Imposter syndrome affects many people. However, marginalized communities can be especially susceptible to this these feelings. But what is imposter syndrome? Imposter syndrome is a term that was originally coined to define an individual’s fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of their success, competence, or belonging. People experiencing imposter syndrome may feel like they have deceived or tricked other people into believing that they are someone they are not, or that they have succeeded only through luck rather than merit. Additionally, those experiencing this syndrome feel as though they do not deserve the success or recognition they have received for their accomplishments. Though still mostly used in reference to academia and in professional work settings, the term has been growing in communities to indicate a general feeling of not belonging in certain spaces or having tricked others into allowing them into spaces that they identify with. This is especially true for QPOC who can have these feelings around the many intersections of their identities. For QPOC, examples of places where we might encounter or feel imposter syndrome are:
- A QPOC speaking out against white supremacy who is or is dating a white passing person and feels that their voice and message won’t mean as much.
- A light skinned, mixed race, or white passing POC who feels like their skin tone does not allow them to move through POC spaces
- A person who gives the appearance of a heteronormative relationship because of their partner’s gender expression.
- A bisexual person who’s sexual identity is erased by others based on the gender presentation of their partner
It can also be experienced by people who compare their personal struggles against the experiences of others and feel that their experiences are more privileged or less dire and therefore not valid.
These experiences and many more can leave people feeling as though they are imposters. The effect of constant oppression and passing politics can leave many people feeling like there are very few places where we are able to be ourselves without needing to explain or defend our identities. This can lead to a feeling of not belonging even when we are moving through spaces that we identify with or are a part of. There can be a feeling by QPOC of having to prove that we are actually meant to be in the spaces we occupy, which can lead to feelings of being an imposter even when we are moving through spaces we belong in. How can we overcome these feelings of not belonging?
Recognizing our personal worth and value
For many, this is easier said than done. The ability to acknowledge, accept, and internalize our own personal worth and value can be a lifelong process. Furthermore, when other people affirm our worth to us, the feelings of being an imposter that one experiences can be exacerbated. It can feel as though yet another person has been tricked and that it is only a matter of time before this person begins to see the “real” us and realizes that we are not as great as they believe we are. When recognizing our own worth and value, it can help us realize that we have the ability to define who we are without the need for external validation. Establishing a solid understanding of our own individual self-worth will also help us to better process the recognition and acknowledgement other people display to us. Finally, it is important to remind ourselves that it is normal to not know everything and that feeling uncomfortable in a new setting is also normal. As we progress in our journeys, our knowledge expands and our experiences can encourage a stronger sense of belonging.
Work not to compare ourselves to others
The act of comparing ourselves to others is a habit that is difficult for many individuals to overcome. Sometimes when we see people who are achieving or have reached a point in life that we feel we should also be at, it can feel like proof that we have only reached to where we are through luck or like we are only peripherally involved in the spaces we are moving through. For example, someone who cannot outwardly express their gender may feel that they are unable to move through the same spaces as someone who is. Everyone’s journey in life is different. Our lives are unique and the pace that a person’s life is moving should not be viewed as an indicator or a measuring stick of where our life should be. As stated above, if we are able to focus on our accomplishments and recognize our own personal worth and value, it will become easier for us to acknowledge that the perceived accomplishments of others does not determine the place we should be at in our lives. Let’s strive to find ways to acknowledge other people’s successes and achievements without invalidating our own.
Recognize our worth is not based off outside determination
Often times we allow the interpretations of people outside ourselves to determine our own self-worth. It is at times like this that we must remember that other people’s interpretation of our worth is not important. What is important is how we value ourselves and the work that we do, that we take the time to reflect on ourselves, and that we build a process for acknowledging and accepting our accomplishments and achievements. It is only when we are truly able to look at our past triumphs and accept them as good that we will be able to begin to shed the feeling of being an imposter. This holds true for many of the different intersections of our lives where we may encounter feelings of being an imposter. For example, your gender expression is not determined by others, your ability as a POC to speak to your experiences is not diminished by the people you date, and your sexuality is not determined by outside observers. Only you are able to define yourself, through other people may try.
Talk with other people about your experiences
Sometimes the best thing we can do when we experience negative feelings is to talk to others. Knowing that other people have felt and do feel the same way you do can counteract imposter syndrome. Often, we feel alone in our feelings and isolated by the thoughts running through our minds. For example, as QPOC, we may often feel isolated and alone as we move through a world that centers and highlights whiteness. Consequently, our QPOC identities may be diminished or invalidated. By coming together with community members we trust, we can remind ourselves that our experiences are legitimate, valid, and authentic. Hearing others’ experiences and how they process these complex feelings can help us feel less isolated and more connected, while also reminding us that we are able to triumph when faced with adversity. Surround yourself with people who value you and your ideas, beliefs, relationships, and existence.
Own your experiences and accomplishments
You have put in the time, effort, and energy to get to where you are and to be who you are. However, it can feel like we have reached where we are by luck, timing, or as a result of tricking others into thinking we are different than we are. Remember that you are worthy of being where you are and that you are valuable and have a lot to offer. Your experiences and life are important pieces of our community. The accomplishments you have achieved are yours and you should claim and own them as yours. Do not let others make you feel as though you don’t deserve your accolades and honors or to exist in the spaces you are in. Often, QPOC are taught over time and through experience to let credit for our work and achievements go to others. It is important that we actively work against that.
Let’s work together to ensure that our community members feel strong and comfortable with their identities, accomplishments, and lives.