Imposter Syndrome And How To Slay It



Imposter Syndrome is described by the dictionary as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills”. In other words, failing to believe that we are where we are because of who we are. 

Social research has found that it is far more widespread than we thought and men are even admitting to suffering from it. As many as 82% of people will experience it at some point in their lives. 

So, What Can We Do About It?

It’s happened to me in a few situations so I looked into the scientific research that has looked into the phenomenon. Psychology Today, the go-to publication for the psychology sector, recently published guidelines on things you can do to lessen the feeling of inadequacy. They suggested things such as: 

  • Strongly reflecting on your own concrete achievements. Try logging down three things you did well every evening before bed for a period of a month or two and see how you feel about yourself then.
  • Talking the situation over with someone you trust who is removed from the situation to get another, more balanced view of things. 


What Do The Experts Say?

In other areas, social psychologist, Dr Amy Cuddy gave a groundbreaking TEDx talk in which she outlined how changing the position of your body can make significant, measurable changes in the brain, for the better. 

She explained that by putting your body into strong, powerful poses for two minutes, levels of testosterone increase while levels of cortisol decrease. Put simply, this means that whilst adopting a powerful stance brain chemicals alter to reflect a balance of chemicals you would normally see in confident, powerful people. And this all happens within the two minute period that Amy recommended. 

And these “poses” don’t have to be difficult. She commonly refers to the “Wonder Woman pose” where the iconic actress Linda Carter (remember her – the original Wonder Woman pre-Gal Gadot?) stands with her feet about a foot apart and puts her hands on her hips, draws her shoulders back, lifts her chin and stares back at the world. And for the definitive explanation of the syndrome and how to slay it, view Amy’s TEDx Talk here

One thing that’s comforting about Imposter Syndrome is that it can even hit the women we tend to hold in high esteem. For instance, would you believe that Michelle Obama suffered from it when she first attended Princeton. In the article, she explains how she managed to stop it from precluding her from achieving her dreams (which, given what she has achieved, makes you think she was a tad successful in this)

“I decided to put my head down and let my work speak for itself. I felt like I had something to prove because of the colour of my skin and the shape of my body, but I had to get out of my own way.” 

Michelle Obama


Is It Just Me..?

Also, Stylist magazine recently published a list of 12 successful women in public life who admitted to suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Like Michelle above, you’ll be surprised who admits to being affected by this monster. A-listers such as Olivia Coleman, Penelope Cruz, Emma Willis and a handful of awesome women have talked about how they suffered from crippling self-doubt as they reached the dizzy heights of stardom.  Isn’t it soothing that women who we feel have “made it” still suffer from hang-ups that threaten to de-rail them as much as the rest of us do?  I know I find it empowering, and makes me a tad more accepting to know that doubting yourself in this way is perfectly normal. 

You can read the full article (and get a bit of validation) here. 

To Sum Up…

So, although Imposter Syndrome can sometimes cripple our efforts to strive to achieve the next level etc, there are things we can do about it. Find the best one that suits you, and, if all else fails, be honest enough to admit how you feel to friends and/or family, and I bet you’ll find you’re not the only one. It’s just that, like a lot of things in life that are considered “weak”, it just isn’t talked about. 

Are you brave enough to help change that dynamic and make it more mainstream. If so, you have me right behind you joining you along the journey (sometimes a tough journey, too) as I carry on the task to try and turn down the volume on that very unwelcome passenger as I stroll along life’s pathways. 

I wish you (and me) every success.