‘Frauds’ learn they are not alone
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.