Imposter syndrome is the fear of being considered a fraud or doubting one's accomplishments. People with ADHD and imposter syndrome face additional challenges.
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Even those who have reached a level of success in their chosen field are often full of anxiety and crippling thoughts of being considered a fraud. According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, it is estimated that 70% of people in the U.S. experience imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is an internal feeling that you believe you are not as qualified as others may think you are. This is often connected to thoughts of perfectionism and can be applied to your intelligence or achievement. As someone with ADHD, this is compounded by the constant feelings of being different from other people. Since your brain functions differently, you must not be as good, talented, smart, etc. as the people around you.
If you've ever questioned your worth, competence, or achievements, this post is a space for validation and guidance. Together, we’ll discover the ties between ADHD and imposter syndrome, break free from self-doubt, and celebrate the unique strengths that people with ADHD bring to the world.
Understanding ADHD and Imposter Syndrome
To effectively address the intricate relationship between ADHD and imposter syndrome, it's essential to first grasp the fundamental characteristics and nature of both.
ADHD: A Neurodivergent Perspective
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects a person’s ability to pay attention, control impulses, and regulate their energy levels. It's important to note that ADHD is not a deficit of attention but rather a challenge in regulating attention and focus. If you have ADHD, in addition to struggling with executive functioning, impulsivity, rejection sensitivity disorder, and imposter syndrome may also be challenges.
Imposter Syndrome: The Phenomenon of Self-Doubt
Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where people doubt their accomplishments, skills, or talents, and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
Those who suffer with imposter syndrome doubt their own skills and accomplishments despite the evidence of their success. Below are four common indicators you may be dealing with imposter syndrome.
1. Deep-seated feelings of fear that you aren’t able to meet expectations – every time you’re faced with a new task, you worry that you won’t be able to do it (even though you always rise to the occasion)
2. Undermining your achievements even when you worked diligently towards that goal – you tend to attribute your success to external things like luck
3. Setting unrealistic goals and then feeling disappointed if you do not meet those goals – you set the bar too high, making sure there’s no way you can accomplish the goal; then, when you don’t reach the goal, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy
4. Doubting yourself no matter what you’re working on or working towards – you question your abilities regardless of your track record
If you find yourself doing any of the above, there are some things you can do to move past these feelings. Begin by confronting your feelings and any beliefs you hold about yourself.
Imposter syndrome can be ingrained in you as a child and continue well into adulthood. Struggling with feelings of being a fraud can happen to anyone but is seen often in successful women. According to research done at Georgia State University, “despite their earned degrees, scholastic honors, high achievement on standardized tests, praise and professional recognition from colleagues and respected authorities, these women do not experience an internal sense of success.”
The Overlapping Realities
The intersection of ADHD and imposter syndrome is where things get interesting. Many people with ADHD, especially women, find themselves navigating both these worlds simultaneously. The constant mental juggling act, trying to keep up with a neurotypical world, can lead to feelings of being a fraud or imposter.
ADHD can contribute to executive function challenges, making it harder to meet conventional expectations and leading to a sense of underachievement. Imposter syndrome feeds on these feelings of inadequacy, compounding the already-present self-doubt.
Understanding the signs of imposter syndrome in individuals with ADHD is crucial in recognizing and addressing this complex overlap. Below are common signs and symptoms that reveal the presence of imposter syndrome in the lives of those with ADHD:
People with ADHD often grapple with a persistent sense of self-doubt. They may question their abilities, constantly fearing that their accomplishments are the result of luck rather than their own skills or efforts. This self-doubt can lead to a reluctance to take credit for their achievements, reinforcing the notion of being an imposter.
Fear of Exposure
People with ADHD and imposter syndrome frequently worry that their shortcomings will be exposed. They may go to great lengths to hide their struggles, which can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy. This fear of exposure often results in a reluctance to seek help or support, making it even more challenging to manage ADHD effectively. They try so hard to fit in and “be normal,” that anything that makes them stand out can feel like a failure.
Perfectionism is a common trait among people with ADHD who experience imposter syndrome. They set unrealistically high standards for themselves, striving for flawlessness in their work and life (as a means to show they are capable). This quest for perfection can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and a constant feeling of falling short. The imposter syndrome takes on a life of its own because every time you fall short (because the bar is too high), you’re proving to yourself that you are a fraud (which isn’t really true).
Overworking and Burnout
ADHDers with imposter syndrome often feel the need to work exceptionally hard to prove themselves. They may overcommit, take on too many responsibilities, and frequently push themselves to their limits. They convince themselves that they can do ALL the things and do them all well all the time. This relentless pursuit of success can lead to burnout, further reinforcing feelings of inadequacy.
People with ADHD and imposter syndrome downplay their accomplishments. They may attribute their successes to external factors, such as luck or help from others, rather than acknowledging their own skills and capabilities. This habit of minimizing achievements can perpetuate the cycle of self-doubt. You begin to believe those lies and only credit yourself with the bad things.
Difficulty Internalizing Praise
Receiving praise or recognition can be uncomfortable for those with imposter syndrome and ADHD. They may struggle to accept compliments and may feel like they don't deserve the positive feedback they receive. This difficulty internalizing praise can undermine self-esteem and self-worth.
It's important to remember that experiencing these signs doesn't make someone an imposter. Instead, they are indicators of the complex relationship between ADHD and imposter syndrome. Recognizing these signs is the first step towards addressing them and working towards a more balanced and self-compassionate perspective.
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The ADHD-Imposter Syndrome Link
Understanding the connection between ADHD and imposter syndrome requires a deeper dive into the psychological and emotional factors that contribute to this link. The characteristics of ADHD and the experience of living with the condition can fuel feelings of being an imposter.
Executive Function Challenges
One of the central elements linking ADHD and imposter syndrome is the executive function challenges inherent to ADHD. These challenges encompass difficulties in areas such as planning, organization, time management, and working memory. When executive functions are impaired, it can lead to difficulties in meeting societal and workplace expectations. This, in turn, can foster feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
When you consider that for most of your life, you might’ve been told, “Why don’t you just…” as if there was an easy answer for your executive dysfunction. You look at other students who didn't forget their homework or other moms who are never late for appointments and you convince yourself that you’re just not as good because you can’t do these easy life things.
Coping Mechanisms and Masking
Many people with ADHD develop coping mechanisms and masking behaviors to navigate a neurotypical world. They work tirelessly to fit in, hide their challenges, and meet societal norms. This constant effort to “pass” as neurotypical can lead to a persistent sense of being an imposter. They may feel like they're living a double life, one in which they appear competent and another where they grapple with the challenges of ADHD.
Fear of Revealing ADHD
The fear of disclosing one's ADHD is a significant factor that contributes to imposter syndrome. Some people with ADHD may worry about the potential negative perceptions or discrimination they could face if their condition is revealed. This fear can lead to a constant sense of secrecy and a reluctance to seek the accommodations or support they need, reinforcing the feeling of being an imposter. So, they mask and use coping mechanisms to “fit in.” (I bet you’re starting to see why this is so complicated – layers of challenges to undo)
Societal Expectations and Stereotypes
Societal expectations and stereotypes about what it means to be productive and successful can be particularly daunting for people with ADHD. The prevailing narrative of “neurotypical success” can leave those with ADHD feeling like they don't measure up. This discrepancy between societal norms and their own experiences can amplify imposter syndrome.
Self-Perception and Identity
Living with ADHD can shape one's self-perception and identity. Over time, people with ADHD may internalize negative messages and labels associated with their condition. This internalized stigma can contribute to feelings of not being good enough or not deserving of success, perpetuating imposter syndrome.
Once you realize you have impostor syndrome, you can take steps to overcome it. Some of these steps include sharing your feelings and fears with trusted confidants. Ask yourself if your thoughts are honest and rational. Assess whether you are comparing yourself to others without even realizing it. Keep in mind that many people – even successful ones — struggle with imposter syndrome.
Start breaking this cycle by owning your accomplishments and celebrating your success. Enjoy the positive aspects of your ADHD and tap into those powers to make you stand out in a positive light.