What if they see who I really am? A guide to imposter syndrome

I wouldn't have thought I had anything in common with Albert Einstein, but it turns out I do. Albert had doubts about his accomplishments and gifts, worrying that people would realise he was a fraud and not the genius people thought he to be. He had what is called 'imposter syndrome'.


"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."

- Albert Einstein

What is imposter syndrome?

First identified in 1978 by two clinical psychologists, it's thought that 70% of adults feel this way, at some point. It's best described as 'feeling inadequate, despite being competent', an overwhelming dread that any minute now people will find out who you really are...

Imposter syndrome doesn't have a diagnosis of being a mental health condition but it's something that many of us can attest to having an impact on our well-being - but isn't often admitted aloud.

I spoke to an actor the other day, who said that even if he won an Oscar, the imposter syndrome would still be there. 

Tom Hanks has won two Oscars and was nominated for three more. But, when asked if he had imposter syndrome in 2022, he answered "Absolutely".

Imposter syndrome is built around a feeling of inadequacy, despite success. I believe the root causes are complex and I'm not sure there is just one reason we may feel this way. Perhaps one of these may feel familiar to you:

  • Family environment - It may be that importance was put on high achievement when growing up perhaps, or your parents/care givers were overly critical.
  • Social pressures - found within friendship groups or work, when approval or worth seems to be explicitly connected to achievement.
  • Sense of belonging - If we have experienced being cast out in the past, this can really intensify the sense of not belonging.
  • Personality type - If you have an introverted personality type for example you may process inwardly and ruminate on some of the feelings.

There could be many reasons why we are this way, the important thing is that we recognise it and bring it into the open. By hiding it, it can become deeper and darker. By sharing it, we often find we aren’t alone with the feeling and find support.

How can we tackle imposter syndrome?

The most important thing to remember with imposter syndrome is that feelings aren't facts. Just because we feel it, doesn't mean it's necessarily true.

  • Take it to court - write down the evidence for and against and judge it for yourself, what is the truth?
  • Get out of your head - so often when we feel this way, we will keep it inside and not tell anyone. It begins to ruminate and often gets bigger. Share it with someone else, be it a close friend or work colleague. 
  • Don’t beat yourself up - speak kindly and encouragingly to yourself as you would a friend who felt this way.
  • Don't be afraid to fail - See anything that doesn't work out as an opportunity for reflection and growth. Our valleys are often the places in which we learn most about ourselves. 

Interrupt the narrative and replace those negative thoughts with positive thoughts and messages that make sense to you. Say things to yourself like "I’m confident. I’m doing the best that I can. I deserve to be here…" I love the idea of self-soothing.

And if you are stuck, do reach out to a counsellor who can help you unpack it and find a way through.

You aren't alone with imposter syndrome. You are in good company with the likes of Tom Hanks, Ellie Goulding, Maya Angelou and Albert Einstein. Let's work through it together and let's keep talking about it.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wombourne WV5 & Kingswinford DY6
Written by Rachel Matthews, Dip. Therapeutic Counselling BACP & ACC Membership
Wombourne WV5 & Kingswinford DY6

Rachel Matthews is an integrative counsellor, based in the West Mids but also works remotely.
Rachel has spent the majority of her life working within the media and charity sector and brings this lived experience with her to her private practice and school counselling work.

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