Michelle Obama, Sonia Sotomayor and the impostor syndrome

Video and transcript from The Rachel Maddow Show June 4 2009 –

MADDOW:  If choosing a summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Princeton graduate with the J.D. from Yale, and 11 years experience on the second circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals—where only three of her hundreds of opinions have been overturned by the Supreme Court—who happens to be the first Latina ever nominated to the high court, weren‘t enough to secure President Obama‘s first Supreme Court nominee, her confirmation…

the Obama administration deployed its most powerful asset on the campaign in support of Judge Sonia Sotomayor yesterday.

They deployed FLOTUS, the first lady of the United States, whose favorability rating stands at 76 percent, which does happen to outpace Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton at similar times in their husband‘s presidencies.

Here was Michelle Obama speaking yesterday to a high school graduation in Washington, D.C.

MICHELLE OBAMA, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY:  And then I read the story of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.  I don‘t know if you know about this phenomenal woman, but the president—she‘s the president‘s nominee for the Supreme Court.


OBAMA:  And she‘s the first Hispanic woman to be considered for the position.  The first.  And she went to Princeton.

And in the story, she said that when she arrived at Princeton as a freshman—and this was nine years before I would even think about going – she said, when she stepped on that campus, she said—and this is a quote—she said, she felt like a visitor landing in an alien country.

She said she never raised her hand her first year because—and this is a quote—she was too embarrassed and too intimidated to ask questions.

So, despite all her success at Princeton, then she went on to Yale Law School where she was at the top of her class in both schools—and despite all of her professional accomplishments, Judge Sotomayor says she still looks over her shoulder and wonders if she measures up.

And when I read her story, I understood exactly how she feels.

The Rachel Maddow Show June 4 2009


Of course, impostor feelings are not limited to one gender – many of us men do feel inadequate, unqualified or fakes at times – but there may be strong social influences to make it more likely or more intense for girls and women.

Related issues may include our feelings of introversion, self-criticism and high sensitivity.

Research into this impostor phenomenon or syndrome began with the work of psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who wrote a paper on the topic in 1978.

They found many women with notable achievements also had high levels of self-doubt which could not be equated with self-esteem, anxiety, or other traits, and seemed to involve a deep sense of inauthenticity and an inability to internalize their successes.

They often had the belief they were “fooling” other people, were “faking it” or getting by from having the right contacts or just being “lucky.” Many held a belief they would be exposed as frauds or fakes.

[From my article Gifted Women: Identity and Expression.]

Related pages:

Impostor syndrome


> articles:

The imposter phenomenon – Feeling like a fraud

The Impostor Syndrome – Finding a Name for the Feelings, by Dr. Valerie Young.

10 Steps to Overcome the Impostor Syndrome, by Dr. Valerie Young