Are you a hostage to imposter syndrome?

Positive Steps
Sadhbh Dunne

There can be times in people’s life where they feel they are unqualified to complete a task or undeserving of a role. Despite being challenging, these somewhat general experiences of unworthiness and doubt are not that unusual. However, in extreme situations whereby these inadequacies are completely unfounded, the feeling is referred to as imposter syndrome.

This belief that you aren’t as smart or competent as others think can lead you to fear your true and more-limited capabilities being exposed.

You may have heard the term ‘imposter syndrome’ bandied about before, sometimes in a dramatic or flippant way. I’ve often heard a person refer to their imposter syndrome as they take centre stage to present to a group of people. I’m sure you’ve said or heard it in other similar situations.

But what actually constitutes imposter syndrome? Are there symptoms you can recognise in yourself? If so, how can they be overcome?


Imposter syndrome is pretty common. It can manifest itself in a range of ways, such as a real and genuine sense of failure, a belief that you are not enough and an aversion to accepting praise. It can lead you to conclude that your success is due to a mistake or maybe entirely down to chance.

These thoughts absolutely diminish the effort and time that you put in to get you to this stage. As the saying ‘right place at the right time’ goes, luck and timing do have a part to play in life. But they are not the only factors at play.

The demographic believed to experience imposter syndrome has evolved over time. It was initially thought that the term related to just professional women. However scientifically and anecdotally it has been shown to affect a much wider cohort, arising across gender, profession and age ranges. The reality is that anyone can succumb.

You might be wondering why this doubting of skills and accomplishment appears. Well, there is no one reason. A family environment that places significant emphasis on achievement and results is a common factor, as is being part of a social group focused on approval and worth. These factors are closely related to perfectionism, where someone will settle for no less than 100 percent performance effort, which in turn leads to low self-esteem and self-confidence.

Overcoming it

Thankfully there are many ways in which you can overcome your imposter syndrome. A positive attitude is always a good place to start when focusing on personal development, but if you are affected by imposter syndrome, you may have to dig a little deeper.

Knowing that you’re not alone in your experiences might provide some comfort. There are many people we see as hugely successful who have alluded to it over the years, such as actress Tina Fey. You might ask, how can someone like Fay be feeling so incapable with all of her achievements? Remind yourself that the people around you could be thinking the exact same thing when they see you dismissing praise or a compliment.

Try not to link achievements solely to external factors, such as good luck or timing, as this will only heighten feelings of being a fraud.

Imposter syndrome is a complex thing. It can hold us back and prevent us from reaching our highest potential. The next time you find yourself having feelings of doubt or inadequacy, try to embrace and alter these feelings: Let go of your inner perfectionist and encourage yourself to consider new opportunities. Often, imposter syndrome makes us less likely to take chances. What a shame it is that us humans can be so adept at shutting ourselves off from new learnings and experiences for fear of being ‘found out’.

As another saying goes, fake it until you make it – you truly have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Sadhbh Dunne is a qualified life coach based in Westport. She is the founder of Ember Coaching ( and can be reached at

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