Holly Willoughby suffered from impostor syndrome – how to overcome it

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·6-min read
Holly Willoughby said she had  'impostor syndrome' early in her career, pictured in March 2022. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)
Holly Willoughby said she had 'impostor syndrome' early in her career, pictured in March 2022. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)

Holly Willoughby has revealed she suffered from "impostor syndrome” in the early days of her TV career.

The 41-year-old presenter said in her younger years she “underestimated” herself.

“In my 20s and 30s, I felt incredibly grateful I was given presenting jobs in TV," she told the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine.

“I never really thought I was good enough, I felt lucky people liked me.

“I had massive impostor syndrome and yes, I was underestimated but, more importantly, I underestimated myself.”

The presenter revealed one of her worst television moments came in 2009 when she interviewed then prime minister Gordon Brown – just two months after she joined This Morning.

She said: “I was dreadful. The worst thing was that so many people in the industry had said I couldn’t do that job. I wanted to prove myself.

“I sat with the producers, discussing it for ages.

“Then when it came to the interview I was trying to read out questions from the script.

“I was saying words I didn’t even understand, mangling up sentences and completely floundering. I was awful.

Read more: Holly Willoughby shares bare-faced selfie in sunny garden after catching COVID

“Various critics had said, ‘She’ll be okay with the fluffy fashion pieces but how will she do a serious political interview?’

“And they were right. Presenting that show is about being able to do everything from light to serious.

“I wasn’t up to the job.”

Willoughby recently discussed the fact she suffered from impostor syndrome early in her career. (Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine/PA)
Willoughby recently discussed the fact she suffered from impostor syndrome early in her career. (Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine/PA)

In order to overcome her feelings Willoughby revealed the biggest lesson she has learnt is to be herself.

“I am not and will never be perfect as a presenter," she added.

“I don’t try to be perfect anymore because it really doesn’t matter.

“I listen to the production team but I’ll then ask the questions I want to ask, things I think are important.

“Even if I don’t say things exactly right or words still come out wrong, because I’m dyslexic, people understand where I’m coming from. They get me.

“That’s given me confidence, changed me and my life.

“I have to trust in myself.”

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What is impostor syndrome?

Holly Willoughby isn't the only celebrity to admit suffering from impostor syndrome, last year singer Adele also opened up about feelings of inadequacy.

During her special homecoming concert, to celebrate her new album, 30, the star admitted she had been "s***ing herself" with fright about her ability to perform.

She went on to say she'd felt most proud of herself after agreeing to headline at Glastonbury, despite being terrified: "because I've got impostor syndrome."

According to Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, impostor syndrome is a thought pattern where we doubt ourselves and find it difficult to accept our achievements and successes.

"Somewhat counterintuitively it tends to affect 'high achievers' more, but that could be because accumulation of certificates, medals or goals is symptomatic of feeling inadequate in some way," she tells Yahoo UK.

"Unfortunately, this can lead to a vicious cycle where the individual, as if in a hamster wheel, simply keeps working to achieve more and more, without feeling the actual satisfaction, pride or success in what they have done.

"Worse still, should they make a mistake – which can happen through no fault of their own, this can consume them with anxiety or defensiveness and they struggle to grow beyond this negative spiral."

Read more: Kate Ferdinand says she suffered from imposter syndrome when she became a step mum

Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, says many of us will suffer impostor syndrome at some point or other, but some people live with this feeling on an almost daily basis.

"It’s usually what we would call schema-driven and can be traced back to our early childhood experiences," Dr Touroni explains.

"A schema is essentially a blueprint through which we see ourselves, other people and the world around us. Impostor syndrome stems from the belief of not being 'good enough' in some way, and feeling like there’s something inherently wrong with you.

"This can develop into an overwhelming fear of being 'found out' and exposed as a fraud. It can happen following neglect, abandonment or growing up with parents who were extremely critical or who placed a lot of emphasis on outwardly success."

Health organisation BUPA explains that there are several signs of impostor syndrome to look out for particularly "feeling like a fake or a fraud", but others include:

– never feeling good enough

– feeling like you don’t belong

– being filled with self-doubt

– feeling uncomfortable when people praise you

– having a habit of playing down your strengths

– finding it hard to take credit for your accomplishments

Willoughby learnt to overcome her feelings by being herself, pictured in October 2021. (Getty Images)
Willoughby learnt to overcome her feelings by being herself, pictured in October 2021. (Getty Images)

How to overcome impostor syndrome

The good news is there are some ways to break free from this negative cycle of thinking.

Recognise the signs

According to Dr Tang, it is important to recognise impostor syndrome as simply a thought pattern and understand that you can choose to think differently.

"It can help you to reflect on the consequences of the actions that impostor syndrome drives you to do," she explains. "For example when you are focusing on little quick wins, are you really heading towards your goal or is it just a 'feel good fix'?"

Be inspired by others' success

A simple tip is to come off social media unless for work purposes and cultivate the relationships that make you feel great off-line.

"If you choose to remain on social media, reframe the anxiety you feel at someone's success with gratitude," Dr Tang suggests.

"Say to yourself 'I'm grateful I got to see X's happiness,' then use that feeling of gratitude to inspire you to move towards your own goal."

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Be kind to yourself

Dr Tang suggests trying to reassure yourself through self-compassion rather than self-esteem statements.

"When something doesn’t go your way try: 'I’m proud of XX elements because I worked hard on them/I contributed creatively/I pushed my boundaries' instead of 'I did XX better than everyone else,'" Dr Tang suggests.

"There is a very subtle difference, but self-compassion focuses on you and your response. It is quite empowering; self-esteem focuses on praise and even acceptance, but in the context of comparison with others."

Record your past achievements

Screenshot or photograph the times when you have done well, for example when clients have thanked you.

"This reminds you to hold that moment for a little while before rushing into the next, and in doing this, you remind yourself, subconsciously, that you are doing ok," Dr Tang explains.

Dr Tang also suggests trying to hold onto and appreciate thanks you receive from others, rather than shrugging it off with a 'Oh it’s nothing' or 'It was everyone else.'

"Even if you can’t quite hold the praise yet, simply say 'Thank you so much for saying that – I really appreciate it.' And try to hold that thought for a moment too."

Additional reporting PA.

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