5 Key Fears That Drive Imposter Syndrome

Fear is the emotional symptom of an underlying limiting belief or block. Your fears dictate your limits. Clear the block and the fear will disappear.

Based on the results of the 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study, there are five core fears that drive most people’s Imposter Syndrome behaviour. Once you know how to spot them, you’re on your way to setting yourself free from their subconscious self-sabotage effects.

1. Fear of Failure

This one leads to the three Ps of Imposter Syndrome. It can cause us to procrastinate, because if we don’t finish something, we can’t fail. It can turn us into perfectionists, setting unrealistically high standards. It can leave us paralysed into inaction, avoiding the project completely. It triggers the “I’m not good enough” self-talk that is one of the most common Imposter Syndrome responses.

The classic response to fear of failure is to ask someone: what’s the worst thing that could happen? But this kind of mental rehearsal of worst-case-scenarios is not going to be useful. It builds neural pathways in your brain that make that ‘worst case’ more likely.

2. Fear of Success

This particular fear sits squarely in the ‘secondary gain’ camp. It is protecting us from losing something that is important to us – or from gaining something that part of us believes would be dangerous.

This one plays hard with our fears of visibility and with owning our successes or allowing your light to shine. It triggers Imposter Syndrome in the form of not taking credit for our achievements and not going for potential opportunities to shine.

3. Fear of Criticism

This is the fear that gets you not speaking up with your brilliant ideas and keeping quiet, even if you know you have the answers.

The challenge with criticism is it doesn’t ever have to have happened for you to feel scared of it. Seeing others being trolled on the internet, for example, can trigger a fear of criticism in someone who has only ever experienced praise, especially if they’re naturally empathic.

Remember that your biggest critic is the one inside you and there are practical ways to learn how to tame it.

4. Fear of Rejection

We are hard-wired to want to be part of the tribe – that’s how our ancestors stayed alive. If you’re running a fear of rejection (which most of us do, at some level), then it can trigger Imposter Syndrome in the form of not speaking up or letting our light shine, because we don’t want to be seen as different. Or maybe we share the credit for our success with the wider team, in order to feel accepted.

“What if they figure out I don’t belong here?” was one of the most common self-talk responses for those struggling with Imposter Syndrome, in the research study.

5. Fear of Lack Of Money

Maslow put money in the bottom area of the pyramid for his famous Hierarchy Of Needs, because feeling financially secure is a precursor to the higher needs. In the worlds of yoga and meditation, this is described as the ‘base chakra’ – our need for safety and security.

It’s hard to take action towards your dreams when you’re secretly worrying about how to put food in the fridge.

In terms of Imposter Syndrome, this fear triggers seemingly crazy behaviour like discounting prices before being asked or not asking for pay rises we know we deserve, because we are scared of losing the sale or the salary that we do have.

It can also trigger the common self-talk of “What if they find out they made a mistake in hiring me?” and “I only got here through hard work / luck.”

Of course, there is overlap between these five fears – many of us are running more than one.

And these five core fears play a further role in Imposter Syndrome: they set our expectations via the pesky Reticular Activating System in your brain. This is the part that filters sensory information from the outside world, based on what you expect to see. It’s driven by your habitual self-talk, your limiting beliefs, your fears and what is important to you.

So if you’re running, say, a fear of failure, your brain will automatically filter in external sensory information to show you examples to back that up. So your self-talk can make the fear a self-fulfilling prophesy.

That’s one of the many reasons why it’s so important not to ignore Imposter Syndrome and hope it will go away – or to push on through it. It’s also a reason why ‘fake it till you make it’ is terrible advice for some who is already struggling with feeling like a fraud.

The great news is that releasing a hidden fear is a very similar process to clearing a limiting belief, which falls under step three of my Ditching Imposter Syndrome process. The two processes I teach in that step work really well for fears, too, as does EFT.

As a caveat, though: if those fears are triggering anxiety for you, it’s really important to get yourself professional support to clear them. You are not alone!

If ditching Imposter Syndrome is something that’s on your list for this year, find out more about how we could work together here – and get your copy of my Ditching Imposter Syndrome book here.