A reader is worried about an apparent imposter in the midst. Is he harmless or does he need help?
Within my professional group there’s a lot of talk about a person who appears to be an imposter. This person has been showing up at industry events. He competes with others for the best positions and even displays his name prominently. However none of my colleagues seems to know him or have heard of him. This is unusual in our industry.
He behaves as though he is a member of our profession but he doesn’t produce any material or publications that others in the field are aware of or recognise.
Some of us think he is a harmless eccentric but others think he is potentially dangerous and that “somebody should do something” to stop him. They worry he has a problem or could be a security risk. He even shows up at high-profile events involving politicians.
Is his behaviour harmless or does he need help? What is going on and should something be done?
There is a range of possible explanations for his behaviour. He may be trying to gain practical experience, as a student or for employment reasons. However it is also possible that the person you are describing suffers from a condition akin to what has become known as the “Walter Mitty syndrome”. Often thought of as a person who simply “daydreams” about being someone daring and important it can also be applicable to one who acts out their fantasy. If combined with a narcissistic personality (characterised by an overwhelming need for admiration and a lack of empathy toward others) this can result in the type of behaviour you describe.
People with narcissistic personality disorder often display disdainful or patronising attitudes. If challenged the person may react with a marked sense of entitlement and be harshly critical of those who have a legitimate right to participate the desired activity. They believe they can do it better than the qualified person.
A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behaviour that deviates from the norm of the individual’s culture. This allows the person to continue to maintain a dysfunctional behaviour pattern in the face of reality. Although most people with this condition are in effect harmless “eccentrics”, in some cases a lack of impulse control can lead to violent reactions to being challenged. In any case, more information should be sought from the person and if needed, they should be supported and encouraged to seek psychological help, although the latter may be refused.
If this person’s behaviour becomes erratic, aggressive or disturbing you may want to consider reporting the matter to the police.
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