Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
July 29, 2023

Neurodivergent and Feeling Like a Phony? 3 Ways to Combat ADHD Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can impact anyone of any race, gender, career, or socioeconomic status. But certain people, including women and minorities, are more prone to feeling like a fraud despite their objective success. In my last post, I wrote about the internal and external factors of imposter syndrome, and why the phenomenon is so impactful on mental health. 

I’m a therapist for millennials with ADHD and anxiety, and many of my neurodivergent clients experience imposter syndrome. Why? In part because living with ADHD can feel like you’re constantly trying to keep up appearances with your neurotypical peers, friends, and family.

Let’s talk specifically about ADHD imposter syndrome– what it is, why it happens, and how to cope. 

Imposter Syndrome and ADHD: The Curse of the Neurodivergent

If you have ADHD, you know it can sometimes ramp up mental health issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness, and imposter syndrome. This is partly because ADHD is associated with differences in executive functioning, which are the skills that allow people to multitask, remember facts and events, focus on tasks, and exhibit self-control. These skills are things that “successful” people are assumed to have. After all, when you picture the executive of a business, you probably picture them diligently working long hours at their desk, pausing only to race to a 30-minute Pilates class at lunch. 

Successful, hardworking people are shown time and time again in our culture and media as having razor-sharp focus that never wavers, demonstrating impressive self-control, and constantly doing several things at once. It’s no wonder that folks with ADHD feel less-than – and constantly try to do whatever they can to keep up.

If you have ADHD, you’ve likely spent years of your life working incredibly hard behind the scenes to make your life look easier than it feels. In other words, you probably hide your struggles from most people who don’t know you on an intimate level. You may have learned to hide your difficulties because of disapproving teachers or caregivers when you were younger. I know very few adults with ADHD who weren’t scolded throughout their lives for things like having their “head in the clouds,” not sitting still enough, or being unable to accomplish tasks at the same rate as their peers.

Outwardly, you look like you have your shit together. Other people see you as intelligent, high-achieving, and successful. But only you (and maybe a select other few people in your life) truly know just how hard you have to work to get those results. It might take you two or three times longer to do something than someone else. Concentration can feel impossible to hold onto. Meeting deadlines can be a Herculean effort. And seeing how others get by without needing extra accommodations can make it seem like there’s something wrong with you. 

I’m here to tell you there’s nothing wrong with you. Struggling to maintain productivity in a world that values hustle, efficiency, and focus at all costs is a colossal challenge. When you try to keep your struggles hidden, it can cause feelings of anxiety, shame, and like you’re just not good enough. It can also cause imposter syndrome, because you’re afraid that people might find out at any moment that you’re actually a phony – and that you’ve been skating by on pure luck. 

Imposter syndrome and ADHD

3 Ways to Overcome ADHD Imposter Syndrome 

Overcoming ADHD imposter syndrome isn’t easy. Expressing your real struggles, celebrating small and large wins, and seeking support can help you better navigate your experiences and dial down your worries.

  1. Find outlets to express your struggles

Hiding parts of yourself that feel shameful is a natural and reasonable thing to do. It can keep you feeling protected from judgment, punishment, and harsh opinions. But when you hide parts of who you are, your shame grows and your self-worth plummets. All humans need to be able to express themselves fully in order to feel truly fulfilled and happy.

Finding a community to be vulnerable with and tell your struggles to can help you feel accepted and less alone. This might look like talking about your ADHD difficulties with another neurodivergent friend, or confiding in a trusted coworker. Or maybe you can seek out local groups or community support systems dedicated to supporting people with ADHD. Finding people you can share your fears with and learn from will help you realize you’re not alone in your difficulties, and that there’s nothing wrong with you. 

  1. Celebrate your successes

People who struggle with imposter syndrome rarely take time to celebrate their successes, large or small. It’s easy to let anxiety and imposter syndrome tell you to race to the next item on your to-do list. But celebrating yourself and your accomplishments can help your brain find evidence that your wins are worthwhile. Eventually, your brain can be retrained to acknowledge the hard work you do, rather than be worried about the next thing you need to get done. 

  1. Seek support

Getting support from a therapist can help dial down your imposter syndrome. Therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for ADHD, teaches you how to acknowledge and challenge your negative thoughts. You’ll also learn to develop coping skills to help you navigate your problems and worries. Additionally, CBT for ADHD helps you tackle the specific challenges you face as a neurodivergent person. 

Therapy and Coaching Can Help You Curb Your ADHD Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome isn’t easy for anyone to overcome. If you have the additional challenges of ADHD built in, it can be even tougher. But you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. 

I’m here to help you challenge and reframe negative thoughts, separate yourself from your shame, find community that makes you feel less alone, and celebrate small and large wins in your life. You’ll feel empowered to speak more kindly to yourself and acknowledge the neurodivergent badass that you truly are. 

I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to get started.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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