What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome (IS) refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context.
To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck. It can affect anyone no matter their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise.
The term that was first used by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. When the concept of IS was introduced, it was originally thought to apply mostly to high-achieving women. Since then, it has been recognized as more widely experienced.
Why Impostor Syndrome Is More Prevalent in Black Individuals
Black men and women are particularly vulnerable to impostor syndrome, both in the workplace and in day-to-day interactions. In a HuffPost article titled “Imposter Syndrome Hits Harder When You’re Black,” author Jolie A. Doggett notes that for Black individuals, impostor syndrome isn’t just an imaginary voice in their heads.
“We can hear it loud and clear when we receive almost daily messages from society that we truly don’t belong,” she writes. “This feeling of otherness is a common occurrence in the workplace where, too often, we may be the only person of color present.”
In many African-American homes, children are told by their family members that they have to work twice as hard as their white counterparts.
In an educational space, Black students deal with imposter feelings in the classroom. According to a 2017 study about imposter feelings in a university setting, perceived discrimination and imposter feelings predicted anxiety among Black students. Also, Black students who experienced many imposter feelings strengthened the relationship between perceived discrimination and depression. Unfortunately, imposter syndrome distorts Black people’s actual identities and how they view themselves.