Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome and the Role of Social Media

How does our use of social media affect the development of imposter syndrome?

Key points

  • Imposter syndrome is when feel like you aren't good enough for a role and will be exposed for it.
  • Imposter syndrome can affect confidence and cause significant anxiety.
  • Social media likely plays a role in imposter syndrome, as we compare ourselves to those we follow.
  • It's important to focus on our own successes when we get caught up in the lives of others.
Source: Marvin Meyer/Unsplash
Imposter syndrome can have you feeling like you don't belong in a role.
Source: Marvin Meyer/Unsplash

Imposter syndromealso known as the imposter phenomenon—refers to the belief that not only are you not good enough for or don’t belong in a certain role, environment, etc., but that others are going to inevitably “discover” that you aren’t cut out for the job.

In other words, it's a fear that you’ll be exposed as an “imposter.”

This feeling that you’re somehow faking your skills and will eventually be caught for it can understandably affect your performance and your experience in whatever role you’re taking on.

At the least, it’s difficult to feel confident in your abilities if you don’t believe that you deserve to be somewhere to begin with.

At the most, you could be showing up to work each day and waiting for someone to finally notice this supposed incompetence. It’s fair to assume that after a while, this would make most people anxious.

Self-doubt is not uncommon among new professionals, but what makes imposter syndrome so stubborn is that it can just as easily show up for a person who has already experienced plenty of success in their role.

So, what contributes to the presence of imposter syndrome?

Any number of factors might play a role in someone feeling like a fraud in their environment—individual personality, career field, gendered experiences, and so on.

Source: Karsten Winegeart/Unsplash
Social media can contribute to imposter syndrome.
Source: Karsten Winegeart/Unsplash

For example, researchers have found that people who identify as women overall report significantly more intense symptoms of imposter syndrome than those who identify as men.

One factor, though, may have been confounded by a defining aspect of the modern era: social media.

Imposter syndrome certainly doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

A key part of imposter syndrome’s foundation actually lies in how we look outside of ourselves.

Comparing our abilities to friends, coworkers, mentors, etc., can be a natural instinct when we want to get a sense of where we stand, and it is by no means inherently harmful. It can be a useful tool to learn, track progress, or even set goals for our own performance.

This comparison becomes a problem when our views of others’ performance start to paint an unrealistic picture of our own performance.

So, for example, let's say a person is reading a report from a coworker and starts thinking about how strong their coworker’s writing skills are.

If that person starts to question the quality of their own writing, it may eventually lead to thoughts like “My writing isn’t nearly this good; how am I supposed to keep up?” or “When my boss reads my report, he’ll realize I don’t have what it takes for this job.”

Now, if comparing yourself to others in your immediate environment can trigger imposter syndrome, what might happen when that comparison is amplified?

Over the past few decades, social media has provided a bit of an answer to that question.

Across the scope of each app, we’ve been granted windows into the lives of others. That includes both close friends and total strangers.

In many ways, this has had positive consequences. We’ve widened our connections, gained access to a wealth of information, been exposed to new cultures, and so on.

Source: Antonino Visalli/Unsplash
It's challenging not to compare ourselves to others on social media.
Source: Antonino Visalli/Unsplash

In time, though, this kind of access made it nearly impossible not to compare ourselves to others.

Take a moment to think about who you or those around you follow on social media.

For the most part, the people we keep up with on social media are comprised of people we care about, look up to, and sometimes idolize.

For those active on platforms like TikTok and LinkedIn, we likely also follow those that share our interests and those who are in similar fields.

Say, for example, that you are an aspiring author. You might follow the authors of your favorite series on Instagram, well-known publishing companies on Twitter, and writing friends from college on TikTok.

When you see a friend from class announcing their debut novel on your feed before you’ve started a first draft, you might start to question whether you can keep up.

Social media absolutely has the potential to amplify our connections and our knowledge. However, it has just as much potential for things like imposter syndrome to thrive.

Source: Jake Bluckner/Unsplash
People we idolize on social media might also feel imposter syndrome.
Source: Jake Bluckner/Unsplash

If you’ve been scrolling social media and are feeling like a fraud at work, school, or otherwise, there are a few things to potentially help combat those thoughts:

Remember that social media is not the whole story.

Social media is where most people go to share the highlights of their lives: their partners, their successes, and their promotions, among other things. While some people make a point to show their followers the hard days, this is far from the norm! It’s important to remember that what we see on social media is not the whole story—only the pieces that we want to share.

Recognize that imposter syndrome is more common than we think.

A part of feeling like an imposter is feeling like we’re the only imposter. That is, everyone else is up to standards but us.

In reality, there’s a chance the very people we are comparing ourselves to on social media are also feeling like frauds. While it’s unfortunate that imposter syndrome is so prevalent, it can serve to work against those beliefs if we recognize that others could feel the same.

Take a social media break.

If the content on your feed is starting to have a negative effect, especially if you’ve dealt with imposter syndrome in the past, taking breaks from social media might be a useful step. Even if it’s only a day or so at the start, having a moment without the influx of others’ lives can give us some much-needed breathing space.

Source: Jed Villajo/Unsplash
It's important to be mindful of how much we are affected by social media.
Source: Jed Villajo/Unsplash

Consider your successes.

Imposter syndrome is, at its core, when we don’t believe in our abilities. Taking time to consider what you’ve done successfully in your role thus far can help shed some much-needed light on the situation.

This could look like taking a few moments to write down all the things—no matter how small—that you feel you’ve done well. For example, if you’re a therapist who got their notes done in a timely fashion, that’s certainly a success!

Feeling like an imposter in your day-to-day life can be an enormous stressor, and waiting for the day you’ll be exposed as one can take up more energy than we often have to spare.

This means that, with the increased presence of social media, it’s important to stay mindful of how much our view of ourselves is actually ours and how much is influenced by the people on our feeds.


Clance. P.R. (1985). The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear thar Haunts Your Success. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers.

Fleischhauer, M., Wossidlo, J., Michael, L., & Enge, S. (2021). The impostor phenomenon: toward a better understanding of the nomological network and gender differences. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 764030.

More from Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPCC
More from Psychology Today