Her biggest fear was that they would all discover that she was indeed an intellectual imposter. “I was convinced that I would be discovered as a phony when I defended my thesis. I thought this was it. I think I was actually a bit relieved by this because it would mean I wouldn’t have to keep up “the act”. I almost fell over when I was told by the panel that they had unanimously agreed that my work was the best they had seen in their entire careers. I still feel like a fake every day despite being consistently promoted and rewarded for my impact.”
Why is the impostor phenomenon so difficult to overcome?
It tends to be a self-reinforcing cycle and most often, we don’t recognize the extent to which we've adapted our behaviour because of it. We might not even realize how much we underestimate, undervalue, or resist accepting responsibility for our successes.
I once had a group of professionals complete an exercise with very simple instructions. Half of the group were asked to give out compliments (“the complimenters”) and the other half of the group were asked to receive them (“the receivers”). The receivers were directed to respond to the compliment with only a “thank you”. As it turned out, about half of the receiver group failed the task. They were not able to only receive the compliment with a simple "thank you", they could not resist the urge to downplay their compliment:
Complimenter: “I really like your purse.”
Receiver: “oh, I got it on sale.”
Complimenter: “Your response to question #2 was very inspiring to me.”
Receiver: “I really don’t know what I’m talking about, you don’t need to say that but thanks all the same.”
Complimenter: “You’re a doctor! That’s really fantastic, you must have worked really hard to get where you are!”
Receiver: “Well, I should actually be a lot further along in my career.”
Complimenter: “nice goal!”
Receiver: “I just got lucky.”
Start keeping a record of positive feedback you receive about your competence, as well as examples of how you continue to keep yourself from accepting this feedback. Once you develop this awareness, continue to record the positive feedback you receive and spend time practicing doing whatever the opposite of your method of resistance is.
Practice accepting and receiving nourishment from the feedback on your own. The more you practice, the more you will begin to respond in this way with others.
Let me know how it goes! If you want to learn about continuing with this work, we can have a chat!