Imposter Syndrome Through the BIPOC Lens
Imposter Syndrome might be a familiar term, and something many of us have felt before.
You feel like an “imposter” or like you don’t deserve to belong where you are – whether it’s at work, school, or even in certain friend groups or communities. You can feel like you’re the only imposter in the room – everyone else is authentic, everyone else has things figured out but you. This feeling can also arise when one feels like they are not deserving of their accomplishments and that their successes are based on luck as opposed to hard work and effort.
Though this feeling of being a “fraud” has been acknowledged in various demographics, the experience is distinct for BIPOC and marginalized individuals. For us, it’s not merely a psychological battle. Rather, the societal structures around us can actually amplify and reinforce this internalized belief.
BIPOC and Imposter Syndrome: Beyond Personal Doubt
For BIPOC individuals, societal cues often echo our internal apprehensions about ourselves and whether or not we belong. The name ‘Imposter Syndrome’ itself becomes a misnomer here. We don’t merely ‘feel’ out of place – sometimes, society is actively pushing us to the margins. Systemic racism, pervasive stereotypes, and underrepresentation in numerous professions and communities mean BIPOC individuals are battling more than self-inflicted doubt. We’re confronting an environment that might actually be invalidating our legitimacy.
These systemic challenges are real, not imagined. For example, a BIPOC individual in a corporate space might receive surprised reactions upon voicing a well-informed opinion, as if it’s unexpected for them to be knowledgeable. If this individual had internal doubts about themselves, they might now be validated by their colleagues, further reinforcing the feeling of being an imposter. Being one of the few racialized individuals in predominantly white spaces can also lead us to believe those who resemble us are not deserving of these professions or promotions.
Addressing the Multi-Faceted Challenge
Recognizing the depth and breadth of this experience is important. It’s not just about reassuring our internal doubts, but also about challenging and changing external perceptions. Here are some ways to begin reframing and unpacking Imposter Syndrome:
1. Therapy: Culturally-informed therapists can help guide BIPOC individuals through the confusion of personal insecurities intertwined with societal biases. They can help to distinguish between the two, and provide coping strategies for both realms.
2. Community & Solidarity: Shared experiences are so powerful for fostering understanding. Networking with peers and friends can offer emotional solace and practical advice. A fellow BIPOC colleague can provide insights into navigating a mutual workplace or industry, which is especially important in spaces where BIPOC representation is minimal.
3. Documenting Achievements: Maintaining a personal log of accomplishments can help counter moments of self-doubt. When systemic challenges amplify internal hesitations, this record stands as a testament to one’s capabilities.
4. Awareness and Advocacy: Recognizing systemic challenges is the first step toward change. Participating in advocacy, fostering workplace diversity, and actively challenging stereotypes can initiate change from within you to the people around you.
For BIPOC individuals, Imposter Syndrome encompasses more than just an internal emotional struggle. It’s a reflection of societal perceptions and biases. The journey isn’t merely about personal growth but also about advocating for broader systemic change.
In this interconnected narrative of personal and societal challenges, understanding is the first step toward change.
Until next time!
Zainib Abdullah (MSW, RSW) is the founder and executive director at Wellnest, a Toronto-based mental health clinic. The Wellnest team – a collective of diverse psychotherapists – focuses on supporting the needs of the BIPOC community. As a trauma therapist, her approach is client-centred, anti-racist/oppressive and trauma-informed, incorporating various therapeutic modalities. She uses somatic based therapy to help clients heal and manage trauma experiences. She supports clients in accessing greater connectedness to their inner wisdom and peace.