Imposter Syndrome: Understanding and Changing Your Focus

Imposter syndrome, that nagging feeling of being a fraud despite your accomplishments, can be a persistent and debilitating experience. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) offers a framework to understand and address this issue by examining the thoughts, behaviours, and, importantly, the focus of attention that maintain these feelings of inadequacy.
Identifying the Maintaining Factors

CBT helps us identify the core beliefs and fears fuelling Imposter Syndrome. These might include thoughts like "I'm not good enough," "I don't deserve my success," or "I'll be exposed as a fraud." These beliefs trigger emotional responses like anxiety and shame, which in turn lead to certain behaviours, such as overworking, perfectionism, or downplaying achievements.

However, a crucial aspect often overlooked is the role of attention. Where do you focus your mental spotlight when Imposter Syndrome strikes? Do you hyper-focus on your perceived flaws, mistakes, or the judgment of others? This narrowed focus amplifies these negative experiences, making them feel even more overwhelming.

The Spotlight of Attention

Think of your attention like a spotlight on a stage. What you illuminate becomes clear and vivid, while everything else fades into the background. When Imposter Syndrome takes hold, the spotlight shines harshly on your perceived shortcomings, leaving your strengths and accomplishments in the shadows.

This is a natural response to anxiety – our brains are wired to prioritize potential threats. But when the "threat" is internal and based on unhelpful beliefs, this heightened focus only intensifies the feelings of inadequacy.

Shifting Your Focus

The good news is that you have the power to redirect your attention. By becoming aware of where your focus lies, you can consciously choose to broaden it. Instead of dwelling on perceived flaws, you can shine the spotlight on your achievements, skills, and positive qualities.

This doesn't mean ignoring the feelings of self-doubt. It's about acknowledging them, and developing effective ways of responding to them, reducing the impact and influence that they are having so they are not motivating the behaviour. Breaking free of the Impostor Syndrome allows you to focus your attention onto what you choose, ideally putting your attention onto the things that are more meaningful and rewarding, such as your work, interactions or on relaxing.


Changing your focus takes practice. Be patient with yourself, learn from your experiences of what works and where the challenges are. Therapy can help you to develop the tools and skills necessary to break the cycle of Imposter Syndrome and cultivate a greater sense of self-confidence and self-worth.

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