‘Frauds’ learn they are not alone

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By JESS LEE

Do you ever feel like an im­pos­tor? Harold Hill­man has and he’s pretty sure you will have too. The cen­tral city clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor is the au­thor of The Im­pos­tor Syn­drome: Be­com­ing an Au­then­tic Leader.

The book ex­plores the psy­cho­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non Im­pos­tor Syn­drome where peo­ple fac­ing a new chal­lenge tend to put their suc­cess down to luck or tim­ing and wait to be ex­posed as a fraud. Im­pos­tors put pres­sure on them­selves to be per­fect, hid­ing be­hind a mask of what oth­ers want them to be, Dr Hill­man says.

The term was coined in 1978 by two Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gists.

It was some­thing Dr Hill­man be­gan notic­ing while coach­ing busi­ness lead­ers and ex­ec­u­tive teams.

‘‘Peo­ple be­gan say­ing: ‘I feel like a fraud, an im­pos­tor and my big­gest fear is some­one is go­ing to out me as be­ing in­com­pe­tent’,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s an in­cli­na­tion to put pres­sure on your­self which means that you’re less prone to ask ques­tions and ask for help.’’

It’s not just busi­ness lead­ers who wear this mask, other em­ploy­ees, stu­dents and new mums can all feel this way too, Dr Hill­man says.

Up to 75 per cent of peo­ple will ex­pe­ri­ence it at some point in their lives.

But most peo­ple bur­dened by the symp­toms don’t know how to de­scribe what they’re feel­ing and pre­fer not to talk about it, Dr Hill­man says.

He has ex­pe­ri­enced Im­pos­tor Syn­drome at many dif­fer­ent stages of his life. As a gay man grow­ing up in the United States, Dr Hill­man tried to fit in by get­ting mar­ried, hav­ing chil­dren and join­ing the mil­i­tary.

At univer­sity in the 1970s he felt an in­tense pres­sure to ex­cel as one of only five black stu­dents and felt like a fraud when ac­cepted into Har­vard Univer­sity as a kid from the hous­ing projects of Wash­ing­ton DC.

‘‘I of­ten reached for the im­pos­tor’s mask with­out even think­ing. It’s one of those things where peo­ple are in­clined to be quiet about it.’’

The book sets out to un­cover the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the syn­drome and teach peo­ple how to deal with them while re­al­is­ing no-one is per­fect.

‘‘There are go­ing to be things you’re good at and not good at, so ask for help when you need it. At the end of the day just try to be au­then­tic,’’ Dr Hill­man says.

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