IMPOSTER SYNDROME: An Intersectional Approach

Article by Isabel Rodriguez

Have you ever felt that your achievements are just luck?  Do you often wonder if your accomplishments are truly meant for you? Well, you are not alone. Despite not being listed in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Imposter Syndrome is very real. The reality of imposter syndrome is often hidden but not uncommon.

After being introduced by psychologists, Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, imposter syndrome is described as a phenomenon that occurs amongst high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their own personal success. With the overwhelming pressure to achieve great things being placed on others by society, feeling like your success is underperforming or not even your own, is a common sentiment.  However, looking at this issue from an intersectional perspective, this feeling is more common amongst people in minority groups. 

“Women, women of color, especially black women, as well as the LGBTQ community are most at risk,” says Brian Daniel Norton, a psychotherapist and executive coach in New York. “When you experience systemic oppression or are directly or indirectly told your whole life that you are less-than or undeserving of success and you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind, imposter syndrome will occur.”

A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin surveyed ethnic-minority college students. Their findings highlight that Asian-Americans were even more likely than African-Americans or Latino-Americans to experience impostor feelings. In addition, researchers also found that impostor feelings actively lead to mental health problems instead of stress related to one’s minority status.

“When you come from a poor or working-class background, if you’re a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you have an immigrant story, you’re a first-generation, you’re always haunted by imposter’s syndrome, like this idea that you got here by accident.”

AOC (Athena Film Festival)

With minorities and women often under immense pressure for either running for political office, getting accepted into a nationally ranked school, or simply chasing a dream, they often feel like if they reach their goal, they did it being someone they are not. Feeling like an imposter is a constant cycle for anyone, and societal norms only add fuel to the fire. The constant downplaying of significant accomplishments made by these remarkable people often leads to imposter syndrome conquering original and unique innovative thinking. 

“We sometimes have a tendency to homogenize the experiences of students of color,” he said. “They all experience discrimination to some extent, but it’s very different experiences. It’s important to be nuanced and to appreciate and to understand the experiences.”

Kevin Cokley

Collectively as a generation, we must end these preconceived notions that establish a hostile environment, which allows imposter syndrome to thrive. Gender and Racial stereotypes must be a thing of the past, and any experiences of discrimination from any individual should be heard and not just generalized.  

Additionally, there needs to be an even bigger push for diversity across all areas of society. Lack of representation amongst any BIPOC, womxn, and the LGBTQ+ community contributes to a system designed for self-doubt.

As a society, we need to change our language as well. Sayings like “in over your head” or words such as “underqualified” only contribute to the idea that someone is not meant to be where they want to be or where they deserve to be. We need to address this for all youth urgently. As a woman of color and a member of gen z, I could not tell you how many times, from peers, I have heard how my academic and career success was a direct result of “Affirmative Action,” “Racial and Gender Quotas,” or just pure luck. I am sure others like me have experienced something similar, and that must change for our future. We can not let prejudgement and sayings of the past define any more of our already underrepresented youth. 

Seven Steps To Combat Imposter Syndrome

How do we fight this? I compiled seven steps regarding how to combat imposter syndrome and defeat it for good. 

  1. Break your silence and understand that you are not alone, and your feelings are valid.
  2. Separate these feelings from facts. (Recognize your expertise and remind yourself of all that you have accomplished)
  3. Create a support network. (Mentors, Coaches, trusted friends…etc.)
  4. Remember, it is ok to “not know what you are doing” and follow your even if that means you are just “winging it.”
  5. Change your perspective and language (Be open-minded while trying to pursue new things and give encouragement based on effort, not traits) 
  6. Realize that No one is perfect.
  7. Talk to someone (Individual therapy can be extremely helpful)
Steps are complied from these sources: 

https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-be-yourself/201708/nine-ways-fight-impostor-syndrome


Isabel Rodriguez

Isabel Rodriguez is a Latina woman based in California. She is a student at Cal Poly Pomona and plans on studying Communications with an emphasis on Public Relations. During her free time, she is a freelance writer covering intersectional feminism, environmentalism, voting, and any issues affecting underrepresented or minority communities. 


SOURCES

“Feel like a fraud? – American Psychological Association.” https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud. Accessed 5 Aug. 2020.

 “Why imposter syndrome hits women and women of colour ….” 24 Jul. 2020, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200724-why-imposter-syndrome-hits-women-and-women-of-colour-harder. Accessed 5 Aug. 2020.

 “An Examination of the Impact of Minority Status Stress and ….” 8 Apr. 2013, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/j.2161-1912.2013.00029.x. Accessed 5 Aug. 2020.

 “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Minorities Are Affected by Impostor ….” 5 Mar. 2019, https://www.ebony.com/news/race-culture/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-minorities-impostor-syndrome/. Accessed 5 Aug. 2020.

 “Study shows impostor syndrome’s effect on minority students ….” 6 Apr. 2017, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/04/06/study-shows-impostor-syndromes-effect-minority-students-mental-health. Accessed 5 Aug. 2020.

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