Imposter Syndrome and ADHD

Updated: Sep 6

Imposter Syndrome

  • Imposter Syndrome, refers to an internal experience of self-doubt and belief that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.

  • Those of us with ADHD tend to have a much worse experience with Imposter Syndrome because of how our brains’ self-awareness centers function, so much so that it can cause extreme levels of pain and trauma.

  • Despite achieving objectively measured success in education, experience, or accomplishments, people with ADHD can still experience chronic feelings of fraudulence, incompetence, and inadequacy.

  • Imposter Syndrome can make it difficult to internalize success and genuinely believe that one is capable, competent, and even comprehensive of their own abilities.

  • Imposter Syndrome can affect anyone, from a first-year college student to the most successful CEO, regardless of job occupational, financial, or social status.

  • Simply put, having Imposter Syndrome is feeling as though one succeeded merely on dumb luck and that they will experience shame and embarrassment if and when others discover that they are not as competent or as capable as they seem.


Imposter Syndrome & ADHD

A lot of people deal with Imposter Syndrome, and it’s rooted in many of the same things; constant negativity, criticism, shame, fear, and unrealistic expectations made by those around us. Sometimes the negativity comes from within ourselves because, in our own minds, we do not meet our own expectations compared to what other people perceive as more successful than us, either in our own lives or in the media.

Woman yelling in anger at an officer worker
Imposter Syndrome sometimes feels like a hateful person is just screaming at us in our minds.

However, for a lot of neurodivergent people, it tends to be a lot worse. When this constant negativity is combined with how our brains' self-awareness/meta-cognition centers function, it causes us to deal with extreme levels of pain and trauma, resulting in an ongoing feeling of Imposter Syndrome.


The meta-cognition sections of an ADHD brain develop differently in that they are wired to work primarily on external stimuli, so we are hyper aware of who, what, how, when, and where we are. We tend to depend on external stimuli primarily in order to gain an understanding of these things about ourselves and our environment.


Because of this, many of us with ADHD have experienced a lot of negativity in our childhoods stemming from our interactions with our parents, siblings, and other family members, teachers, and peers. In fact, the average 10-12 year old neurodivergent child hears 20,000 more negative comments than neurotypical kids, mostly for things completely out of their control.


We are rarely taught that failure is OK, that mistakes are things to be learned from, and that these are the things that we have to do in order to find success. Instead, every mistake that we make is just another reason we perceive ourselves as failures.


This continues to happen as many of us get older and our spouses, professors, co-workers, bosses, and others may keep piling on the same type of negativity. Sometimes in ignorance, some believe that they are trying to help us, but many of us find ourselves in abusive situations and this negativity is maliciously used against us.


Because of how our brain processes external stimuli and learns from them, that is where we gain an understanding of who/how we are. If we have experienced all of this negative feedback, then we may live in a constant state of believing that we are failures, that we are burdens, and that we do not deserve support, constantly driving us to reach for a perfection that doesn’t exist.


This skewed perception becomes how we view ourselves, through the lens of all of those experiences. We begin to dread every mistake that we are going to make, because we expect ourselves to make plenty, and this reinforces our feeling of being failures.


For many, this turns into generalized anxiety, and some deal with other types of anxieties. Some may develop depression from the constant feeling of negativity. A number of other mental health problems can be brought about by a lifetime of shame from the abuse. It causes us to constantly dread whatever is going to happen next because we live in a constant state of fearing failure, that the other shoe is going to drop, because in our experience, that’s what always seems to happen.


How to Fight Back Against Imposter Syndrome

There are a lot of things that have happened to get us to this point in our lives. Unrealistic expectations, both from others and ourselves, a need for instant gratification, unfair comparisons, fear of appearing stupid or ignorant, or fear of seeming weak.


The root of most Imposter Syndrome issues for people with ADHD comes from the negative external stimuli that we take in throughout our formative years and young adulthood. We have to learn to create a different environment of positivity in our lives. That means learning to recognize our own self-worth, our own accomplishments, and setting boundaries for ourselves and others around us.


Due to our brain structure and wiring, understanding how to look at ourselves objectively can be extremely difficult for many people with ADHD. To gain more self-awareness, we often need objective people who can help us learn about ourselves, our feelings, and our accomplishments. This is where Therapists, Life Coaches, and positive social support really help us.


Therapy is important because we have to find the root of the Imposter Syndrome. Where does it come from? Why is it so pervasive? We have to learn to address these things. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has a good basis for recognizing the positivity in our lives and learning to not focus on the negativity but the positivity in your life. They can also help you recognize negative influences in your life and what proper boundaries and expectations are. Many therapists can also help you with mindfulness techniques, self-affirmations, and healthy coping mechanisms as well.


Life Coaches can help with practical understanding of Imposter Syndrome and can help you see the ways Imposter Syndrome is causing you to lie to yourself and those around you. They can also help you with things such as time management, setting boundaries, enforcing them, giving positive support and accountability, and how to recognize your own achievements. Finally, they can help you understand how to learn from your mistakes and failures and how to take those lessons to create a path to success and happiness.


Therapists and Life Coaches are also crucial in creating the positive environment that you need in your life. Positive role models, friendships, and family members are very important to keep you from falling back into negativity. Remember, we need that external support to keep ourselves going forward. We have had years and years of negativity in our lives. It may take years and years of positivity for us to truly get over Imposter Syndrome. Having our friends and family available to give us that support until then is crucial to maintaining the happiness in our lives


If you need help from a Life Coach to get your life together, reach out to me today to set up a Free Consultation to find out how I can help you get control and learn to manage your ADHD!







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