“No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?”  Tom Hanks.  2016.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is defined by Psychology Today as “a psychological term referring to a pattern of behaviour where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud”.  Research in the International Journal of Behavioral Science suggests that a mighty 70% of us will experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in our lifetimes. Imposter Syndrome isn’t a gender thing, although women might discuss it more frequently than men.  And it’s not a middle management thing – in fact it’s really surprising how many highly successful people struggle with it.

Imposter Syndrome can show up in a number of different ways.  A feeling that your accomplishments are undeserved and you are winging it.  A sense of not belonging or fitting in.  A fear that you will get found out and exposed for the incompetent chancer you really are!

Sitting at the core of all of these different presentations is a distortion of reality and an inability to internalise and own our success.

Why do people suffer from it?

Whilst this will vary from person to person, it seems clear that most Imposter Syndrome sufferers will share perfectionist traits developed in childhood.  In Transactional Analysis we might say that you make an early compound decision, “I’m only OK to exist around here if I am perfect”.  It sounds dramatic in adulthood but children make sense of the world in this magical way and these limiting beliefs become hard to shift.  Imposter feelings are then further enforced by the environment.  The expectation to achieve high grades in school, comparison to siblings, competition to achieve a pay-rise or promotion.  At every twist and turn the Imposter Syndrome is further embedded into our Life Script.

5-steps to overcome Imposter Syndrome

  1.  Build awareness of how Imposter Syndrome shows up in your life.  In what situations does it tend to flare up?  With whom?  Notice it and laugh to yourself, “That’s Imposter Syndrome again!”  Don’t beat yourself up or over identify with Imposter Syndrome.  You are not your Imposter Syndrome, it’s just your monkey mind telling you a story.
  2. Challenge the discounting.  Let’s imagine you tell yourself you do not deserve your promotion.  Think about or write down everything that you have done well in order to achieve the step up in role.  If part of your Imposter Syndrome involves putting others on a pedestal, get to know people a bit better.  It won’t take long to realise that you and your boss actually share many of the same issues and insecurities.
  3. Get good at ‘Good Enough’.   Reframe failures as experiments.  Take a few risks and try new things.  Gently teach yourself that it’s OK to be a beginner at something.
  4. Tell someone you trust about your Imposter Syndrome.  It might be helpful for them to point out when you are not being fair or or honest with yourself.
  5. Accept compliments. If you suffer with Imposter Syndrome you are likely to blank out the things you are good at and magnify your areas of development.  For example, when someone praises you, your response might be to say, “Yes but…..” and go on to draw attention to all the things you felt did not go well.  You probably do this without even realising it!  This is my challenge to you:   The next time someone gives you a compliment, take a pause and simply say, “Thank-you”.

What do I need to remember?

Lots of highly successful people suffer from Imposter Syndrome.  Remember, you are not your thoughts and you can control Imposter Syndrome by consistently implementing the 5-steps.  Try and avoid distorted comparisons and if you are struggling, pop this Denis Waitley quote on the fridge:

‘It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.’