Hypnotherapy for Impostor Syndrome – a case study

“I don’t even think that I should be here if I’m honest” Barry* told me.  “My wife said that I should see you about my thoughts, but to be honest I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them.” 

“It’s making me stressed and making me anxious, and that’s why I’m here.  My wife thinks that I need help about how I’m thinking, but I don’t – I just need help coping with the stress while I get another job.” 

A few more questions and it turned out that Barry had worked for the same large employer nearly all his working life.  He’d been promoted a few times, and had recently taken a higher position again, this time in a completely new department.  Two months in and he thought it had been a terrible mistake. 

“It was a mistake for me to go for it, but they’ve made a mistake too.  They seriously over-estimated how suitable I am, and how well I’d be able to do the job, and that’s really becoming obvious.” 

What Barry was going through is very common.  So common that there’s a name for it – Impostor Syndrome. And so common that it’s the reason why a third of people leave new jobs. 

Impostor Syndrome is about something called the ‘conscious competence’ cycle.  When we first start a job we’re ‘unconsciously incompetent’ – we don’t know how much we don’t know.  Then as we move into ‘conscious incompetence’ we become aware of how much we still have to learn. 

After that we should move into ‘conscious competence’ – where we realise that we’re starting to manage – before reaching ‘unconscious competence’, where we can just get on with the work, and a lot of it comes automatically or easily. 

Barry however was stuck in the second stage, ‘conscious incompetence’.  He knew how much he still had to learn about his new role, but instead of feeling he was making progress he just felt he was falling further and further behind.  This is when Impostor Syndrome strikes, and people believe that they will never be able to do the job and should never have been given it. 

The first part in tackling Barry’s problem was to challenge some of his thinking.  Was he sure he’d never felt like this before?  Hadn’t he got through it at those times?  Was there any other evidence, in his predecessor or his colleagues, that the people who had hired him had made terrible mistakes? 

With Barry questioning his self-doubt the next stage was to help him re-build his self-belief.  Using hypnotic suggestion to increase his confidence and self esteem was a large part of that.  Another part though was encouraging him to step away from working harder and harder, and get back in touch with other areas of his life.  Reminding himself of his value as a husband, a father, and a friend helped him be more resilient about work. 

Finally, he needed to take some practical steps at work.  He talked to work about more structured training for his job, and it being delivered in a way that suited how he learns.  That made his progress easier for him to see, and to believe in. 

I did see Barry once again, about a year later, when he wanted help with job interview nerves.  “It’s a big promotion” he told me, “and I know I’m ready for it – I just don’t want to mess the interview up.” 

*Barry is happy to share their story, and their identity has been protected  

If you found this look at hypnotherapy for impostor syndrome interesting then why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with four stories every month on the quirky side of psychology and relationships.