ADHD and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

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Impostor syndrome is a term created by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. It is used to describe high-achieving people who struggle to recognize their accomplishments.

People with imposter syndrome live in fear of others finding out they are a fraud. Of course, they aren’t a fraud; their successes are a direct result of their hard work and effort.

How ADHD Leads to Imposter Syndrome

Many people with ADHD feel like they are imposters. One of the reasons for this is that you hide your struggles from the general public.

People, such as your boss and coworkers, know that you are smart and get results. But you know you have to work more hours than anyone else at the office to get those results. You meet deadlines by pulling all-nighters and by making personal sacrifices, such as less time with your family. Only a spouse or close family member knows the anguish and struggle you experience.

When you keep part of yourself hidden, it can cause feelings of shame and guilt. It also causes fear about what would happen if people found out about the real you.

Signs of Imposter Syndrome

Judith S. Beck has identified behaviors that people with impostor syndrome do. Do any of these sound familiar?

  1. You don’t believe your success was connected to your hard work, intelligence, or creativity. Instead, you feel it must be due to luck, a fluke, or another random factor.
  2. You don’t celebrate success. Instead, you look at the next thing that needs to be done. Rather than feel proud of the presentation you did, you think, "Yes, but what about the one in two weeks? I have to prepare for that." You spend no time basking in the glory of a job well done.
  3. You spend lots of time and energy thinking about what didn’t go well, even if it was only a very tiny detail. You dwell on the negative, and you spend no time thinking about your successes or what did go well.
  4. You disregard your accomplishments or the praise you receive for them. You don’t believe you deserve it or feel that you should have done better.
  5. You regularly compare yourself to others, and it is always unfavorable. You might think, "They didn’t have to work through the night to prepare the presentation, and they got better results than me.”

When people with ADHD realize there is a name for how they have been feeling, they usually feel a huge sense of relief. Knowing that they aren’t alone is comforting.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Here are some suggestions to help you overcome imposter syndrome.

Address Shame

Addressing shame is very helpful. Remember ADHD is a neurological condition and the parts of you that you are hiding are a direct result of having ADHD. ​

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can also be helpful. CBT is focused on helping you learn to identify the automatic negative thoughts that contribute to feelings of imposter syndrome.

Once you learn to recognize these thoughts, you can then learn to replace these patterns with more helpful, realistic ways of thinking. Rather than focusing on the negative, they will help you to see the full picture.

Keep Track

Start to track what actions you do so that you can reap the success that you have. For example, if you ran a half marathon in less than two hours, realize that it wasn’t just due to luck. You probably went running four times a week for 16 weeks and ate healthy food.

Your hard work resulted in a great time even though there might have been an element of luck, such as the weather may have been favorable that day.

When you track your actions, it becomes easier to see what role you played in your success. This, in turn, makes it easier to own and celebrate your successes.

Forgive Mistakes

While it can be disappointing when things don't work out the way you want, it can also be a valuable way to gain knowledge and experience. Instead of beating yourself up for every mistake, shift your focus to thinking about how you can apply what you have learned in the future.

Mistakes happen. Just remember that those mistakes and disappointments are also helping you grow and become more skilled and knowledgeable.

Press Play for Advice On Self-Discipline

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to avoid repeating mistakes and build better habits. Click below to listen now.

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Watch Your Negative Self-Talk

Start paying attention to your thoughts when you feel like an imposter. For example, instead of thinking "I hope no one notices that I don't know how to do this," consider reframing those thoughts as "I may not be sure how to do this but I'm capable of learning."

Avoid Comparisons

If you are constantly comparing yourself to other people, you are going to find yourself lacking which will only drive your feelings of inadequacy. Instead of thinking about how you compare to someone else, focus on learning from other people's expertise and experiences.

A Word From Verywell

Imposter syndrome can make it difficult to feel confident and competent, but it is important to remember that everyone feels this way from time to time. When you find yourself feeling like an imposter, work on reframing your negative thoughts and focus on your hard work, skills, and accomplishments.

By Jacqueline Sinfield
Jacqueline Sinfield is an ADHD coach, and the author of "Untapped Brilliance, How to Reach Your Full Potential As An Adult With ADHD."