The Latina Struggle of Feeling Like a Fraud: Understanding Imposter Syndrome

brown haired woman at a desk looking out the window
Imposter syndrome. It isn’t considered a mental health disease or disorder, but it is a common experience that can affect people from all backgrounds, professions, and levels of achievement.

While this “syndrome” might not be recognized as a mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the commonly felt experience can definitely have negative effects on mental health and wellbeing in the form of anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or depression.

The exact causes of imposter syndrome aren’t fully understood, but most mental health professionals point to a complex mix of individual, social, and cultural factors. After dreaming the dreams, working hard to make those dreams a reality, scaling every imaginable mountain in the way, and finally arriving, the self-doubt begins to set in like a thundercloud ready to burst.

The thoughts and feelings of not being good enough, not learning fast enough, or not feeling as capable as those around you feel very real, and yet, once objectivity is achieved again, it’s clear that all those manufactured narratives weren’t very real at all.

What do we know about imposter syndrome?

Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term after studying the behaviors of high-achieving women who, despite their accomplishments, believed that they were not actually bright and had just fooled everyone into believing they were. It’s also been attributed to believing success happened solely because of luck or chance and not through hard work or innate talent.

The phenomenon is very much recognized but not very well researched, therefore the causes aren’t entirely known. However enough is known that a few generalized theories can be attributed to the persistent feeling of self doubt. Factors can include personality traits of people who are highly conscientious, perfectionistic, and/or self-critical. Family and cultural background that includes growing up in a family or culture that emphasizes achievement, success, or high expectations that fuel feelings of inadequacy.

Social comparisons can often be to blame. In recent times the rise of socia media platforms where posting is often performative and/or altered or fake, comparing oneself to others and feeling that others are more successful, talented, or capable can lead to the feelings of imposter syndrome.

People who have experienced discrimination or marginalization may be more likely to doubt their abilities and feel like they don't belong. Latinas face many challenges in the workplace that can be directly attributed to membership in not just one, but two marginalized groups: women and people of color.

Being the only Latina in the room

White, land-owning men built American society, which means that Latinas experience systemic racism and gender inequality in every single workplace no matter the kind of work. From silent discrimination like lower wages for equal work to loud and proud racism in the form of harassment and verbal or phyical assault, trying to succeed in a system not built for you is exhausting and inspires constant doubt.

A highly accomplished woman often knows that she is highly accomplished and talented, but what happens if her peers don’t recognize her as such? For many Latinas, the problem stems from being “the only Latina in the room” and therefore doubting if they actually belong there. Why don’t men suffer from imposter syndrome as much as women do? It’s simple; society teaches men that positions of power are where they’re meant to be.

Therefore part of overcoming imposter syndrome is understanding this reality. Getting mansplained isn’t because you don’t understand; it’s because culture and bias towards your race and gender have overinflated many white men’s egos.

Of course, the degradation Latinas experience at work and in many facets of life isn’t just limited to white men. The entire hierarchy of color means that race and gender play a critical role in creating environments where imposter syndrome runs rampant, and more so amongst women of color.

How do we defeat imposter syndrome?

An internet search will produce thousands of results and suggest many self-help books, and sure, there are things women can do to overcome these baseless beliefs, but the problem is deeper than that. Authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey wrote, “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome,” an interesting take on how imposter syndrome has to be eliminated through systemic changes and not through internal work by the individual. They write, “Imposter syndrome is especially prevalent in biased, toxic cultures that value individualism and overwork. Yet the “fix women’s imposter syndrome” narrative has persisted, decade after decade.”

So while there is always value in personal development, a critical component that must be understand is that a major part of this problem doesn’t have to do with women at all and everything to do with the sexist and racist systems women are forced to exist in. The solutions then, seem to lie in the dismantling and rebuilding of these systems so that better, more equitable systems can foster talent rather than privilege.

But in the mean time, a daily affirmation can’t hurt. Repeat after us: I AM CAPABLE, TALENTED, AND MORE THAN ENOUGH. Now go slay as you always do.

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