Imposter Syndrome

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

“I feel like I have the word ‘fraud’ written on my head, and everyone can see it.”

“People say I’m great, but I’m not and I’m terrified of the day when they find me out.”

“My colleagues find it so easy, I find the job so hard and I’m such a mess!”

The phrases and sentiments above might be familiar to you if you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome was first described in the 1970s, and continues to be a topic of interest and research today.  It seems to be especially common amongst high-achieving young women.

Imposter Syndrome is the pervasive belief that you are a fraud.  That your achievements count for nothing and you don’t deserve success and rewards.  It makes it difficult to enjoy the results of success.  It also increases your workload greatly as you try to ‘prove’ yourself.  Perhaps people have told you that you are your own worst critic?  Or that you’re a “perfectionist“?

You might be surprised by how many people you respect and admire feel this way – a number of successful authors, artists and actors have spoken publicly about their experiences of Imposter Syndrome.

So how can you get out of this hole?

For a start, it is worth examining where your beliefs about your success and achievements come from and what your thoughts are.  Ask yourself what it is that prevents you from accepting the praise and rewards you have earned, and why you don’t feel like you really earned them.  For example, you might be hesitant to accept praise because you relied on other people to help you with some of the work.  However, does anyone ever truly achieve anything alone?  What would you think if Mo Farah said he didn’t actually deserve or want any accolades because his family and trainers and nutritionists and so on had helped him?  You might think it a strange thing for him to say… and yet you might be telling yourself the same things with respect to your own achievements.

Were you brought up to “not blow your own trumpet”?  Were you told it was “arrogant” to be proud of yourself?  Have you internalised those messages to the point where you punish yourself for even acknowledging your achievements?

Which brings us onto the net important point – are you kinder to others about their success than you are to yourself?  Why?  What are your beliefs and experiences of success, your own and others’, and how has that affected the way you are now?

Do you feel that showing pride in your achievements will hurt someone else?  Can you see a way to balance things, so your bigging-up of others does not come at a harsh cost to yourself?

What would you say to your best friend?  What would you best friend say to you?  Are these messages the same as the messages you give to yourself?  Why?

Do you magnify small errors, so they eclipse what you’ve done right?  Do your errors grow so large in your mind that they discount the correct bits?

Are you actually more afraid of success than you are of failure? That might sound weird, but consider – success might mean more responsibility, more expectations to live up to, more attention.  Do those things scare you?  Do they scare you so much you’d rather downplay your worth and achievements than risk accepting those things?

As I suggested before, “Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides“.  That is also part of overcoming imposter syndrome.  Recognise that most people, no matter how confident they appear, also doubt themselves and their abilities.  The trouble is, our fear of being vulnerable as a result of Imposter Syndrome means we don’t often say so!

If you would like to discuss this issue and work on overcoming Imposter Syndrome in counselling, please contact me to book and appointment.

Note: the quotes at the top of this post are from imagination, inspired by various other articles and celebrity interviews.