Impostor syndrome - the 'not good enough' phenomenon

Research has shown that up to 70% of people will suffer from impostor syndrome at some point in their lives. It is more prevalent in women, but men also experience it, and it especially affects high-achievers and successful people, from actors and executives to business owners and writers. Michelle Obama has recently admitted to having suffered from it, so what actually is it?

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a pattern of thoughts and underlying beliefs causing a person to worry that they’re not good enough to be in the position or role that they're in. People that suffer from impostor syndrome have great difficulty believing that they deserve their success. Often, on the surface, they appear to be performing well, but they tend to experience a persistent and underlying fear that any minute now they will mess it up and get found out! Impostor syndrome is linked to perfectionism and a fear of failure, and sufferers may also experience anxiety, a lack of confidence, and/or depression.

This psychological condition was first written about and named in 1978 in an article by two psychologists - Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They interviewed 150 high-achieving women, and found that despite consistent evidence of external validation (degrees, top jobs, recognition of excellence by colleagues), these women lacked the internal acknowledgement of their accomplishments. They tended to explain and attribute their achievements to luck, or being in the right place at the right time, rather than recognising that their success was down to their own qualities, capabilities, efforts, or skills.

Signs and symptoms of impostor syndrome

  • If you’re suffering from impostor syndrome, you may experience anxiety around performing certain actions or just general anxiety about the job or role that you’re in.
  • You may avoid taking on tasks like presenting, public speaking, sharing your content on social media, or putting yourself forward for a promotion.
  • You may find it really uncomfortable to ask for the money you deserve for the work you do. 
  • You may work far too hard or become a people pleaser to make up for your belief that you’re not worthy.
  • You may procrastinate tasks or, on the other end of the scale, you may over-prepare for them, feeling that you need to cover every single detail to be good enough.

Rationally, people know that they possess the experience, skills, and qualities to be where they are in their career or life, but there is an underlying feeling that they are not capable, or are faking it and are going to get found out. Some examples include;

  • Your business wins an award and you think it must be because there was a lack of other candidates nominated.
  • You make a great sale and you think it must be a fluke and nothing to do with all the effort you’ve already put in to achieve the new client.
  • You’re about to talk to a group about your specialist subject and you worry that the audience will ‘see through’ you and realise that you don’t know anything!

What causes impostor syndrome?

The feeling of not being good enough is normally linked to a limiting belief we have picked up in early life. This early ‘programming’ is caused by messages we absorb from our environment, and the people and attitudes that are around us. We are too young to ‘filter’ or rationalise whether these messages are true or not. Even though limiting beliefs causing a lack of confidence or self-worth often start when we are very young, we carry them in our subconscious minds for years. The good news is these negative thoughts can be challenged and transformed into more positive ones. In other words, our negative ‘programming’ can be re-programmed into positives by using some conscious and subconscious tools and techniques.

How can people suffering help themselves?

If you feel that you suffer from impostor syndrome, you can help yourself in the following ways;   

  • Talk about it - don’t keep it inside, talk to someone you trust about what you’re experiencing. This will ease the burden and help you to realise that some of your fears are probably unfounded.
  • Realise you are not alone! Many, many people suffer from a lack of confidence at some point in their lives. Knowing that you’re not the only one can make you feel more connected with others and less absorbed in your own thoughts.
  • Write down your achievements, qualities, and skills. This helps to challenge any limiting beliefs and show you that you really are capable, experienced enough and good enough to be in the well-deserved position you’re in.

How does hypnotherapy help?

As well as the tools above, which are at a conscious level, on a subconscious and deeper level hypnotherapy can really help. We can access the root cause of the feeling of being ‘not enough’, and help the person to understand when and why this limiting belief started. With the understanding that this belief is often outdated and false, the person is free to let it go and move forward positively. A personalised hypnotherapy recording can be provided, and should be listened to daily for at least 21 days. This audio will install new, positive and empowering beliefs to replace the old behaviours and thoughts. This deeper work can be likened to ‘pulling out the root of a problem so that we can plant new seeds’, and affect long-lasting and profound change.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Written by Becca Teers, DIP CBH MNCH (Reg) CNHC (Reg) GHR RTT
London SE22 & NW1

Becca Teers DIP CBH MNCH (reg) CNHC (reg) GHR

Author, therapist, trainer and speaker.

Hello and thanks for reading. I'm an author, cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, certified RTT & NLP practitioner and holistic therapist. I am passionate about helping my clients to overcome limiting beliefs and to empower them to make positive change.

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