Imposter Syndrome and How to Manage It in the Black Community

Imposter phenomenon, or imposter syndrome (IS), is defined as internal feelings of being undeserving of one’s success, because the individual believes their accomplishments were due to luck. IS has been directly related to psychological distress, including feelings of anxiety and depression.

Black people who obtain an advanced degree tend to experience a lack of support, combined with the symptoms described above, which may impact the way they combat feelings related to IS. Black individuals who experience IS have also historically experienced higher rates of racial discrimination and prejudice. These experiences can lead to distrust and resentment towards peers and colleagues, negatively impacting work relationships and overall progress in academia and their careers. Though affirmative action has attempted to mitigate some of these instances of prejudice and discrimination, it may also act as a contributor to feelings of IS. Leaving some believing that they do not deserve their position. 

The negative effects of IS can be observed in a career context, simply by observing race and gender gaps related to income. Though black individuals have positions where they have the same education and experience as their counterparts, they are often paid less. This may directly affect their motivation to apply for certain positions for which they qualify, as well as their perceived value of themselves, based on their interpretation of what society feels they are worth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median weekly pay for males who worked full-time was $1,022.00 and $843.00 for women. When we break this down into race/ethnicity, the median weekly salary of full- time employees is as follows: Asians ($1,166.00), Whites ($967.00), Blacks ($756.00), and Hispanics ($712.00). More specifically, Black men have median weekly earnings of $778.00 compared to White men who earn $1,058.00, and Black women earn $738.00 compared to White women who earn $859.00. These differences may result in black people over exerting themselves while not advocating appropriately for their worth due to believing they are not qualified to receive more.  

Here are some tips on how to manage thoughts and feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome.

  1. Speak to people who you trust about your feelings, and know that your feelings are valid. 
  2. Challenge your negative thoughts with positive thoughts. How we think, feel and behave all intertwine.
  3. Obtain academic or professional support from mentors. Identify what success looks like for you, and make realistic goals and objectives for yourself.
  4. Seek to obtain new skills that you can pair with your career goals, and will aid in your overall knowledge while helping you feel more confident in your abilities. 
  5. Follow social media accounts, blogs, or like-minded individuals who empower you to feel more positively about your abilities. 
  6. Particularly in the field of psychology, it may be useful to spend some time alone to recharge. In this time, self-care activities are important (e.g. watching movies, meditating, reading, etc.) to reduce internalizing negative emotions.  
  7. Don’t forget the importance of your body language. For example, simply changing your posture to a more upright position could increase your confidence, versus standing or sitting with a slouch. 
  8. Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Keep a compliment and achievement journal to track the positive feedback you obtain to add to your overall confidence. 

People have learned how to outwardly present positive aspects of themselves, when they are struggling internally. This ultimately makes it more difficult to express negative thoughts and feelings because many people feel they are alone in their experience. Authentic living is important because it supports us in challenging thoughts related to imposter syndrome, and it may inspire others to keep going when they want to quit. Have faith in your abilities and enjoy the journey.

Featured Image: Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Keshia M. Prince, PsyD About Author

Dr. Keshia Prince has conducted psychological assessments and provided therapy in school, private practice, and correctional settings. The bulk of her work has been related to forensic services, specifically sex offender treatment and court mandated assessments.