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Imposter syndrome and 6 top tips for dealing with it.

As a coach working with people going through life's transitions, career changes crop up often and along with that some people then experience imposter syndrome.

Here is a slightly more in depth blog about imposter syndrome: how it affects us, why and when it occurs and how *N.L.P. can be a BIG help!

What is it and how can it affect us?

Imposter syndrome can affect all of us at some point in our life. It happens when we are faced with a new responsibility or are given a sense of prestige, importance or wisdom. This frequently occurs in work situations and is therefore quite common. It's a time when we feel inadequate, unable to perform or do the work that is required because we feel we are not good enough. We believe that sooner or later someone is going to find out what a complete fraud we are and it's only a matter of time before they do. At its very worst it could put you in a constant state of fear, which manifests itself in many ways:

hyper vigilance

being constantly on alert

poor sleep

lack of focus

withdrawal from social situations

even depression

Physical symptoms can include

teeth grinding

nail biting

over eating

under eating

any of which can lead a feeling of total exhaustion if lasting too long.

If we are trapped in imposter syndrome, we may not notice information that tells us we are capable and doing well.

In The School of Life's video it states imposter syndrome may come from childhood when we compare ourselves as infants to competent and capable adults around us.

From an early age we begin to compare ourselves to those around us and see what they do better.

How can they drive a car?

How can they fix things so easily when I've broken them?

This has weight to it of course, but with a N.L.P. approach we don't dwell too long in the past on negative experiences. We also acknowledge that there is a world of difference between a 4 year old and a 40 something year old!

As ever with an N.L.P. approach, we can look at how something works and what you are doing and thinking in order for it to happen effectively. To work, imposter syndrome relies on a few things:

The idea that we can read others minds and know what they are thinking

A continued desire and/or need to compare ourselves to others.

Some language and internal dialogue that implies incapacity to do the task you are given such as 'overwhelming, crippling, powerless, incompetent, useless' etc.

In N.L.P. terms there are also several other things going on here:


As humans we cannot possibly process all the information that is all around us. In order to make sense of the world we have to delete some pieces of information, such as the background noise when we are listening to a lecture, say. This keeps us sane! However we can also choose to delete (often unconsciously) information that does not serve our purpose. If we are trapped in the imposter syndrome we may not notice information that tells us we are capable and doing well. This might be a passing comment by a colleague, or a positive affirmation on something we contributed in class.


We generalise information based on our selected experiences- we can only know what we have experienced not anyone else.

'No-one will be listening to me - they never do.'

'I always stumble over my words when I am presenting, everyone else is better than me.'

are both examples of generalising.


We distort information based on our experience of it- for example an exciting ride on a roller coaster elicits very different responses from people. A mile long stare from a colleague after a presentation does not necessarily mean your talk wasn't good - it might be just the opposite! It may be it has really made them think. Or perhaps they are consumed with something deep and personal of their own. We can only see things from one perspective.

Under this umbrella of distortion is also mind reading. You actually convince yourself that you know what other people are thinking. You can get inside their head! All those thoughts they carry around about you - you know them all!

There is also the idea of attaching meaning to certain actions or behaviours of others. You start to attribute meaning to their actions: e.g. Jay didn't compliment me on my presentation, therefore they thought it was rubbish. Alex has avoided me all day - they must have some bad news they don't want to pass on.

Interestingly when comparing yourself to others you may well dismiss the idea that many other humans have similar thoughts and anxieties.

Catastrophising. You think the worst will happen. You therefore start to behave as if it will. Your behaviour then starts to impact on your physicality - how you walk, talk, move etc. What a cycle to be caught in! Anyone who has seen the excellent Amy Cuddy talk will know that your body language has an impact on how you feel and think.

Only one perspective. Again you are looking at things through your lens only. You cannot possibly know the exact thought of others. In N.L.P. terms *'the map is not the territory'. We cannot possibly know the exact thoughts of others and how they perceive us, unless we ask them. The thing is imposter syndrome doesn't offer you that opportunity. It leaves that important step out.

'the map is not the territory' which means that the description of an event is not the absolute truth about it but is merely the perception of the person describing the event! from www.

Comparison. Comparing yourself to others is quite an unhelpful thing to do in any circumstances. You are you. Not the other person. Your life and experiences are not the same as anyone else's. Interestingly when comparing yourself to others you may well dismiss the idea that many other humans have similar thoughts and anxieties to you!

So where does this leave us if we are experiencing imposter syndrome?

  1. We have to loosen our thinking a little first. We need to accept that we don't possess the gift of knowing exactly the thoughts and minds of others.

  2. We need to see things from another perspective.

  3. We need to establish what we do know and what skills we bring. A simple flip of the negative to the positive.

  4. There has to be some awareness of the language we are using when describing or thinking about the situation/job/role/task. This has the capacity to make a HUGE impact.

  5. Look at your metrics for comparison. The measures we use when comparing ourselves to others need to be scrutinised. For example: What value are you placing on academic qualifications? Or affability? Wit? Speed of completing a task? Coming up with good ideas?

  6. Just by acknowledging you have imposter syndrome means you are highly aware. This is actually a valuable quality which could usefully be deployed elsewhere.

Much of this will make sense to you. My experience has shown that it is often hard to 'do the work on yourself' however aware you are. We need an objective outsider who has completely got your back and is on your side with no judegments.

Aha! That would be a coach - me!

If you are finding that imposter syndrome is making things difficult for you and would like some help, do get in touch.

t: 07501817739

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