How to overcome “Imposter Syndrome”

by Nicola Middlemiss13 Apr 2015
It’s not uncommon to feel a little unsure when you’re put in an unfamiliar position of power but if you’re always chalking your successes up to luck or giving all the credit to co-workers , you may be suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Here’s how to recover.

The term “Imposter Syndrome” was coined in the 1980s and describes the psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to accept their accomplishments despite external evidence of their success.

Instead of embracing their skill and competency, sufferers remain convinced that they are frauds who are undeserving of their achievements and will soon be found out.

The episodes of self-doubt can strike anyone although they’re prevalent among high-powered women.

Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou once said: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

So if the world-revered Maya Angelou suffers from self-doubt – how can HR professionals hope to get over their own insecurities?

Research psychologist Dr. Denise Cummins says that while “there is no consensus on how to treat imposter syndrome,” there are still tools sufferers can use to ease their uncertainties.

Own your successes 

“People who suffer from Impostor Syndrome don’t internalise successes. They are more likely to attribute their successes to luck or help received from others,” explains Cummins.

“Just don’t do it,” she urges. “Own your successes. They are yours, even if you got a little bit lucky or had help from others.”

Own your thoughts 

“Impostor syndrome thrives on self-criticism. The more you find fault with yourself and your performance, the more you create a fertile field in which impostor syndrome can take root and flourish,” reveals Cummins.

The only way to combat this, according to Cummins, is to actively concentrate on a particular strength when you realise your brain is focusing on a weakness.

“Whenever an unhelpful self-doubt threatens to invade your thoughts, shift your focus to one of your strengths or your successes—and really focus on those,” she says.

Accept their existence 

Anxiety, fear, stress, doubt – they’re all entirely unenviable feelings but everyone has them and as long as you don’t let them breed, you’ll keep control.

“Accept that everyone everywhere—no matter how successful—experiences the self-doubt that underlies Impostor Syndrome,” says Cummins.

“It is part and parcel of becoming accomplished and successful. There is nothing unusual or wrong about feeling these things. Leave no cognitive space for them to grow, and you will regain control.”


  • by Suzanne Mercier 13/04/2015 3:23:53 PM

    Thanks Nicola for raising an important subject. I'm delighted to see the subject raised more frequently in the press and to find that often a majority of participants in my workshops and masterclasses have heard of the imposter syndrome. The syndrome is a totally distorted self-view where the individual fails to see what he/she offers (qualities and capabilities) or fails to understand the value of those qualities and capabilities. After all, if they feel that they're not good enough and they can do XYZ, it can't exactly be rocket science.

    Understanding they are experiencing the syndrome and that around 70% of people do from time to time, is liberating. People no longer feel they're alone, separate and not good enough. They start to understand that it is a belief that they can examine and challenge.

    The 3 steps to move forward are fine in as far as they go. Before we can acknowledge and claim our successes, we need to understand that we had something to do with them. Before we can do that, we need to understand and accept the qualities and capabilities that are uniquely ours in their combination.

    Self-criticism is certainly an outcome of feeling that we're not enough. A way to help people move past the judgement they impose on themselves is to recognise that the feeling of not being enough is actually a call to action; a call to evolve to the next stage of our human development. Like anything in life, it's not what happens, it's what we do about it. We can hear the call and step up (learn what we need to, take on new skills, go for stretch opportunities, be adventurous or whatever it takes to get us to the next level) or we can perceive the call as a signal that we aren't enough and pull back inside our comfort zones. It's a choice that we're making albeit unconsciously. The opportunity is to listen to what we're saying to ourselves and question it. We can question what triggered the criticism and in doing that, we can uncover some of the beliefs we hold that may not be serving us.

    The final area of accepting the existence of fears and doubts is absolutely true. However, I do believe we can challenge those fears and doubts to understand why they exist. If they are the natural fears associated with doing something we haven't done before, fine. If they are fears based on the feeling that who we are and what we can do is not enough, then I believe the possibility of living up to our own potential requires that we examine and challenge them.

    If anyone wants more information on the Imposter Syndrome, please visit, an information site dedicated to understanding the imposter syndrome and what lies beyond it.

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