I hear references to Imposter Syndrome a lot right now – it’s one of those pseudo-psychology terms that seems to have crept into the vernacular.  In reality it’s a term that has been with us since the 1970s but within the current VUCA climate it has become highly resonant and people are strongly identifying with its debilitating impact.  It is estimated that some 70% of us will suffer from Imposter Syndrome at least once within our lifetime.  It’s a theme that repeatedly surfaces during coaching too and the biggest change I see vs 12 months ago is that clients now have the ability to name it.  It has become commonplace language both in and out of the workplace and it is widely accepted that the onset of ‘imposter syndrome’, and the associated feelings it gives rise to, are something that unites us (rather than something that might previously have singled us out).

Going beyond the label

In this sense then, the term imposter syndrome is useful – reassuring for many in the realisation that we are not alone in these feelings, that they are indeed genuine and relatable.  However, this is probably as helpful as the term gets for an individual.  If we refuse to go beyond the generic labelling we get no further in solving this challenge for ourselves. 

Commonality of suffering; individuality of resolution

There is no doubt that certain common pressured situations might cause Imposter Syndrome to rear its head and symptoms can also appear to manifest as generic.  In turn, coping tactics such as limiting social media usage, channelling someone else’s outward confidence (e.g. the ‘fake it ‘til you make it philosophy’) or social anxiety reducing strategies such as deep breathing and visualisation tend to be generic and universal rather than tailored to the individual.

But as each of us is individual (a unique blueprint of upbringing, education, personal standards, perception) – so too the components of imposter syndrome, and its reason for being, are unique to each of us.  Or sufficiently unique that unpacking this barrier as individuals is critical to being able to move past it.  The critical question then becomes – do you want a coping strategy for Imposter Syndrome or do you want to understand and eradicate it?

Name it to tame it

In coaching the labelling process is often the easy part for clients. The ability to name your barrier is an essential part of the journey in order to access the next level: unpacking and understanding the root cause.  Naming the barrier is not the same as dealing with it though, and the unpacking and understanding, the awareness and reflection, is often where the hard work will be done and the majority of progress achieved.

Emotional agility

For this part of the process I frequently find myself returning to the work of psychologist Susan David and, specifically, her text Emotional Agility.  In this work David suggests a 4-step approach to understanding emotions and living more intentionally.  The steps – showing up, stepping out, walking your why and moving on – deliberately ask us to stay with and rationally examine our emotional responses before deciding how we wish to proceed in a way that is authentic to our values.  It is through this individualised and highly personal process that real awareness is made and it is this awareness that holds the key to understanding Imposter Syndrome and how to free yourself from it for good.

For further information or to learn more about how coaching can help overcome Imposter Syndrome please contact me directly: roz@artfulsight.com

References: Susan David “Emotional Agility”, published by Penguin Life, 2016.

Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

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