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Imposter Syndrome

The Connection Between ADHD and Imposter Syndrome

Stop doubting yourself and start believing instead.

Key points

  • Imposter syndrome comes from a sense of insecurity in your awareness or hovering just below the surface.
  • Many people who live with imposter syndrome also live with depression and anxiety.
  • Imposter syndrome intensifies your vulnerabilities while denying you the satisfaction derived from efforts and success.
  • Reducing imposter syndrome relies on shifting your perspective from what’s wrong with you to celebrating what is positive and good enough.
Source: iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Do you dismiss a compliment? Do you attribute success at your work to luck instead of your intelligence, creativity, or effort? Do you hide who you think you really are and show others a facade to please them?

Many adults (and kids) with ADHD have trouble accepting positive feedback about themselves. Years of hearing about their deficiencies or experiencing challenges related to having a neurodivergent brain lead many folks with ADHD to walk around with a persistent feeling that they are just not good enough.

Maybe you feel like an imposter. You wonder if you truly deserve any validation or acknowledgment when good things happen. If any of these statements are true, you probably struggle with imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome reflects feeling like a fraud or a phony. It comes from a sense of insecurity in your awareness or hovering just below the surface.

Imposter syndrome doesn’t occur overnight. Rather, it often takes years of receiving criticism and experiencing judgments for somebody to develop a core sense of deficiency. Based on evaluations, exclusion, or hostility from others as you mature, this deficiency lies at the heart of imposter syndrome.

People with ADHD and without can suffer from it. This insecurity fosters pervasive self-doubt that you don’t deserve any accolades that you receive.

You deem other people more worthy because of their accomplishments, confidence, or appearance. Imposter syndrome is directly related to perfectionism: since you are not perfect and can never achieve perfection, you are fundamentally flawed. Sadly, for so many folks, no amount of success seems to lessen this wound.

Many neurodivergent teens and adults who have frequently been judged unfavorably against neurotypical standards have internalized these opinions. Despite all efforts to the contrary, along with any admirable achievements, you may still believe deep down that they are true. Imposter syndrome is the domain of your inner critic. It’s the voice that spews negativity about simply being an outside-the-box thinker, an imperfectly perfect human like the rest of us. But this voice adds a toxic layer of insecurity: you walk around anxious that someone will discover the incompetent, foolish person you think you truly are.

You just can't assimilate the accolades your receive, no matter how much you deserve them. In addition, many people with imposter syndrome also live with a low (or overt) level of depression. There’s a mix of persistent anxiety about discovering your dark secret and a hopelessness that you can never fully change for the better. Even though its origins can make sense, given your personal history, it’s still a brutal way to treat yourself.

Source: iStock/AndreyPopov
Source: iStock/AndreyPopov

I'd like to offer you a different approach—one that allows you to value and absorb affirming things about yourself. You do not have to live with imposter syndrome. Yes, it can be very challenging to lower the volume on these harsh thoughts and deeply ingrained false beliefs. You may be so accustomed to second-guessing yourself that it seems counterintuitive to act differently. But what if you allowed yourself to make mistakes and be successful at the same time?

Sometimes you hit a home run, and sometimes you swing and miss. In fact, the average baseball player strikes out at the plate two out of three times. Trying, struggling, regrouping, and trying again doesn’t mean that you've failed or other people are better than you are. It's what living is all about: manifesting a growth mindset.

Imposter syndrome intensifies your vulnerabilities while denying you the satisfaction derived from efforting and engagement. You have strengths and challenges like everybody else. The problem is the struggle to hold onto your successes long enough to believe in your abilities and nurture a sense of inner pride. Instead, the imposter monster quickly grabs them and tosses them away.

When you acknowledge your wins, regardless of size or importance, you are laying kryptonite at the feet of the imposter beast. When you pay equal if not more attention to things that go well, things that you enjoy, and things that you are good at, you weaken this pattern even more. It’s about shifting your perspective from what’s wrong and not enough about you to celebrating what is positive and good enough.

Accept it if someone pays you a compliment—don’t deflect it. Say “thank you.” Take it in and hold it like the precious gift that it is. If you tell a colleague that you want to improve your timeliness and you show up to a meeting on time, receive their high-five of support with a grin. When your partner appreciates that you went grocery shopping and put away all of the food, refrain from minimizing and accepting their acknowledgment.

Start to counter the voice of the inner critic by strengthening your inner ally. This coach is the one who encourages you, who reminds you of your value as a person, and who sees the good in things you do. Strengthen this ally by paying attention to what is working. At the end of each day, with your partner at dinner, via text with a friend, or in your journal, acknowledge three things that went well. These can be as simple as “I made a great cup of coffee this morning” to “My boss told me that she loved my presentation.” Fill up the well inside of you with these statements instead of the self-critical, judgmental ones. You’ll be building self-confidence and self-worth instead of fueling anxiety.

Source: iStock/DoubleAnti
Source: iStock/DoubleAnti

Lastly, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of validating traits about yourself that are separate from what you do–traits about who you are: warm, funny, smart, spontaneous, generous, and kind.

People with ADHD struggle to perform effectively in certain areas related to executive functioning deficits like emotional regulation, organization, time management, and focus. But you also excel at activities and interests you love. Both are true simultaneously. There’s a lot right with you so take the time to notice, honor, and hold onto those things today. This is how you will reduce imposter syndrome.

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