Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome (I.S.)

What is it?

It’s a feeling, an emotion or a reaction, It was first researched in the 1970’ s by Clance and Imes (1). Although they found that it occurred often in high achieving women, it can happen to just about anyone.

It is felt at a physical/emotional level in symptoms such as anxiety, panic and sleeplessness. We are also prone to strong feelings of self-doubt, or feeling like a fraud or any of the 4 P’s: perfectionism, procrastination, paralysis or people pleasing (2). On the horizon of our life, it can hold us back from fulfilling our dreams and aspirations.

It often occurs in situations where we actually have achieved, for example we got a promotion, we’re teaching a class, or have received an accolade.

What causes the feelings?

Fear seems to be a driver, in varying degrees. The fear of exposing ourselves, fear of being seen, being big-headed, making a mistake, looking stupid. Imagining that someone will lift the veil and see that you are nervous as you taking your novice steps, in my case as a teacher or public speaker.

It’s common amongst yoga teachers, perhaps it’s because we carry 4000 years of tradition on our shoulders and we don’t want to get it wrong.  Even as an experienced yoga teacher, my doubts would still take hold; ‘I’ll go blank’, “I’ll make a fool of myself’ it happened especially when I was teaching something new. As an antidote, I was always aware that a beautiful guided relaxation could rescue almost any situation.

I.S. can be a product of old belief systems from childhood or family norms; “children should be seen and not heard”, “don’t show off”.  A child who is not praised for best effort might hold on to an internalized message that they must always strive to do better. Our inner critic starts to party, goading us with ‘who do you think you are?’, ‘any moment now they’ll realise I don’t know’ What are the messages from your own inner critic?

“Everyone experiences Imposterism (as it’s also known)”, says Jordan Peterson (3). “Because when you take a step into a new arena, you are in that moment an imposter”. You have to begin somewhere and build experience but are there tools that can help?

So, what can we do about it?

Brene Brown (4) in her book Daring Greatly (2015), invites us to be courageous; to show up and let ourselves be seen. I recognize this, I’ve gritted my teeth and pushed myself out of my comfort zone and continue to do so as I know it’s the only way to grow. I agree with Susan Weinschenk (5) who says it’s important to have practices that keep you centred and grounded. My regular Meditation, Yoga support me with my wobbles and when I’m on a new or bigger stage a drop of Bach’s Rescue Remedy comes along too. Focusing is a practice that I teach and turn to in my own life to deal with any emotions, situations or feelings that need my attention. Ann Weiser Cornell (6) describes how we might explore Imposter Syndrome through the lens of Focusing.

What else can you do?

Ellen Hendriksen (7) suggests “remind yourself often of your achievements, work with a mentor or share your concerns with a friend”. A mantra or affirmation helps me to ground and divert my inner critic, I might say to myself: “if my audience learns just one gem today, it’s worth it” or I wonder if any of my audience might be feeling like an imposter today? I have learned that people respond to authenticity, so it’s ok just to be me and I can love myself too even if I make a mistake.

Join me for a free online session where we will explore Imposter Syndrome through the lens of Focusing:

Register here:


  1. Clance, PR / Imes, SA
  2. 4 Ps
  3. Jordan Peterson
  4. Brene Brown: Daring Greatly (Penguin Life, 2015)
  5. Susan Weinschenk Ph.D.
  6. Ann Weiser Cornell
  7. Ellen Hendriksen PHD Psych (2017) Ellen Hendriksen









If you'd like to stay in touch, or receive regular updates about my service, please subscribe to my Newsletter below:


* indicates required