What is imposter syndrome?

Hello, my name is Amanda and I am a recovering imposter

Go to the profile of Amanda Cookson
Sep 27, 2019
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Have you ever turned down an opportunity because you told yourself you weren’t good enough to do it?

Have your friends suggested you go for a promotion or start a business, but you personally struggle to see why they would think you could ever do that?

Does nagging doubt keep you up late ruminating over the work you have done or reworking things that everyone else thinks are fine?

Or if you’re honest with yourself, does the fear of not being good enough keep you frozen in inactivity — until the last minute.

If any of this sounds like you then you are not alone. An estimated 70% of all high achievers will experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives.

We all have hopes, dreams and aspirations, but very few of us achieve our full potential. I have been battling against Imposter Syndrome for most of my career and rather than stay hiding behind my fears I have started writing to help people like me and my clients, worry a little less and thrive a whole lot more.

So what is Imposter Syndrome?

It is a collection of feelings around the idea of ‘not being good enough’. This limiting belief undermines confidence and creates self-doubt, which in turn triggers stress responses, anxiety and a whole host of unhelpful behaviours. Rather than feeling like an Imposter all of the time, people with Imposter Syndrome will tend to have their imposter experiences triggered by particular activities or situations. It is also important to note that it doesn’t come from incompetence or low self-esteem. It is a false belief by people who are perfectly capable, that they don’t deserve their successes

Imposter Syndrome was first identified in 1978 by professor Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes. They noted the phenomenon in female post graduate students, but later research has shown that it impacts men as much as women.

Pauline Clance has later said ‘It’s not a syndrome or a complex or a mental illness, it’s something almost everyone experiences’.

Why high achievers?

Imposter Syndrome is common in high achievers with an estimated 70% of people having an imposter experience at some point in their career. High achievers tend to change jobs and career, take on more responsibility, push boundaries and lead from the front. All of these are situations where we can feel exposed. An imposter experience is when a perfectly competent and capable person underestimates their ability, doubts they are good enough to do what they are doing and feels like a fraud. This fear, if left unchecked can lead to burn-out and other stress related issues.

Some of my clients have told me they don’t want to lose their imposter feelings because it fuels their drive and gives them their edge. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are no benefits to feeling not good enough. Your imposter feelings may feel like they are protecting you from failure, but they are not, they are not your friend.

Someone driven by their feelings of being an imposter will never reach their full potential or fully thrive in whatever role they achieve.

3 Reasons Why Imposter Syndrome Can Hold you back

  1. You don’t own your success — a key success habit is being able to celebrate your success — it triggers the reward centre in the brain and helps to motivate you to do more. It also helps to support a more positive sense of self. When you are driven to move away from a fear or a negative it has a lower motivational pull.
  2. Staying Safe — growth is by its very nature outside of your comfort zone. If you aren’t able to get comfortable with being uncomfortable — doing new things and taking risks is going to feel impossible.
  3. Isolation — keeping quiet about how you feel and your fears creates distance and isolation from others. The list of things that ‘should’ be done contributes to a sense of shame. You can’t be yourself, you can’t be an authentic leader and you are not letting yourself be seen.


Go to the profile of Amanda Cookson

Amanda Cookson

Founder, Northern Value Creators

I'm an experienced Professional Coach working in the tech, digital and creative sector. I work with founders and senior leaders, combining understandings from neuroscience, psychology and Conversational Intelligence® to help people at all levels of the business flourish and reach their full potential. Prior to becoming a professional coach and establishing my own consultancy I was a part of the SMT for a global leader in adult learning, e-learning and e-assessment. I have expertise in business excellence; customer experience; organisational change; and teaching and learning. I have had a lifelong interest in personal development and firmly believe that we can make whatever we want happen. I received my first training in coaching in 2001 and from then on have honed my skills and embodied coaching into my approach to leadership. My Coaching Style is client lead. I use deep listening to create high levels of trust and psychological safety. I draw upon my extensive knowledge of coaching techniques and philosophies; alongside understandings from neuroscience to intuit the right approach for my clients to achieve the transformations they seek. I believe change comes from awareness, acceptance of responsibility, understanding our choices and taking decisive action. I support my clients across their personal change journey and help them to gain greater insights, perceive wider choices and develop effective strategies

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