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Overcoming Impostor Syndrome in the Age of Social Media

We live in the golden age of information a.k.a. the digital age. A constant influx of information reminds us that knowledge is at our fingertips at any given time. We have never been more overwhelmed with information and data in history than today, and we have also never been more aware in a collective sense, about the most relevant (a subjective term) or current issues of the day.

It's the self-appointed job of social media to badger us all day with trending information online that is very difficult to ignore, except when we take steps to do so intentionally. One way or another, with the right digital strategy, any content can be made highly visible around the globe, and this poses both the most amazing benefits and potentially the greatest threats for our awareness and mental health.

It is also due to the inevitability of social media in our lives today that most people have a keener awareness of mental health than was previously common, one aspect of which is the growing concern about impostor syndrome.

Impostor Syndrome is not classified as a mental health disorder, but it is defined as a psychological phenomenon, one that causes people to unreasonably fear being exposed as a fraud. This term was originally coined by clinical psychologists as an identified pattern of behavior that is common amongst highly successful people.

Despite having strong and visible evidence of their accomplishments, affected individuals fail to validate their worth, and are plagued with a persistent belief that they do not deserve the success they're experiencing.

Impostor syndrome can happen to anyone, regardless of age, social status, or gender. Impostor syndrome has been determined largely to be a reaction to certain external circumstances, and there are potential triggers that can make its occurrence more likely. One recently-evolved trigger that is seen as a high-risk factor for impostor syndrome is the virtual reality of social media.

These are some of the ways that social media can increase the occurrence and heighten the effects of impostor syndrome:

  • Social media can put people under increased pressure to succeed and reach their highest potential. But with this increased public scrutiny, will remaining authentic and embracing imperfections be possible too?

o It used to be that the glossy pages of a magazine or a shiny billboard were our typical sources of inspiration to an idyllic lifestyle. Nowadays, you only need to open your social media apps, which is fairly frequent in any given day, to be constantly reminded of how you could, or should, best live your life.

o The more we see these reminders, the more it encourages us to take steps to succeed and to reach our full potential. But the question is, at the bequest of all the things standardized to us by social media, can we still remain authentic and embrace ourselves with the knowledge of our own perceived imperfections?

  • Social media encourages people to create a social media image and online reputation that may feel detached from the real person behind the profile.

o When our true selves feel in conflict with our online image and reputation, lingering self-doubt follows. This dissonance can provide a breeding ground for impostor syndrome and amplify feelings of fraudulence, anxiety, and may even lead to depression.

  • Social media encourages constant comparisons and triggers impostor syndrome.

o Having instant access to how most people appear to be living their day to day lives according to their social media posts can exacerbate the impostor phenomenon. Social media encourages us to make comparisons. Another thing that social media can do is to challenge and warp our notion of what is normal.

What we are frequently exposed to ultimately becomes the norm in our minds, given enough time. If we're not discerning, it is very easy to take another person's social media profile at face value, and yet feel that our very own is fraudulent or at least misleading.

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Counter feelings of impostor syndrome caused by social media with these suggestions:

Share and discuss your experiences with other people.

This gives a sense of belongingness and support to make you realize that you are not alone.

Regulate your social media consumption.

This is all the more important if it triggers uneasy feelings of insecurity, comparison, and negativity.

Build strong offline support.

Prioritize your relationships outside social media.

Find a mentor with possibly relatable experiences to you.

A mentor can guide and motivate you with their own similar experiences. Also, take steps to develop a stronger offline influence to balance your online persona. This can act as a circuit-breaker to disrupt you from putting all of your energy there.

Seek counsel from a professional.

If the previous suggestions aren't helping to overcome feelings related to impostor syndrome, outside help may be needed. Seek the counsel of those who are professionally trained to help you restore your emotional balance and trust in your self-worth.

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