Unmasking Imposter Syndrome: Recognising and Overcoming Self-Doubt
In my work with business professionals, the question of whether one suffers from imposter syndrome is a recurring theme. Imposter syndrome refers to a state of mind in which individuals occupying positions or job roles often feel undeserving, despite having undergone interviews or selection processes and securing the job. It’s the persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, of not truly being capable of the position they hold.
I recently had a conversation with someone who had just been promoted to the role of Head of HR in her organisation. Despite six years of solid HR experience and a CIPD qualification under her belt, she found herself grappling with insecurity and self-doubt in her new role. She used the term “imposter syndrome” to articulate her feelings. On one hand, she knew that her promotion was based on her competence and experience, acknowledged by the organisation’s leaders. However, her internal reality told a different story.
In my decade-long experience working with clients, I’ve observed that imposter syndrome tends to intensify as individuals climb higher in the organisational hierarchy. For instance, I worked with a Finance Director who was exceptionally qualified and had extensive experience in leading finance departments within global organisations. Yet, her self-doubt led her to believe she was an imposter in her role, fearing that one day someone would expose her as unsuitable, despite a rigorous selection process that had led to her appointment.
At its core, imposter syndrome is rooted in a belief that we are not good enough. We may feel inadequate because we perceive ourselves as not qualified enough, not intelligent enough, or we struggle to acknowledge our success and worthiness. Interestingly, when my clients are in roles they’ve held for years, with ample experience and familiarity with their responsibilities, imposter syndrome tends to recede. It’s when they take the next step in their career development that these feelings resurface.
Based on my own experience working as an HR professional for over a decade, I understand that adjusting to a new position takes time. Learning the ropes, understanding the culture, navigating the politics, and grasping the organisation’s processes are all part of the transition. Typically, I believe that it takes around three months to fully acclimate to a new role and organisation. When our inner dialogue is focused on learning and growth, acknowledging that we may not have all the answers yet but that we will get, it creates a different inner reality compared to the inner dialogue of feeling like an impostor or a fraud.
The Signs of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern characterised by persistent self-doubt, a sense of inadequacy, and a fear of being exposed as fraud, despite evidence of your competence or achievements.
Signs of imposter syndrome may include:
- Self-Doubt: Individuals with imposter syndrome often doubt their abilities, even when they have evidence of past success. They may question their competence in their field or specific tasks.
- Perfectionism: A strong desire to be perfect in everything they do, which can lead to procrastination and a fear of taking risks for fear of failure.
- Overachievement: Paradoxically, some people with imposter syndrome may strive for overachievement to prove their worth. They may work longer hours or take on more tasks than necessary to validate their abilities.
- Attributing Success to Luck: They attribute their successes to luck or external factors rather than acknowledging their skills and effort. This can lead to a feeling that they don’t truly deserve their accomplishments.
- Fear of Failure: A deep fear of failure that can be paralysing. This fear often stems from the belief that any failure will confirm their status as an impostor.
- Discounting Praise: People with imposter syndrome may downplay compliments or positive feedback, believing that others are simply being kind or that they don’t see the “real” them.
- Comparing Themselves to Others: Constantly comparing themselves to colleagues or peers and feeling inferior in comparison, even when there’s no basis for such comparisons.
- Difficulty Accepting Constructive Feedback: Struggling to accept feedback, especially criticism, as they may interpret it as validation of their incompetence.
- Setting Unrealistic Goals: Setting overly high or unrealistic goals for themselves, can lead to a never-ending cycle of feeling like they haven’t achieved enough.
- Imposter Syndrome in Different Areas: Imposter syndrome can manifest in various aspects of life, including career, education, relationships, and personal accomplishments.
- Overworking: Some individuals with imposter syndrome may overwork themselves in an attempt to compensate for their perceived shortcomings.
- Mental and Emotional Strain: The constant pressure to live up to self-imposed standards can lead to stress, anxiety, burnout, and even depression.
- Hiding Mistakes: A tendency to hide mistakes or errors to avoid being exposed as less competent than they believe they should be.
It’s important to note that imposter syndrome can vary in intensity, and not everyone will experience all of these signs. Additionally, it can affect individuals regardless of their level of success or competence.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Our perception of ourselves, our internal reality, is shaped by the habitual thought patterns that run through our minds. These patterns of thought can become automatic and conditioned, especially when they revolve around feelings of inadequacy and a lack of competence. Over time, these thought patterns solidify into beliefs that we’re not good enough, not worthy, or simply inadequate. Consequently, these beliefs give rise to feelings of anxiety and fear.
The good news is that thoughts are not set in stone; they can be changed. The brain is a marvel of neural plasticity, meaning it’s malleable and adaptable. One of the most effective ways to transform entrenched thought structures and beliefs is by working directly with the unconscious mind. Think of it as upgrading the operating system of your mind, much like installing a new, improved version in a computer. This process not only changes how you perceive yourself and feel about yourself but also reshapes your identity, one where you unequivocally acknowledge your worth, value, and adequacy.
When helping clients overcome imposter syndrome, I employ a multifaceted approach to elevate their self-identity. I combine coaching and solution-focused psychotherapy to delve into their stories, unveil the truth behind their thought processes, and challenge these limiting beliefs. By guiding their minds to think and wire in new ways, we break down the confines of restricted thinking and open them up to the possibility that they’re inherently worthy and more than good enough.
Moreover, I utilise potent change modalities such as hypnotherapy for imposter syndrome and EFT tapping therapy to engage directly with the unconscious mind. These techniques neutralise and transform old, outdated thought patterns and sow the seeds of new belief structures. Since our external experiences are rooted in our inner reality, there’s no need for external circumstances to change for us to feel differently on the inside.
Clients who’ve harnessed the power of hypnotherapy to conquer imposter syndrome report a profound sense of calm and presence in their daily lives. They effortlessly tap into their innate confidence, recognising their accomplishments and the vast potential they possess within their roles. They shed the fear of being discovered as an impostor, realising that this insecurity often traces back to early experiences, frequently in childhood. These memories and beliefs from the past hold no sway over their true selves; they were merely innocent assumptions formed at a young age. It’s only natural that these thoughts and beliefs have persisted until they decide to embark on a journey to transform their mindset, elevate their self-identity, and believe in their own worth.
So, if you’re ready to unlock your potential, bid farewell to imposter syndrome, and take that monumental step toward transformation, book your free consultation now. Your journey to a more confident, empowered self begins here.
Sara Maude is an Edinburgh Hypnotherapist, Solution-Focused Psychotherapist, EFT Practitioner, Transformational Coach and International Wellbeing Trainer providing in-person and online sessions. Sara provides problem-free therapy which goes deep into the heart of the unconscious mind to create powerful lasting change.