Suffering from impostor syndrome?

Do you (or your clients) suffer from impostor syndrome? It’s only too common, the feeling experienced by successful individuals occupying positions of leadership and power. They struggle with feeling as though they’ve faked it all this time, that they don’t actually know what they’re doing, that their success is somehow not real.

Research shows that up to 70% of professionals have succumbed to such thoughts, so if you have clients who have ever felt this way — that someday they’ll be found out as having actually not been equipped, ready, educated enough or intelligent enough to be in your position, despite the hard work you’ve poured out over the years — let them know they’re not alone.

And because people are so afraid of being “discovered,” impostor syndrome is rarely discussed openly. 

This can be damaging, because if left undiscussed and unresolved, it can significantly affect the individual and his or her subordinates and colleagues. Impostor syndrome can lead to debilitating stress, fear of failure, lack of confidence and extreme anxiety around one’s performance. A perfectionist may find themselves unable to keep going, while others may procrastinate. Others may find themselves overwhelmed and overworked in an effort to cover up what they feel are their imperfections. Others may micromanage, again, shielding their own insecurities. 

If you’re a coach with clients who have admitted to feeling impostor syndrome, here are some questions you can ask them to help them feel more confident, comfortable, and eager to move forward. 

Are you taking ownership of all your successes, big and small?

Those who suffer from impostor syndrome are sometimes incapable of acknowledging their own accomplishments — especially the “smaller ones.” They may feel as though having a Bachelor’s degree is insignificant, when others have Masters degrees and doctorates. They may feel as though making it home for dinner makes them a weaker leader, while their peers work until the early hours of morning.

A personal success inventory — a list of achievements big and small — is key here. Ask your clients to write out everything they’re good at, including their personal and professional skills. Have them consider all their personal attributes that have contributed to where they are now. 

What are your strengths?

Now, after having them take an inventory of their attributes, have them focus on their strengths specifically. Many people who suffer from impostor syndrome tend to overlook what they’re strong in, focusing rather on what they believe they’re weak at (as well as other limiting beliefs).

Who will you be when you lose the belief that you’re an impostor?

Here’s the power question. What happens when your client realizes they’re not an impostor? That they actually deserve their role, all the accolades, and the success?

Even destructive patterns of thought serve a purpose, so while you’re helping your client move away from this thought process, remind them of the good this may have served them — perhaps their workaholism has taught them the importance of balance, that their stress is a result of their determination and efforts, that their procrastination has shed light on the need to be prepared. 

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