrepreneurship.
How do you know if you have imposter syndrome?
Ok, let me ask you this – do you:
- Doubt yourself?
- Fear you’ll be found out?
- Have a sense that you’re just not smart, creative or capable enough?
- Lack confidence in your ability to carry out the task/role you’re doing?
Are any if these also true?:
- You’ve achieved a high level academically
- You are in a position of power or authority
- You have a personality that drives you to be and achieve more
- You are an over-worker, always pushing that bit further
- You dismiss your successes and wins
If you answered yes to a few of these (hands up, who got a full set?) it’s highly likely you’re suffering with imposter syndrome!
But don’t worry, it is possible to overcome, and I’ll talk about that a little later.
How does imposter syndrome develop?
There are many differing views around how people develop imposter syndrome, but it seems to stem from childhood.
For some it’s parents who praised and prioritised what they achieved and accomplished in school, rather than who they were or how they behaved. Whilst others were surrounded by perfectionists, or high achievers and were constantly comparing themselves.
However it develops, imposter syndrome is not a mental health condition, but a set of limiting beliefs that negatively alter the perception of the person experiencing it.
The good news is that these beliefs, when tested, are invariably not true. In fact the opposite is often the case!
These imposter beliefs are held by high achievers, people that are highly capable, in positions of authority, and have achieved a level of success in their lives.
But they tend to always strive for more, and often overwork to compensate for their perceived failings. Outwardly, most people would see someone with their shit together, looking confident, capable and in control.
That’s because a lot of people with imposter syndrome are
a) actually really good at what they do (they just don’t believe they are) and
b) wearing a ‘mask’ of confidence and competence – feeling like they’ll fake it until they make it.
A lot of people with imposter syndrome are:
- perfectionists with a fear of failure,
- epic procrastinators – ‘cause if you don’t start then you can’t get it wrong (I see you ;))
- often self deprecating or dismissive, especially when praised.
Can imposter syndrome lead to depression?
The easy answer is yes. Imposter syndrome can lead to depression…and anxiety…and burnout!
All that self doubt, low self-esteem and wobbly self-confidence can have a knock-on effect on so many aspects of your life.
Living with imposter syndrome, wearing the mask of confidence to compensate for feeling anything but, is exhausting.
And, when that little doubting, chastising voice in your head doesn’t shut up, even when you’re ‘off the clock’, then the feeling of fear and dread can be toxic.
With a mind stuck in the past, ruminating over all the things you could have done better that day, you find your focus on the mental movie of regret and missed opportunities…..on the things that have gone, in the past and you no longer have control over.
When you compensate, and think about the future, you organise and create a list of things you need to do, things you need to learn, people you need to contact, errands you need to run…and the list goes on.
You end up future-pacing, and problem solving so many things, knowing you’ll want to do all of them to the best of your ability, and end up drowning in a sea of anxiety and a feeling that you just can’t cope…..
…which just goes to affirm the feeling that you’re an imposter and you’re not as good as everyone thinks you are.
This cycle of agonising over the past and worrying about the future, all the time feeling a fraud and waiting for the day you’ll be discovered, is exhausting – it’s no wonder that over time burn out becomes a reality of so many with imposter syndrome.
Yet, even with all this, all is not lost!
How to stop feeling like an imposter
With the root of imposter syndrome lying in your thoughts and beliefs, it means overcoming it is available to all.
My 5 effective tips for treating imposter syndrome are:
Be aware of your thoughts and the internal monologue that goes on in your mind. Hear that little voice. For so many it’s such an integral part of their day they don’t always hear the voice of their thoughts anymore. If you struggle to be aware of the voice itself, then you may find it easier to feel the reaction to the thought. Notice when your stomach flips, your heart sinks, you feel like shrinking into yourself – however the feelings of being an imposter show up for you. Then notice what you were thinking about.
Once you have an awareness of the imposter in your mind, and you ‘hear’ the thought, I want you to reframe it. You can do this by affirming facts that are counter to the thought.
For example, you think “I can’t put myself out there, I don’t know enough yet” and you can reframe it as “I have all the skills I need, I have studied, trained and been certified, I know more than enough to help others”
3. Feel and Release
Now you’re aware of how you feel, I want you to give yourself permission to let it go. Yes, you may feel you didn’t measure up during the day, but I want you to notice that feeling and forgive your perfectionism. You set such high expectations for yourself. Do you expect the same from others? No? Then let it go. You’re human, you’re not a machine.
4. Plan and simplify
When you find yourself future-pacing and planning to the nth degree, do a brain dump. Get everything out of your head and on to paper, then pick the top 3 things that you want to achieve tomorrow…and let the rest go. Tomorrow hasn’t come yet, you only have control over what you do and how you think now. Take a deep, slow breath, and as you exhale just let your body relax.
5. Find some support
Having someone to talk to is a must.
Being able to talk through your thoughts and how you feel can be a great support in helping you recover from imposter syndrome. But there’s a caveat, choose someone who is able to help you through it, to listen without judgement and acknowledge how you’re feeling – not someone that will spiral with you.
For many, a mentor or coach is the perfect solution. Someone who’s been through it and can help you work on and maintain self-car. Someone who can coach you through any wobbles, and help you address and reframe the underlying beliefs at the root of your imposter syndrome.
Hypnotherapy is a particularly useful tool to help address the subconscious beliefs and childhood programming, dealing with imposter syndrome at its root.
Complementary coaching supports the mind at an everyday conscious level, breaking the habits of thought and reshaping how you see and value yourself in the world. Also allowing you to realign your beliefs with facts rather than the imposter you see yourself as.
Overcoming imposter syndrome leaves you with powerful self-confidence, self-belief and a greater sense of security in your life.
So, there you have it – What is imposter syndrome? – as you’ve read, imposter syndrome is a set of limiting, negative beliefs about yourself, usually developed in childhood that, with a little work, you can overcome. When you stop feeling like an imposter you gain greater self-confidence, self-belief and a deeper sense of security in your life. Living life, confident in yourself and your abilities is a feeling that sets you free.
How does imposter syndrome show up in your life, and how to do you manage it? I’d love to know so please let me know in the comments.