Thursday, June 15, 2023

First Attempt at Notes on Imposter Syndrome + Who's Responsible For Distress?

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Saw several social media posts on the concept of imposter syndrome this week. Have sketched out some initial draft thoughts and notes. 

Currently, imposter syndrome seems most often used to refer to internal monologues in one's head, alongside disabling feelings such as feeling anxious/distressed/dysregulated. One example, from the ADHD/autism advocacy world, was this post excerpt:

Imposter Syndrome Me:

  "Real adults just get things done the normal way. You are such a weakling."

Autistic Me:

   Most of those adults are able to keep track of everything because they aren't having to tune out constant sensory overload.


The concept Imposter Syndrome is being used to describe a fight against constant feelings of inferiority, after years of being called lazy, willfully disorganized, and unhinged.

I highlighted "describe a fight" because, buried within those words, is a hidden lack of discussion on who is accountable for those feelings. And it conflates two very linked and related, but seperate concepts worth unpacking. Two things I want to highlight are that we're talking about.

1) Attempts to conquer an illusion of things that aren't true (you are such a weakling)

2) Being called lazy, willfully disorganized, and unhinged

Both of things are problems. One problem often causes the other. And we can note that this is yet another example where modern concepts of help frame the entire problem solely and only as fixing the symptom (feelings of inadequacy) but not the root cause (being called lazy, willfully disorganized, and unhinged).

So that's one point. Are we discussing stopping the ableist judgement? Almost never. We ask individuals to "tolerate", to "not listen", and do take upon themselves the incredibly hard work of battling the inner critic, even as that critic is constantly reinforced by external status quo from society.

And, critically, these expectation of others are not just words. Even then, we need to address that harms caused by the words themselves (often the root of what's bringing Imposter Syndrome about in the first place). But also...

We also need to discuss this term within the context of actual oppression. Not just the developed illusion about one's own competency, but about the real-world expectations others are holding a person to, often under threat of punishment, isolation, or abuse. An attempt to call out the factual, actual realities of systemic bias and exclusion. This is excellently detailed in the following article...

Article: Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome

Tulshyan and Burey discuss examples of certain cultural expectations and social norms being forced on others in damaging, hurtful, and unjust ways. It's a common theme across so many marginalized groups. This article focuses on that theme playing out for BIPOC women in the workforce. As the article discusses...

"Even if women demonstrate strength, ambition, and resilience, our daily battles with microaggressions, especially expectations and assumptions formed by stereotypes and racism, often push us down. Imposter syndrome as a concept fails to capture this dynamic and puts the onus on women to deal with the effects. Workplaces remain misdirected toward seeking individual solutions for issues disproportionately caused by systems of discrimination and abuses of power."

And it's this point, which, to me, remains a massive constant failing of modern discourse about the notion. The experience is very real. The conversation why it's occurring and who ought to be held responsible remains deeply problematic. 

I will again refute the ongoing suffering control ethic that an individual responsibility to "tolerate",  "be resilient", or "not let these experiences et to you". It is a perfectly functional, normal reaction to experience immense and ongoing emotional suffering in response to external factors - including Imposter Syndrome feelings. We should be demanding an to systems of discrimination and abuses of power, but instead all we're offered is blame for not being able to tolerate the abuse. 

I don't say this to dismiss what personal healing can be gained from self-discovered refutation of Imposter Syndrome feelings. It is to say, I question the extent to which full healing is possible, and to demand that we not ignore the ultimate root source of the issue - the problematic external behaviors themselves. 

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This article brought to you by the currently unfunded Peer Voices Network. 

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