Thoughts on Social Class, Assertiveness, and the Imposter Syndrome


Whoa, that's a heavy title. What's that got to do with this blog?
Read on.


When you grow up hearing the stories of your working class parents at work—about exploitation, abusive bosses, discrimination, relentless pressure, understaffing, and so on— and everyone else you know is also working class and has the same stories, you kind of grow up thinking this is what work means. You know, not being able to “ask for a raise,” as all those career articles suggest, or not being able to quit your job because it wasn’t challenging you or helping your grow enough. When you are working class with a kid in a (shitty) private school and a mortgage to pay and dreams of a better tomorrow, you learn to tolerate shitty job environments. You have to. You learn to aguantar

As a child of those working class parents, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first person in your entire extended family to graduate from college or earn a graduate degree. It doesn’t matter if your work has been acknowledged and celebrated. For me, there is still that relentless voice in my head saying “You are an imposter. You don’t belong here.”

Then there’s the fact that I’ve always struggled with assertiveness. Blame my traditional Cuban upbringing where independence and difference of opinion was often chastised as contrary to family goals and values, or my Catholic schooling where literally everything a young girl could do was reprimanded and shamed. 

My difficulty asserting myself and my Imposter Syndrome go hand in hand. If you don’t believe your own worth, you cannot ask for better treatment. This is true personally and professionally. But I’m sticking with the professional here. 

So for the past year and nine months, I have struggled to make a *very challenging* job work— never mind that the field employees are underpaid and overworked. Never mind that unethical behavior is accepted and implicitly encouraged because bill, bill, bill! Gotta bill that Medicaid. I have to “pay my dues,” right? I have to start at the bottom of the rung and work my way up. A private practice job fell through straight out of grad school, so that means I’m not good enough for better. I haven’t earned decent treatment from my employers yet. Let alone nurturing clinical supervision focused on my professional development. I have to stick with my job— I have to aguantar— because that is what my parents did and that is what’s expected of me by my colleagues and because the rest of America is struggling in the same ways, and who am I, a privileged Master’s degree holder with a stable job in my actual field, to complain?

So that is what I have been doing all this time. Quietly aguantando y aguantando y aguantando

I am a big fan of Schema Therapy. Look it up, it’s great. I often use this approach to help clients identify unhelpful personality-based patterns that play out in their family, social, romantic, and academic lives, which ultimately make them experience the same kinds of problems over and over again. I show them how to recognize when they’re acting in ways that help reinforce their maladaptive “schemas” (those patterns) and consequently draw people away, keep them from reaching their goals, keep them in unhealthy relationships, etc. Naturally, I’ve applied this to myself many times. Two of my most salient schemas are “Self-Sacrifice” and “Failure to Achieve.” Basically, no matter how much I accomplish, it’s never enough and I tend to believe that I’m not good enough at what I do and so I don’t take any career risks that may benefit me. I play it safe. Aguanto. I also sacrifice too much of myself for too little in return, and since I don’t clearly express or assert my feelings and needs, I end up resenting the person or entity I’m sacrificing for or not being firm enough with. This is what has happened at my current job.

But yesterday I experienced something that I believe will really help me change these schemas. Someone from the upper echelons of my company’s structure was kind and curious and forthcoming with me. And I realized that I should have been speaking up about my woes much earlier. She was there to listen all along. It’s a simple realization, I know. But it was such a powerful moment for me.

I write this post today partly to explain my absence from this creative space of mine for almost two months (overworked, super stressed), but also so that I may look back on it whenever my schemas get the best of me again. 

Here’s to a better me and a better you. May we never stop taking risks and speaking our minds whenever realistically possible.

❤️

P.S. I look forward to being back very soon.


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