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UH Human Development Professor Hutchins encourages thoughtful dialog to counter imposter phenomenon at UHLC discussion

Holly Hutchins

Holly Hutchins is the Department Chair for Human Resource Development at the University of Houston.

Oct. 8, 2020 - University of Houston Professor Holly M. Hutchins provided effective techniques for challenging and reframing imposter experiences during a recent virtual discussion hosted by the University of Houston Law Center. Hutchins, the chair of the Department of Human Development & Consumer Sciences and the College of Technology, made her remarks in a presentation titled, “Debunking Your Flawed Logic by Challenging Your Inner Critic."

Hutchins' talk was one of a series of events sponsored by the Law Center’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, which is co-chaired by Professor Meredith J. Duncan, Professor of Law and Assistant Dean of Diversity, Inclusion and Metropolitan Programs and Clinical Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic.

"So many people suffer in silence, and the way it manifests itself can be in panic attacks, depression, and anxiety," Hutchins said. "But the main question that has focused my research and advocacy is what can we actually do about it?"

Imposter syndrome is described as when an individual doubts his or her accomplishments or talents and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as unworthy of their position. Hutchins said that an individual experiencing the imposter phenomenon often feels like their peers are surpassing them and inadequate in their knowledge despite having credentials and experience.

Hutchins said the first step in combating imposter syndrome is being willing to share your experience.

"Stories range from not feeling confident in speaking up in meetings to experiencing rejection on a grant," she said. "For many it's the first time they have spoken about it in public. There is a power in sharing your story and knowing you're not alone. With that comes with the normalization that this is an experience a lot of people have."

Hutchins said the second aspect is to identify "stuck points" or negative beliefs individuals have about themselves. She said an example of a stuck point is using all-or-nothing language like 'should' or 'must.'

"These are recurring messages you're telling yourself about who you are," Hutchins said. "Typically they follow a formula - an if-then statement. For instance, 'If I really belonged in this program, then I wouldn't feel so lost in my courses. This stuck point gets reiterated over different experiences."

Hutchins said she encourages people experiencing these symptoms to challenge their stuck points, sometimes with a trusted peer. She pointed to several clarifying methods such as examining and challenging assumptions, identifying problematic thinking patterns, and increasing critical thinking.

"How much of the stuck point is exaggerated? Is the stuck point focused on part of the story or the entire story? Asking yourself these questions helps begin removing the layers of a stuck point. If you can do it with a friend, the stuck point can become less stuck and less charged and allows individuals to consider other possibilities."

Hutchins has been published in several leading human resource development and human resource journals. She is also a co-principal investigator on an NSF advanced institutional transformation grant where she co-leads efforts to increase the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women and women of color faculty in STEM-related disciplines.

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