Since my sophomore year, I have had impostor syndrome, a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud (Wiki). I often suffered in silence and never told a soul about my feelings, as I didn’t want to risk anyone confirming my suspicions. Looking at the situation retrospectively, I think I also didn’t want to admit to myself that I couldn’t be the student I envisioned myself to be. I was stuck in an unfortunate situation in which my racial and gender identity simultaneously imposed the Model Minority myth and impostorism on me.
According to the American Psychological Association, Impostor Syndrome is a newfound phenomenon that emerged in the 1970’s amongst professional women and people of color. These individuals were often the first in their families to attend higher education institutions, receive promotions, and experience other forms of socio-economics advancements. While achieving new feats, the bulk of these individuals have also had to experience discrimination, counter false stereotypes, and struggle with tensions about their self-perceptions. In short, they were cognitively dissonant -- they were part of a system in which it was not of the norm for the likes of them to succeed, yet they were succeeding.
Objectively speaking, it makes logical sense why over 70% of young people have experienced similar feelings. With the expectation to have stellar academics, numerous work experiences, leadership, involvement in extracurriculars, 8+ hours of sleep, it seems like society can be quite delusional in its asks. Moreover, as a minority compared to the masses, the additional burden of justifying your presence can lead many people of color and females to refrain from recognizing their accomplishments.
In psychology, the culmination of the beliefs and knowledge an individual has about themselves is called the self-concept. With a public education system that normalizes the idea that intelligence is accurately reflected by standardized testing and mass media that communicates misrepresentations of intelligence, there is reason for many students of color refraining to include intelligence into their self-concepts. Unique to USC, this can also explain why many students of color who received admission into a prestigious university might feel vulnerable and lacking a sense of belonging, ultimately revealing the fact that Impostor Syndrome is an abstract phenomenon with tangible consequences.
In a research study released by the University of Texas at Austin, it was revealed that “impostor feelings might exacerbate the relationship between discrimination and mental health outcomes” (Psychology Today). Moreover, participants who experienced impostorism often encountered symptoms of anxiety and depression. Individuals who grew up in “disempowering systems will have experiences that confirm they are lesser human beings… [socializing them] to think and affirm false ideals and stereotypes” (Psychology Today).
Personally speaking, Impostor Syndrome has been among the most difficult adversities I have had to face. For nearly two years, I have expended a tremendous amount of energy to consciously accept my accomplishments on the basis on effort rather than luck and also take steps to bolster my self confidence. As a female student of color whose classes and workspaces were usually dominated by white males, I often felt out of place and needing to take additional steps to prove my presence. Moreover, as the daughter of immigrant parents who could not fully relate to my circumstances, I justified my feelings for the short-term by believing ‘true’ success would allow me to escape from being an impostor. As it turns out, ‘true’ success can only be recognized by you, and the sooner you realize you are competent, the sooner you can continue to be the competent and driven individual you are!
In conclusion, it is important to realize the various racial components that make up social interactions and norms. By subtly and subconsciously indicating to students of color, various stereotypes and misconceptions have made many accomplished individuals to feel like they are not what success looks like. Moving forward, we should provide both preventative and interruptive resources, such as hiring more culturally competent counselors at Engemann or including a mental health element into first-year/transfer orientations. Considering USC is one of the most diverse institutions in the country, we shouldn’t ride the coattails of the title or tout diversity as a buzzword, rather provide sustainable solutions to the students who make up our university.
Below are some steps to help combat Impostor Syndrome if needed:
Changing your mindset
Accept the fact that no one is perfect and makes as many mistakes as you might.
It’s okay to recognize where you can improve to invest in yourself.
Keeping a list of compliments
Filling up a notebook or jar with nice things people have said about you.
Reminding yourself you are often harder on yourself than you should be and that you are worthy of compliments/recognition.
Talking to people you trust
There is a solid chance your friend/family/trusted individual has had moments of impostorism. By helping you rationalize your thoughts and validating your efforts, expressing your feelings can help you realize you don’t have to suffer in silence.
If you have any questions about Impostor Syndrome or my experience, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org