Imposter syndrome is characterized as an overwhelming sense of self-doubt, insecurity, and inadequacy despite proof that you are qualified and skilled. At first, the phrase provided me with a sense of comfort and validation for what I was experiencing. Each time I published a blog post or submitted a piece of work for consideration, this sensation of “fraud” or of not being talented enough overwhelmed me with worry. But where does the term “Imposter Syndrome” come from? And why have I decided to stop finding comfort in it?
According to this article, the term was coined in the 1970s by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. Part of Clance and Imes’s observations concluded that many high-achieving and successful women considered themselves inadequate or inept despite their accomplishments in their respective fields. The observed women felt they were frauds, not nearly as intelligent as others thought, or attributed their success to luck. Aside from being first seen in women, further research has proven that imposter syndrome may affect anyone.
“Wow!” I said to myself. Finally, someone who understands! However, did these psychologists consider other factors in their research? Thanks to TikTok, I came across a video that highlighted this article produced by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey published in the Harvard Business Review.
“The impact of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases was categorically absent when the concept of imposter syndrome was developed. Many groups were excluded from the study, namely women of color and people of various income levels, genders, and professional backgrounds. Even as we know it today, imposter syndrome puts the blame on individuals, without accounting for the historical and cultural contexts that are foundational to how it manifests in both women of color and white women. Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work.” Source Here
Some of the major takeaways from this article addressed the ways bias and exclusion intensify feelings of self-doubt; yet, experiencing self-doubt should not make you an “imposter”. More notably, the HBR article revealed that the study failed to consider the effects of the numerous systemic prejudices in our society.
Do I truly feel I am undeserving of my accomplishments? Or are my sentiments an indicator of societal implications that signify I will never be accepted no matter what area of society I choose to thrive in? As a writer, it’s far too easy to surrender to the concept of impostor syndrome. However, after reading the HBR article such questions laid heavy on my mind. Why should I find comfort in the label “imposter syndrome” if it was not initially intended to represent women like myself? While past examination of impostor syndrome revealed valid concerns of self-doubt, the underlying objectives of impostor syndrome, which is often missed, is addressing the individual rather than the structures that promote feelings of inadequacy. Even though many can resonate with feelings of self-doubt, I believe we must look at the bigger picture before making a self-diagnosis of Imposter Syndrome.