[OPINION] Dismissive Filipino homes and schools worsen impostor syndrome

Article by Alison Cruz

Kids today are just as smart as the kids in the past. Something is just holding them back, and it could be impostor syndrome.

On March 5, an old footage of the 1956 High School Exchange Students debate was uploaded on Youtube, triggering comments like “Sana ganito katalino ang mga bata ngayon, hindi yung puro tiktok lang ang alam,” or “Filipino kids in the past were more eloquent and well-read than kids today. Partida wala pang internet noon.” 

These comments downplay the younger generation’s abilities through hasty generalization and unfair comparison. 

Sadly, such comments can be heard from those close to you, ultimately triggering impostor syndrome.

The syndrome has become a hot topic in recent years, and famous personalities like Lady Gaga and New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are known to suffer from it.

Locally, it’s not as recognized. Many simply associate it with poor self-esteem and make jokes out of it.

‘TAO PO, ‘DI PRODUKTO’

Impostor syndrome is not a mental disorder, but an internalized belief that hinders a person from recognizing their own worth and capabilities despite clear proof of achievements. This leaves them feeling like ‘fakes’ bound to be exposed.

It also becomes hard for the person to accept compliments, awards and other acknowledgments of their works and even existence.

Like most mental health issues,  impostor syndrome is linked to problems within a capitalist society where self-worth becomes synonymous with skills that benefit certain industries. This sets up a highly competitive playing field, one that has turned humans into products – discarded when no longer useful. 

As capitalism continues to rule and develop in our current world, standards of competence continue to rise, becoming even more rigid as well. 

But while high standards exist to screen people, ironically, most people still prefer mediocrity over brilliance. 

BE BIBO BUT NOT TOO MUCH

Children are sent to school with the goal of developing intelligence, talent and personality. 

Schools hold extra-curricular activities like debates and competitions where any student who excels in these is applauded.

However, these activities remain performative when school authorities continue to be dismissive of how students can take their criticality outside the classroom.

As much as being opinionated is encouraged during class recitations, the same cannot be said when a student speaks up against a staff or schoolmate who has wronged them.

Once in high school, I spoke up to my teacher about a classmate who harassed me online with perverted remarks. Instead of investigating the case, they told me that I was only being envious and “political” because this classmate was ‘a favorite’ among teachers. 

In the end, our guidance officer scrapped my complaint, and the same teacher continued to shame me in front of our class. Afterwards, they continued to praise my writing skills while pointing out that I lacked conviction when I spoke.

It’s an irony of sorts.

Indeed, some schools want to see their students act “bibo,” but never assertive because they consider it insubordination. They perpetuate a hierarchical system that doesn’t listen to its constituents once order and reputation are disrupted. For them, these two take priority over safety,  even when students are being harassed by flag bearers of academic excellence.

This kind of culture has led many young people to be submissive and deem themselves less worthy of being acknowledged. This translates to many other things and remains as they get older.

Continuously being made to believe that you’re not worthy of being heard can make you question your “excellence” that has been recognized, nursing constant self-doubt.

So what if they think I’m good at public speaking, debates and exams when I can’t even defend myself?

Unfortunately, the same thing happens at home where the family is supposed to provide comfort and support.

‘ANG YABANG MO NAMAN’

Hierarchy is upheld in Filipino culture, and it starts at home. 

Respect, obedience and conformity are core values taught at a young age. While it is expected and harmless, some families tend to be overbearing. 

Children are supposed to stay quiet while being scolded, otherwise they are called disrespectful, ungrateful or rebellious, even if the manner of arguing is logical and not at all rude.

While most families take pride in the achievements of their children, displaying assertiveness at home and in other settings will earn comments like, “Ano ngayon”, “Edi ikaw na” or the classic “Ang yabang mo naman,” while others simply roll their eyes.

Kon, a 22-year-old Ateneo scholar, relates to this as their education is supported by a relative from abroad.

“You’re simply expected to perform enough to graduate, but you’re not allowed to utilize what you learned in the household because [the breadwinners] seem to perceive it like you’re flexing on them,” they said. 

Expressing individuality is frowned upon, mostly by older generations. We’re expected to adhere to convention even if it means conforming to beliefs or standards we don’t agree with.

Moreover, some families downplay their children’s achievements and interests in an attempt to “humble” them or in other words, “para hindi lumaki ang ulo,” not knowing that it can be degrading. 

‘SINUSWERTE KA LANG’

The situations described above are often observed among middle to lower class families. Poorer families tend to dismiss their children’s interests and potential because they can’t support them financially.

Frustratingly for the poor, competitive societal standards only apply to those who are privileged.

It is not surprising, then, that the benchmark of proficiency is made attainable only by those with “resources.” Quality education in the Philippines is reserved either for those with money or high grades. Either way,  both are hard to come by. 

And so, any chance at being able to attain “hard-to-grasp” opportunities is associated with “swerte” or fatalism.

Many Filipinos believe that a poor person attaining success in life is mostly due to luck, failing to recognize the person’s unique capabilities. This only romanticizes poverty and justifies the lack of opportunities in the country. 

Such beliefs amplify impostor syndrome in a way that “good fortune” is given credit for someone’s success instead of their own skills and  perseverance.

We must recognize that if only resources and opportunities were made available to all, no one would have to feel this way. 

TRANSLATION INTO THE “REAL LIFE” 

While it’s not considered as a mental illness, impostor syndrome must be taken seriously as it entails stress, anxiety and depression. It can even scare people from taking risks due to constant self-doubt. 

This can be harmful, especially in a country where militancy and assertiveness are sorely needed.

Addressing these problems doesn’t mean denying everything our parents or teachers have done for us. By acknowledging these, we get to work towards better parent-child relationships, consistent concepts of self-identity or self-worth and healthy environments at school and at home for developing confident individuals.

Through being genuinely heard and seen, kids will never have to feel like fakes.

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