top of page

Overcoming imposter syndrome: Understanding and conquering self-doubt

Do you ever feel like a phony, that you may be found out as a fraud, that you don't belong, that you only got where you are through sheer luck? Do you ever feel that you don’t actually deserve what you have?

It is estimated that 70% of people experience these feelings at some point in their lives. My own Twitter poll showed 75% believed they had experienced these feelings.

Commonly referred to as Impostor Syndrome, it can impact all sorts of people from all walks of life. It was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. In their paper, they theorized that women were uniquely affected by impostor syndrome, however since then further research has shown that both men and women experience these feelings.

It can relate to all aspects of your life but commonly people think of imposter syndrome from the perspective of work.

“I don’t know whether other authors feel it, but I think quite a lot do- that I’m pretending to be something that I’m not, because even nowadays, I do not quite feel as though I am an author.” - Agatha Christie

Of course, some self-doubt is common and will impact most people at some point in their life and career. This is especially true when starting a new role, many people will feel a little out their depth and perhaps lack confidence initially. Typically this subsides after a few weeks. Imposter syndrome goes beyond simple self-doubt and occasional crisis of confidence and can have a major impact on your mental health and wellbeing.

Some of the common signs of imposter syndrome include:

  • Self-doubt about past, current, and future experiences.

  • An inability to realistically assess your abilities, competence and skills.

  • Setting challenging goals and then feeling disappointed when don’t achieve these.

  • Attributing your success to external factors, often putting it down to sheer luck.

  • Berating your performance, focussing on small mistakes or on things you feel you could have done better, rather than what you did well.

  • Fear of not living up to the expectations of others as well as yourself.

  • Sabotaging your own success.

  • Procrastination, putting off doing what you need to do for fear of failure

Even when all the evidence points to success or competence, even when you’ve been told by many colleagues that your work and contributions are valued and you are achieving all your goals and objectives, even when you are praised and rewarded, you struggle to actually believe it.

“I still have a little impostor syndrome… It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.” Michelle Obama, reported in Newsweek

Dr. Valerie Young identified specific subgroups in her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women:

  • The Perfectionist – With such high expectations for themselves, even small mistakes will make them feel like a failure.

  • The Superwoman/Superman – Work long hours, never take days off, must succeed in all aspects of life.

  • The Natural Genius – Those who are used to things coming easily, so when something is hard or they struggle to master it. This leads to feelings of shame and self-doubt.

  • The Soloist – Those that don’t like to ask for help. If they do they feel like a failure or a fraud.

  • The Expert – Continuously seeking out additional certifications or training because they feel as though they will never know enough to be truly qualified.

You may fit in to one or many of these categories or just some of the attributes may apply to you.

So why do people experience impostor syndrome?

Some experts believe it has to do with personality traits (anxiety or neuroticism) while others focus on family or behavioural causes. Typically both factors are likely at play.

It is always worth remembering that the only difference between someone with impostor syndrome and someone without it is how they respond to challenges. If these thoughts and feelings are regular and impacting your life and/or work, then it may be time to confront some of the deeply ingrained beliefs you hold about yourself.

  • Acknowledge how you feel. Don’t keep these thoughts at the back of your mind. Confront them, accept them and take action.

  • Talk to other people about how you are feeling. Irrational beliefs will be more impactful if you keep them to yourself. You may not want to speak to your manger, but a trusted colleague or mentor or friend away from the actual situation will happily listen to your concerns.

  • Write down your accomplishments, your skills and experience in an objective way. Focus on facts, not feelings. What is the evidence for how you feel? You will likely realise there is very little actual evidence for how you are feeling.

  • Don't focus on doing things perfectly, sometimes just fine is just fine. There is so much focus on going above and beyond, but they key thing is to get the job done first and foremost.

  • Stop comparing. It is easy to imagine others are excelling in their life and work because of the way they portray themselves. It is impossible to know how they actually feel. They may look at you in the same way!

  • Refuse to let it hold you back. Simply because you feel this way at the moment doesn’t mean you will feel this way in the future.


My Experience

I worked in many years in PR and communications for a range of different organisations. I often felt lucky to have achieved what I did. Only looking back now can I see that my accomplishments were down to my skills and experience. At the time I certainly felt many of the things I would now attribute to imposter syndrome.

Although I always did well (often very well) in my regular appraisals and one to ones, I often had a sense of somehow ‘getting away with it’. I received some significant awards and accolades during my career, yet I felt this was somehow a fluke or a mistake. I perceived others as excelling in their roles, where as I was just keeping my head above water.


Hypnotherapy can be a great help to those who suffer with Imposter Syndrome.

Working together we can make you feel empowered, engaged and energised through hypnosis and related tools and techniques from Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Get in touch for a free consultation to find out how hypnotherapy can help you.

Malcolm Struthers Hypnotherapy - Online and in-person in Dumfries & Galloway


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page