I had the privilege of visiting the historical grounds of Robben Island Prison off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. All of the tours are led by men who were imprisoned there, and they share their firsthand accounts and experiences. They experienced psychological cruelty and physical suffering that is difficult to imagine at the hands of the guards who tried to break their spirits and sow dissension among the racial groups there. The men resisted by focusing on helping each other. Those with larger rations shared their meager food with others who had less. Their motto was, “Each one, teach one,” and every new prisoner was given a political education that empowered them to organize, remain in solidarity, and mentally resist oppression by building internal resilience and power.
One of the best ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome is to work to eliminate the conditions that cause it. All we need to do is hold a baby to know that we are not born feeling unworthy of love and belonging and inclusion. Our culture, systems, laws, policies, social norms, business practices — all human made — are what create the inner experience that we call Imposter Syndrome.
As we continue to observe, challenge, counter, and heal Imposter Syndrome in ourselves, we have more and more strength available to challenge the systems that create it in ourselves and others. The research is mixed on who experiences Imposter Syndrome. Some studies show that it cuts across demographics and identities, affecting people of all genders, races, ethnicities, social class, sexual orientation, and educational levels. Others show that it disproportionately affects women (especially BIWOC: Black, Indigenous Women of Color), BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ folx. However, we don’t need research to know that rising water lifts all boats. Read more