Latinas Do Not Have Impostor Syndrome

You are not an impostor, you are just in an environment where your abilities or contributions are undervalued or questioned

Latinas no imposter syndrome

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Latinas are no strangers to the concept of impostor syndrome, the feeling of not belonging, intense self-doubt, and fears of being exposed as a fraud. In my work as a therapist, every Latina client has acknowledged experiencing this “syndrome,” and I’ve also shared my personal struggles with it. However, I’ve realized that our perspective on this issue needs to be challenged. As I’ve delved deeper into understanding this feeling of being an impostor, my opposition to the term “syndrome” has grown. Labeling it as a syndrome suggests a pathology—implying an inherent flaw within us. This is misleading; feelings like self-doubt when undertaking new tasks are natural and justified. Moreover, discussions on this topic frequently overlook a larger culprit, oppressive systems and policies that not only perpetuate but also amplify these feelings of being an “impostor.”

Reflecting on my initial experience as a therapist, I remember my anxiety during my very first session was so apparent that my client paused to ask if I was okay. I was terrified of being removed from my program for not being a “perfect therapist” from the start. I feared being seen as an “impostor” simply because I didn’t have all the answers immediately. Back then, I thought of it as a “syndrome”—a personal flaw. Now, I understand these were normal responses to unrealistic expectations that I set for myself AND and the pressure I felt having something to prove as one of the few Latinas in my graduate program at an Ivy League institution. Like many other trailblazing Latinas, I experienced tokenization and the pressure of being seen as a representative of everyone from my culture in a predominantly White space. These pressures may sometimes seem subtle, such as lack of representation, except perhaps as a token mention in a diversity statement but can also be more overt such as racist comments and policies.

For example, while I was in this program, I had to retake a course. Initially, it was incredibly hard to grapple with “failing” something for the first time. However, it was even more devastating to learn that I had “failed” because I had not “shared enough about my cultural identity in class.” Essentially, I was being told I wasn’t Latina enough. I was both livid and defeated, and the disrespectful manner in which I was notified only added insult to injury. When I tried to advocate for myself, I was bluntly told, “there is nothing else you can do; if you want to graduate from this program, you have to retake this course.” At the time, these experiences made me feel so small and led me to question my sense of belonging. Needless to say, I retook the course under the guidance of the only Latina faculty member available and passed without issue. Yet, despite overcoming this hurdle, the constant need for advocacy and facing ongoing challenges led me to doubt myself more intensely, wondering what I was missing that everyone else seemed to understand.

My point is, I had bought into the narrative that there was something inherently wrong with me, labeling it as a “syndrome.” This idea was further reinforced by oppressive systems and policies that overtly “othered” me. It’s no surprise that individuals with marginalized identities are more likely to experience “impostor syndrome.” I believe the term itself contributes to a cycle of oppression. In the example I shared earlier, despite feeling defeated, I persisted and completed the course. However, these interactions could lead many students to feel discouraged, potentially causing them to leave their programs and face additional financial barriers that delay or impede graduation. In fact, “impostor syndrome” is often associated with underperformance.

When you feel like an impostor, you might not go for the promotion, apply for the scholarship, or launch the business. This shows how deeply impostor syndrome can oppress us. Again, being the only person from your background in certain spaces can create feelings of separation, and these feelings are exacerbated by oppressive practices, policies, and comments. Every Latina I know, including myself, has felt “othered” in environments where they already questioned their sense of belonging. A common form of othering is through microaggressions, like being complimented on our English: “Your English is so good, where are you from?” This not only amplifies our otherness but also intensifies our feelings of separation.

This reflection highlights why the term “impostor syndrome” is so problematic. Originally coined as the “impostor phenomenon” in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzan Imes, it was meant to describe feelings of self-doubt and fraudulence in high achievers. Over time, however, it became more commonly referred to as “impostor syndrome” in everyday conversations, while the term “phenomenon” continued to be used in academic circles. The language we use is powerful, and I advocate for returning to the original term—as a phenomenon. This terminology describes what you are experiencing without pathologizing it. Ideally, I would advocate to abolish the term altogether, but recognizing and understanding this experience is crucial. It helps us realize that there is nothing inherently wrong with us, validates our feelings, and empowers us to make a change. While recognizing this reality, it’s important to remember that these systemic issues are not your fault.

You are not an impostor. You are just in an environment where your abilities or contributions are undervalued or questioned.

You are not an impostor. There is a lack of visible role models to help you see that you belong.

You are not an impostor. You have been trying to survive in environments that isolate you and make you feel like a fraud.

Chingona, you don’t have impostor syndrome; but let me tell you what I think of you. You embody strength and authenticity. Your unique perspective, shaped by your personal experiences, is incredibly valuable. Whether you’re a first-generation individual, bridging cultures and demonstrating adaptability and resourcefulness, or if you’re from subsequent generations, your presence helps combat systemic oppression in every environment—be it work, home, or school.

So, say it with me: Latinas do not have impostor syndrome!

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