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Issue 17 Out Now

Imposter Syndrome: An Internalized Projection of Other’s Perception

Photo from edexec

My first official introduction to the term Imposter Syndrome originated during a chat with my group of hard-working, well-educated black girlfriends. We all recently graduated from University and managed full-time roles but were all having a tough time. One friend attributed her tough time to Imposter Syndrome and posed that this too might lie at the heart of our struggle. Before this, I noticed posts and articles about IS, but after skimming through them concluded I did not identify with it.

Imposter Syndrome or Imposter Phenomenon involves feelings of self-doubt, incompetence, and fraud despite education, experience, and accomplishments. Although anyone can identify with it, it is most intense and prevalent among well-accomplished women, particularly women of color. Those that identify with IS feel they are not as competent and intelligent as others might think, and soon enough, they will discover the truth about them. Many things about imposter syndrome seemed odd, and it especially did not make sense coming from my brilliant, typically confident counterparts.

It is important to note all three of us worked in spaces where we were a minority, meaning we were typically one of the few women of color in our workspaces; Law, Finance, and Consulting, all-white male-dominated fields.

There were several things I attributed my having a hard time to:

(1). Intense scrutiny and suffocation due to lack of space

(2). Not feeling welcomed, let alone supported

(3). Mentors delighting more in my failures than successes

(4). Negative assumptions and biases presuming me

However, believing that I was less intelligent or competent than my colleagues was not one of them.

If anything, the idea that women or women of color are less intelligent incompetent, frauds seem more the beliefs and sentiments of our colleagues and society rather than from us. A belief we have internalized.

Illustration by Marysia Machulska

It brings to mind psychological warfare, or actions intended to reduce an opponent’s moral or mental well-being. In the era of Cancel Culture, everyone, including businesses and organizations, want to appear tolerant of the ever-changing societal landscape, currently calling for diversity and inclusion. It is especially true since an individual or an organization on the receiving end of being canceled could lose their reputation and income, a hard hit to recover from. Therefore, to express their resistance, subtle opposition is less consequential than crude.

Additionally, moves to appear tolerant do not always reflect the heart, mind, and beliefs of the individuals within the organization since diversity and inclusion are more a high-stake trend than a consistent practice.

Because of this, the belief that women, people of color, women of color, or other minorities received a job because of societal requirements and pressures rather than actual intellect and competence still permeates the workplace. Evident with 64% of women reportedly facing microaggressions.

As recorded in the original 1978 report, The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Invention, early family dynamics such as attributing more success to brighter siblings, and later introjection or unconscious adoption of the ideas and attitudes of others, of societal sex-role stereotyping of women being less intelligent than men contribute significantly to the development of Imposter Syndrome. And while high-achieving women have continued to succeed despite such antithetical societal limitations, it is often not without internalizing these external beliefs that they do so.

But enough is enough. Claiming Imposter Syndrome when, in fact, you are intelligent, competent, and likely much more so than your white counterparts is ludicrous and does a disservice to yourself.

You are essentially releasing the reality you know as a fact, replacing it with others. A slippery slope because you lose ground on the trust you have in your mind, the basis of psychological warfare. A strong sense of self and mind is the best defense for psychological warfare, and since younger individuals are still developing this, we are more likely to fall prey to it. Investing in your mind and understanding where your beliefs start and stop allows you to recognize and neutralize those beliefs that do not belong to you. And a formidable sense of self, such as knowing not only are you competent but you have a proven track record of excellence, allows you to dismiss those characteristics you know do not belong more easily.

Just as in the case of my group, women, and women of color can typically recognize the greatness in each other, holding a mirror up to doubters and reminding them who they are. However, it is necessary to hold your head up and honor the greatness in yourself.

Doing so may seem daunting because acknowledging all that you are means going against views perpetuated by society and becoming, according to Margaret Mead, a hostile threat to society. However, any society threatened by the greatness and maximization of its people is a society begging to be.

Until then, hold steadfast to your reality. There may be issues that lie at the heart of your hard time in the workplace. But take care to recognize when disbelief in your intelligence and competence is not yours but other’s beliefs you’ve adopted as your own.


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