Thanks to the Bard for that one.

During a concert recently, an extraordinarily successful singer stated that she had experienced the “impostor syndrome” and that it had been a constant feature throughout her career. What? Really? No way! How can that be possible, given she is an accomplished performer, atop her profession?

Well, those thoughts of I should not be here, or do not deserve this, I am a fraud or I am not really good enough to be here can occur regardless of our vocation. It affects people in the arts, business, science, journalism, politics, sport or in any field we can think of. Anywhere we need, want or are expected, to perform.

Feeling the “impostor syndrome” can be a one-off episode or something that re-occurs in our lives (e.g. with a new job, promotion, challenge or when we feel out of our depth). It can also be rumbling in the background over time. In reality, and this is the first reveal, it is rarely related to how good or bad we are in life, how trained, competent or senior we may be or how successful we are at work.

So, what are the signs of it? Well, there are many and they can include withdrawal (I’ll keep a low profile to avoid being found out) or over-compensation, by being highly assertive or self-protective. Positive feedback cannot be accepted (as I’m not worth it), and success is attributed to outside factors or luck (it was not me). Being overly humble and not accepting praise is another sign. Lastly, we can resort to perfectionism for ourselves and lofty standards for others in order to over-compensate for any feelings of low self-worth. This is exhausting, but it ensures people cannot fault or criticise us.

The second reveal is that there is an upside to it, powering us forward and feeding our ambitions as we do NEED to prove we are worth it. This has helped many people, the singer included, to reach the heights they have.

The downside to impostor syndrome is that the emotional impact can often take the form of ongoing anxiety with all its physiological signs – raised heartbeat, palpitations, sweating, that knot in the stomach, general edginess, overthinking and lack of sleep. Despite our well-developed brains, we still succumb to those most basic of reactions which evolution has not yet managed to remove. If left untreated, such generalised anxiety leads to anger, strains on the heart and raised blood pressure. We can also resort to those tried and trusted (though not really helpful) coping mechanisms of over-eating, higher alcohol intake and even substance abuse.

Well, after this diatribe, what can we do to overcome impostor syndrome? The final reveal is that we accept we are where we are because we DESERVE it. We’ve worked hard, stuck with it and possibly had a bit of luck along the way (e.g. right time, right place or sound decisions). Also, regardless of what we do or don’t do…we accept that we ARE all intrinsically worth it.

Lastly, if the pesky syndrome is too entrenched or strong, and it is not positive for you, let’s banish it together. Talking therapy can help do this by providing perspective, self-acceptance and self-belief.