When the client uses different, more positive language in their self-talk, it can also act as a pre-emptive measure.
For example: people who suffer from IS tend to strive for perfection and therefore spend many more hours on tasks then necessary. By defining what ‘good enough’ instead of ‘perfect’ would look like they could permit themselves to spend less time and effort on a task and still get good results.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)
4.5 Reality check
Regular reality checks are important to reduce the chance of the client regressing into IS. They can for example take the shape of reframing automatic thoughts, of checking whether goals the client sets for themselves are achievable or of questioning whether they are striving for perfection.
Should the client catch themselves reverting to negative self-talk the coach can help them realize the difference between feelings and reality. When for example the client catches themselves thinking “I made a horrible mistake; I am a horrible person”, we can ask the client to reframe that into a statement helping them to better cope with the situation. For example: “Yes, I made a horrible mistake. That fact does not make me a horrible person”.
The coach can thus support the client in putting a system, a structure, in place that helps them stay connected to reality.
5 In Conclusion – Daring Greatly
Feeling like an impostor, like a fraud is not something that is easily talked about. Those who experience these feelings tend to guard their secret closely. Seen by others as being successful and appreciated by colleagues and clients alike, people who suffer from IS often feel lonely and isolated in their experience.
Since IS is not something openly discussed people who suffer from it seldom realize they are not alone. Rarely are they aware that it is very likely their co-worker one desk over, at one time or another, experiences similar feelings.
Everyone, from our immediate colleagues to captains of industry, at some time or another feels like they don’t belong; as though any minute now they are going to be found out. People who suffer from IS, in other words, find themselves in good company.
Luckily much has changed since Clance and Imes first discussed the syndrome in 1978. Not only has their research been followed up by others, in popular media too it has been getting a lot of attention. IS has been mentioned on the TED stage, in bestselling (auto) biographies, major newspapers, popular magazines and more.
The growing societal awareness around IS makes recognizing the syndrome in oneself and/or others easier. That recognition is the first step towards recovery.
As noted in § 3 of this paper it often is not easy for IS clients to immediately be clear about their objective when they come to a coach. Having lived in fear of being found out, not being able to speak about it with anyone exactly because of that, means in some ways they have avoided all risks. Taking risks after all would have meant risking being found out. To them it can feel as though they have lived part of their life outside of the arena; as though they have been living a ‘flat life’.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, […]; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.-Theodore Roosevelt, Paris, France 23 April 1910
Be a Mountain Seeker […] Life happens on mountains! They’re opportunities to prove to yourself that you’re stronger than you ever imagined. If you never attempt the ascent, you’ll never know the thrill of swooshing down the other side!-Adapted from Self Magazine
It takes great courage on the part of the client to decide they want to find out how to conquer their IS feelings. When they start working with a coach they step into the arena and dare greatly.
They come with a determination to find out what their life and/or career will look like when they go about it seeking out (virtual) mountains.
By stepping into a coaching relationship we may just come to find the client has set the goal to someday ‘Dare Greatly and be a Mountain Seeker’!
i Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In. Women, work and the will to lead”, p. 28 (Lean In Foundation: WH Allen, 2015)
ii Peggy McIntosh, “Feeling Like a Fraud”, Wellesley Centers for Women working paper no. 18 (Wellesley, MA: Stone Center Publications, 1985)
iii Also spelled Imposter Syndrome, also known as Impostor Phenomenon or Fraud Syndrome
iv Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes, “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”, p. 1 (Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice, Volume 15, #3, Fall 1978)
v “Impostor Syndrome”, (Wikipedia,
vi Olivia Fox Cabanne, Interview “Olivia Fox: Training CEOs and innovators to overcome self-doubt”, https://youtu.be/KActy96aR9A, 3:36 (Rackspace Studios, SFO, 2010)
vii See note ii
viii Melanie Clark, Kimberly Varderman and Shelly Barbra, “Perceived Inadequacy: A Study of the Imposter Phenomenon among College and Research Librarians”, p. 266 (College & Research Libraries, 75(3), 255–271)
ix Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes, “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”, p. 5 (Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice, Volume 15, #3, Fall 1978)
x Lynne Hindmarch, “An exploration of the experience of self-doubt in the coaching context and the strategies adopted by coaches to overcome it”, p. 12 (International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Special Issue No.2, November 2008)