A Racial Identity Crisis — Talkspace

Published on: 24 Jan 2023


When a person’s internal racial identity doesn’t match what others see, it can lead to a form of self-doubt known as racial imposter syndrome. It’s a type of racial identity crisis that frequently affects people who are of mixed race. Like other types of imposter syndrome, research shows that it can be a source of anxiety, leaving people feeling as though they don’t belong.

Here, we’re discussing the concept of racial imposter syndrome in detail, including how it differs from the basic imposter syndrome, what causes it, how it can impact lives, and most importantly, how you can cope using online therapy with Talkspace.

What Is Racial Imposter Syndrome?

Racial imposter syndrome can be described as both an identity crisis and a form of imposter syndrome (which is also sometimes called fraud syndrome, imposter phenomenon, or imposter experience). It can cause people to feel as though they don’t belong or “fit” in the communities they identify with.

Although racial imposter syndrome isn’t an official medical condition, it gives a name to a feeling that many people can relate to. It can make someone feel as though their racial or ethnic identity is fake or inauthentic, affecting virtually every aspect of their multiracial identity. Not feeling validated can impact how one behaves, looks, speaks, or presents themselves.

Racial imposter syndrome vs imposter syndrome

Racial imposter syndrome and imposter syndrome involve frequent doubts and fears of being outed as a fraud. While imposter syndrome causes people to question their accomplishments and abilities, racial imposter syndrome describes doubts about racial and ethnic identity.

What Causes Racial Imposter Syndrome?

Experiences with racial identity can vary significantly from person to person. Although certain groups are more likely to struggle with feelings of fraud, racial imposter syndrome has many potential causes including racial discrimination.

Language barriers

The children of immigrants often grow up speaking English. Later in life, this can make it difficult for them to carry on conversations with others who are part of their culture, including family members. Even when someone can speak their parent’s native tongue, they may feel self-conscious about an accent that they believe identifies them as an imposter.

social pressure

Children and adolescents have a strong desire to fit in with their peers. Peer influence often has a significant impact on adolescent decision-making. Youth often deny aspects of their culture so that others can accept them. As they grow older, they may feel embarrassed by this behavior or like they don’t have the right to be a part of a culture they tried to cast aside. This type of experience can leave them dealing with racial trauma.

Not feeling “enough”

When someone has a mixed heritage, they may feel like they don’t truly belong to any part of their identity. In some cases, people are only exposed to one aspect of their culture, which might make them feel they can’t authentically claim other parts of their identity.

“Having grown up as a multiracial individual, I have had to manage my own feelings of not being ‘enough’ of any one particular racial/ethnic group. If you’re struggling with racial imposter syndrome, it can be helpful to seek out support groups or talk therapy to help you embrace your own, unique identity — quirks, flaws, joys, and all.”

– Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

Transracial adoption

Our identities are partially shaped by the culture we’re raised in. When someone is adopted by a family with a different race from their own, it can lead to a cultural identity crisis. Many transracial adoptees struggle to find a connection with their birth culture and have difficulty coping with feelings that they’re different.

Feeling like you don’t fit in

A major part of racial imposter syndrome is a simple belief that you just don’t belong. People who are multiracial might feel as if they don’t fit in with any group. Adding to the complexity is that many people trying to navigate racial imposter syndrome struggle to form deep connections with others who share their birth culture.

The Impact of Racial Imposter Syndrome

Every aspect of a person’s identity can be influenced by racial imposter syndrome. People who struggle with their racial identity may feel they’ll never be accepted for who they are. They might feel pressured to hide or change aspects of their identity.

It can be a significant source of stress and may even cause some to withdraw from social situations. Racial imposter syndrome can harm self-esteem and lead to intensely insecure feelings about cultural identity. This can leave people feeling like they need to prove themselves and their worth to others.

“Anytime a person does not feel as though they belong, seeds of self-doubt, shame, and anxiety are sewn. Please know that there is a seat at the table for you. You belong just as you are.”

– Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

How to Cope with Racial Imposter Syndrome

Many people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Some studies estimate that up to 82% of people can relate to this phenomenon.

While imposter syndrome is challenging for anyone, research suggests that for racial and ethnic minorities, it can be a strong predictor of mental health implications. This makes it all the more important to find healthy ways to cope.

Express your feelings

If you bottle up your emotions, they may become more intense. While you don’t have to share your every thought with the world, you should try to discuss your feelings with other people you trust. You may discover that you have friends and family members who also struggle with their racial or ethnic identity.

Challenge negative thoughts

You might believe you’re a fraud or don’t belong, but that doesn’t mean you have to let those thoughts go unchallenged. Make a point of questioning every negative thought about your identity. When put to the test, most people discover that many of their negative thought patterns don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Find ways to connect with your culture

One of the easiest ways to assuage feelings of inauthenticity is to look for things that can help deepen your connection with your cultural heritage.

“While you are on your self-discovery journey, it’s important to spend some time learning about your family, your cultural background, and your community at large. Approaching these sources from a place of curiosity vs judgment may help you learn about yourself from a more holistic viewpoint.”

– Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

You could learn to prepare a traditional meal, work on your language skills, or even sit down and talk with a family member. Reconnecting to your roots can be a way to remind yourself that you are do belong.

Avoid comparing yourself to others

Being different from others who are also part of your culture doesn’t make you invalid. Instead of comparing yourself to others, try celebrating what makes you unique.

Try therapy

Racial imposter syndrome can make you feel isolated. There are several effective ways you can learn to cope with these anxieties, but the feeling of being a fraud isn’t always easy to overcome on your own. Therapy can help you explore and deal with your fears.

Get Professional Help with Talkspace

Whether you’re struggling with racial imposter syndrome or trying to figure out how to deal with racism, a therapist can help you work through your feelings.

Talkspace can connect you with a licensed therapist who can give you the support you need. While your anxieties won’t disappear overnight, therapy can help you build a healthier and happier life, where you feel accepted, valued, and have a positive sense of self.

Sources:

1. Rivera N, Feldman E, Augustin D, Caceres W, Gans H, Blankenburg R. Do I Belong Here? Confronting Imposter Syndrome at an Individual, Peer, and Institutional Level in Health Professionals. MedEdPORTAL. 2021. doi:10.15766/mep_2374-8265.11166. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8257750/. Accessed September 26, 2022.

2. Albert D, Chein J, Steinberg L. The Teenage Brain. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2013;22(2):114-120. doi:10.1177/0963721412471347. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4276317/. Accessed September 26, 2022.

3. Hamilton E, Samek D, Keyes M, McGue M, Iacono W. Identity Development in a Transracial Environment: Racial/Ethnic Minority Adoptees in Minnesota. Adopt Q. 2015;18(3):217-233. doi:10.1080/10926755.2015.1013593. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540225/. Accessed September 26, 2022.

4. Bravata D, Watts S, Keefer A et al. Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. J Gen Intern Med. 2019;35(4):1252-1275. doi:10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7174434/. Accessed September 26, 2022.

5. Cokley K, McClain S, Enciso A, Martinez M. An Examination of the Impact of Minority Status Stress and Impostor Feelings on the Mental Health of Diverse Ethnic Minority College Students. J Multicult Counts Devel. 2013;41(2):82-95. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1912.2013.00029.x. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2161-1912.2013.00029.x. Accessed September 26, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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