In the wake of NBC canning Community showrunner Dan Harmon on Friday, I was reminded of the time I heard Harmon describe himself as suffering from a “fraud complex.” I wasn’t familiar with the term, but it was obviously a clever antonym to the more commonly known “god complex.”
According to Wikipedia, a god complex is “an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility.” Perhaps you know someone who fits into that category.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s chronic self-doubt — which Harmon referred to as a fraud complex — in which feelings of ability are deflated rather than inflated. Perhaps you know someone who fits into that category too.
In either case, the problem is the sense of self — it’s over-inflated or it’s under-inflated. For the god-complexers, all kinds of problems can arise in a creative environment: unwillingness to serve where needed, refusal to submit to review or critique (even self-critique), and inability to function within a team dynamic.
For the fraud-complexers, there are problems as well: unwillingness to create or share work, refusal to exhibit confidence in ideas, and inability to self-start. A fraud complex inflicts a constant fear of being exposed as a pretender upon its host.
If you’re the humble sort, a god complex can be difficult to understand or tolerate. After all, the sufferer’s flaws might be obvious to you.
If you’re the confident sort, a fraud complex might be just as irritating. You might want to yell, You’ve earned this opportunity — act like it and make the most of it!
I’m not a pastor or a mental health professional, but I can tell you both complexes are toxic to creativity, collaboration, culture, and community. For one thing, neither a god complex nor a fraud complex is interested in the truth — their minds are already made up. For another thing, neither complex is willing to fully participate in a team effort.
Without the truth and without a team, what’s left?
Certainly not the fullest realization of the work you were meant to create. And certainly not the fullest realization of the person you were meant to be.
Scott McClellan is the Editor of Echo Hub and the Director of Echo Conference. You can follow him on Twitter: @scottmcclellan.