• Imposter syndrome is characterised by feeling like a fraud and doubting that you have truly earned your achievements

  • Therapist and coach Kristina Kennedy shares some questions she uses with her coaching clients to help them turn their negative thoughts around

  • If you are tired of feeling like a fraud and want to boost your confidence, find a coach for imposter syndrome here

Imposter syndrome is a common phenomenon amongst individuals who feel inadequate living in persistent fear of being exposed as frauds and constantly doubting their accomplishments despite their proven success. As Albert Einstein said: “The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler”.

Often the problem with clients who suffer from imposter syndrome is their inability to internalise and own their accomplishments. Imposter clients feel undeserving, believing their achievements are down to luck making them afraid of getting caught out in the future.

For me, coaching clients with imposter syndrome is about breaking down negative mindsets and transforming them into positive, purposeful, realistic beliefs that create confidence and long-lasting impact. To help shift some of the negative thoughts I use specific coaching techniques and questions and deep-dive where clients are able to access and investigate their beliefs on a subconscious level and positively re-write the stories they have created.

There are several types of imposter characters that clients label themselves as. Some of these are: ‘the perfectionist’, ‘the expert’, ‘the genius’, ‘the soloist’, and ‘the superhuman’. When clients put these labels on themselves it causes even more pressure to live up to their “labelled self”. I coach high performing clients and public figures from all over the world and here are some coaching questions and tips on helping clients beat the imposter.

  • Can you identify what the imposter thoughts and beliefs are and when they emerge?
  • Do the imposter thoughts help or hinder you?
  • Does it serve you?
  • Is what you are saying is absolutely true? Can you prove the thoughts you are having?
  • What’s holding you back from letting go of imposter syndrome?
  • Be curious about the belief that you need to know everything. Is it ok not to know everything? Do other people know everything?
  • What would it be like to exchange feeling embarrassed with feeling curious as an opportunity to learn something new or to deepen your knowledge of something? For example “I’m curious about X, can you tell me more about it”.
  • What evidence do you have to confirm your fear of failure or embarrassment? If it has happened in the past does that mean it is absolutely likely to happen again in the present and in the future?
  • Is it possible that others might suffer from imposter syndrome too and could it help colleagues to be more open about how they feel so that they could normalise what is a more common syndrome than they think? If 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives there’s a good chance you won’t be the only one in the team.
  • Write a list of all the successes, achievements and anything else that proves the imposter wrong.
  • Turn your thoughts around so that they serve you. For example, instead of thinking “Do they like me and am I smart enough to be here?" – change it to “Do I like them and do I admire and respect them?”
  • Whenever imposter thoughts creep in, keep a list of tangible demonstrable achievements handy so you can put feelings, false beliefs and self-doubts into context.

If you can understand that other people who don’t feel like imposters are no more intelligent or competent than you, it could bring awareness of how your thoughts are impacting you negatively. As Denis Whitley said: "It’s not what you ARE that holds you back, it’s what you think you are NOT”.

Kristina Kennedy is a verified welldoing.org therapist and a coach based in London who works online

Further reading

What's the difference between counselling and coaching?

The downsides of perfectionism

4 practical steps that helped me overcome imposter syndrome at work

How hypnotherapy helped me regain my confidence

Where coaching and therapy overlap, and where they do not