Why do I feel like an imposter?

How to Spot if you have Imposter Syndrome…and how to overcome it if you have!

Just recently, the topic of Imposter Syndrome seems to have cropped up a lot, with posts on social media, NatWest have addressed it during a series of interviews between Stacey Dooley and professional women/business owners, plus it was the business topic of discussion at a recent female networking event I attended.  It is also something that I see quite a lot with my female coaching clients…but what is it?

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behaviour where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud, even in the face of success.  Whilst more prevalent in females (NatWest studies showed that two thirds of women thought about starting their own business but held back due to self-doubt), it can affect both men and women alike.


Even though I worked as a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist for 4 years and a Life and Business Coach for 5 years (so fully understand and appreciate the little gremlins and chimps that we all have, running their annoying little commentaries in our heads on a daily basis), I am still surprised by the number of times the tell-tale signs of this syndrome raise their ugly heads.  Whether it’s in members of Senior Leadership teams or women who have been running their own successful businesses for a number of years, it seems that Imposter Syndrome does not discriminate about who it will get under the skin of.


One fellow business owner at a networking meeting I recently attended, shared that she had experienced Imposter Syndrome a number years back.  Whilst still in employment, she had decided to apply for a job with another company as there wasn’t any room for progression with her current employer (lots of older/more experienced people staying in post, waiting out for retirement). The good news was that after interviewing successfully, she was offered the new role, however when advised of the starting salary, she rejected it and said she wanted less as she didn’t feel worthy of that amount of an increase and felt under pressure to perform!  Imagine being the recruiting manager hearing those words and realising what a bargain you were getting!  And that lady went on to realise just what a mistake she’d made in under-valuing her skills and capabilities compared to her new colleagues, who were mainly younger and a lot less experienced than her.  Hopefully a lesson learned and not to be repeated!


What does Imposter Syndrome feel like?

Obviously everyone is different and has their own experiences of this, however Imposter Syndrome typically presents with any number of the following: lack of self-confidence, anxiety, doubts about your thoughts, abilities, achievements and accomplishments, negative self-talk, feelings of inadequacy, dwelling on past mistakes and not feeling good enough.  People often report a sense of dread or foreboding, feeling like they’re metaphorically looking over their shoulders and waiting for someone to tap them there and say “OK Jo, we don’t know how you got in but you don’t belong here, please collect your things and leave”.  This can be despite being knee-deep in qualifications and having a CV of experience worthy of a gold medal or two!


What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

There’s no one specific cause of these feeling of not belonging, however they will often be symptomatic of a set of beliefs that you’ve developed as a result of things you’ve seen/heard/experienced throughout your life.  It could be feeling like you always had to prove yourself against an older sibling when growing up, believing you had to know as much/achieve as many sporting medals as them, even though they were 4 years your senior.  It could be that you had an embarrassing incident where you overheard someone questioning your ability at work.  Perhaps you’ve had to present a project to a Board and got tongue-tied when they asked you some questions, preventing you from answering them properly and this has left you with a negative association about your abilities?


So, what can you do if you recognise these symptoms and think you may be held back by Imposter Syndrome?  One area to address is what’s causing this lack of self-confidence or belief?  With my hypnotherapist’s hat on, there are a number of ways I can help someone to access their sub-conscious, which is where we store all our belief systems, core values and habitual thoughts and behaviours, good, bad and ugly!  By doing this, we can understand what is causing these negative thoughts and emotions and start transforming them into beliefs that support our growth and development now.


And even if you don’t necessarily want to fully understand where the self-doubting talk has come from, you just want to make changes now, stop sabotaging your own success and go after your dreams, you absolutely can!


I’ve shared a couple of techniques to help identify if you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome yourself below.  And if you would like some top tips for boosting your confidence to start overcoming this, take a look at an earlier blog post I wrote on this very topic here .


How to Identify and Overcome Imposter Syndrome

The first step in overcoming Impostor Syndrome is to acknowledge what you’re feeling, and why. Whenever you experience thoughts or feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy, write them down and explain why you’re feeling this way.  Be as specific as possible about each situation.


Grab a copy of my Spot if you Have Imposter Syndrome sheet, which guides you through what to look for and how to capture the thoughts and feelings.


And if you’re really struggling with this and would like some help with overcoming these self-sabotaging thoughts and feelings, so you can start grabbing life with both hands and going for that promotion/new relationship/great client, get in touch for a free, no-obligation chat to see if we’d be a fit to work together!