The Impostor Syndrome


Do you ever feel like a fraud? Do you ever think “I might appear to be highly successful but in reality I’m just winging it”? “I will soon be found out”? Well if you do join the club of thousands of high achievers who feel exactly the same way!

According to Wikipedia “the impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.” It is a term that was coined by psychologists in the 1980’s. It is not to be confused with low self-esteem because there is a discrepancy between the actual achievement and the way people feel about it that may not be present in low self-esteem cases. Psychological research done in the early 1980’s suggested that “two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another.” Early studies have shown that the impostor syndrome affects women more than men although recent studies show it is equally prevalent amongst both genders. Women may be more affected by the impostor syndrome because they tend to be more self-critical, they attribute a lot of their success to external factors and they under-estimate themselves more. Men seem to be better able to brush off feelings of inadequacy when they show up.

Bertrand Russel, a British philosopher, once said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubt.”

But where does this feeling of doubt come from? The irrational feelings that accompany the impostor syndrome can be caused by a host of things. Understanding the reasons behind a feeling allows you to step out of a situation, remove yourself from it and look at it more objectively. The culture, environment and family you grew up in, the school you went to and the way you were raised, all contribute to the fact that you are unable to internalize your success. Your parents or school may have been too demanding that they always pushed you to set the bar higher, so much so that today no matter how successful you are, you never match your own expectations of yourself or your own standards. Attitudes, beliefs, direct or indirect messages we receive as children shape the way we think, behave and feel as adults.

As a result there is always a conversation we are having with ourselves in our head. This self-talk very often contributes to our feelings of inadequacy. It is this self-talk that is referred to in coaching as the voice of the “saboteur”. As defined in the Co-Active Coaching book: “The saboteur concept embodies a group of thought processes and feelings that maintains the status quo in our lives. It often appears to be a structure that protects us, but in fact it prevents us from moving forward and getting what we truly want in life.” We all have many saboteurs, whose initial role was to help us survive in childhood. These saboteurs become the lens through which we see the world that discovering them and realizing they still dictate how we think as adults may come as a complete surprise. Saboteurs are many and come in different shapes and colors. Those saboteurs that are most likely to contribute to the impostor syndrome are the ‘stickler’ or the perfectionist, the ‘hyper-achiever’, the ‘hyper-vigilant’ who is constantly worried about making mistakes and the master of them all the ‘judge’ who is really good at “badgering self for past mistakes or current shortcomings.”*

In her book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women”, Valerie Young says that there are “seven perfectly good reasons you might feel like a fraud: family expectations and messages; being a student; working in an organizational culture that feeds self-doubt; working alone; working in a creative field; being or just feeling like a stranger in a strange land.” It is once you realize that there are many people out there who share your feelings of not being enough and your own self-doubt that you can put your own impostor feelings aside and start looking at it from a more objective and less personal perspective.

No matter how you got to where you are today, in order to ditch the impostor syndrome the key is to find a new self-affirming way to deal with failure, mistakes and criticism. You need to find a way to quiet the voice of your saboteurs especially that of your judge. The best way to do that is to be aware when these voices are showing up and realize in the moment that this is not your true internal voice. Your authentic voice honors your values, owns your successes and encourages you in the face of challenges.

The next time you feel like a fraud, look at yourself in the mirror and remind yourself of all the great things you are and that you bring to the table. Use positive affirmations and never talk yourself down. Most importantly, stop comparing yourself to others “for always there will be greater and lesser persons than you”; love yourself anyway and allow yourself to thrive. You are the real deal and you deserve all the success that comes your way.

Note: * Saboteurs names are borrowed from the book “Positive Intelligence” written by Shirzad Chamine


About Rawan Albina

Rawan is a successful self-made Executive and Leadership Coach who has coached more than 150 individuals from 60 different nationalities all over the Middle East; from middle management to chief executives. She is one of the eleven Professional Certified Coaches (PCC) in the Middle East today. She served for 10 years as a manager and leader with multinationals Tetra Pak and Nestlé. She is passionate about Personal Branding as it perfectly combines her marketing background and coaching expertise. Rawan had her career breakthrough as a coach, trainer and motivational speaker delivering diverse programs to market leaders in the MENA region in English, Arabic and French. She also mentors MBA students and is a registered mentor coach with the ICF. Rawan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Economics and is a graduate of the prestigious Coaches Training Institute. Rawan is certified in the FIRO and WPB5 assessment tools. She is a proud member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC).


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