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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Imposter syndrome: 3 signs and 3 strategies.

“When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.’”

Jodie Foster

“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?’”

Meryl Streep

Do you ever struggle to accept that you deserve your success? Feel uncomfortable when someone bigs you up at work? Worry that you’re going to be found out as a fraud who doesn’t really know what they’re doing?... The diagnosis here is cut and dried...

You've got imposter syndrome.

But you knew that already, right? You're in pretty good company here, as the likes of Kate Winslet & Sheryl Sandberg are also self-confessed sufferers. As with many diagnoses, burying your head in the sand isn't an option if you want to make a full recovery. (And I believe, you NEED to recover from this, because the alternative has a poor prognosis: a lot of struggle, anxiety and feeling stuck, not to mention the impact on your health and relationships)....' I didn’t attend my PhD graduation. I didn’t feel it was that big a deal. Now I’ve know that PhDs can really exacerbate imposter syndrome and take a serious toll on self-esteem. I can’t help but wonder if that’s why I passed up the opportunity to celebrate my PhD success…

I’ve also learned that imposter syndrome can be helpful for a while in life, but this comes at a cost, particularly as you grow older and want more meaningful work and relationships. Imposter syndrome will suck you dry if you don’t get a handle on it.

Imposter syndrome affects 70% of us at one time or another and is particularly common among high achievers and women.

Three signs to look out for indicating that you may have imposter syndrome are:

1. You regularly feel that you’re not good enough:

You feel that you don’t measure up to the task, that you don’t know what you’re doing. You find it hard to recognise, let alone celebrate, your success.You compare yourself unfavourably to people you meet and find reasons you’re inferior. You may use charm and work hard to hide your so called inadequacies only to feel worse when you get appreciation because you feel that you conned people into appreciating you. These are negative thoughts arising from a sense of shame about who you are and that needs to be deconstructed.

2. You like approval but can’t take a compliment:

You thrive on external validation but on your terms only: perhaps you want it from a boss who is distant, cold, difficult to please. That way if you get a compliment, you feel you’ve really deserved it. Yet when you’re given a genuine compliment from someone who appreciates your work, you’ll squirm, downplay it, self-deprecate and put the attention back on them. The compliment or appreciation seems to hit a very painful nerve as if accentuating the feeling that you’re not good enough.

3. You’re speechless when asked to talk about your achievements or strengths:

You hate that question. You rarely think of yourself in that light. Sure you can reel off a bunch of “skills” you know that you should have. Perhaps you’ll throw in “hard working”, “good learner”, “enthusiastic”, “helpful/loyal”, “good at exams”. But you’ll avoid anything that suggests true power. You can’t easily see the deeper meaning of what you’re doing and may feel confused when someone asks you what you really want in life or work…

If you experience these on a regular basis, take a deep breath. It’s not you, it’s your conditioning!

The way out of this nightmare? It’s simple: pause and choose.

It may not be easy but it is that simple. You need to see imposter syndrome for what it is, a cluster of false beliefs. Seeing this clear will give it less of a hold on you.

Get support if you need to. Find someone who can help you catch yourself when your imposter syndrome kicks in. In time, you will be able to catch yourself in any situation and break the pattern.

For 3 strategies (dealing with each of the signs above) see the video below.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Remember, awareness is half the battle - knowledge really is power.

Until next week,

Amina Aitsi-Selmi

I help high achievers who feel stuck to take a big leap and get to their next level.

Ready for a life changing conversation? Email me at (

First come, first served.

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