On This Page:
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of their competence.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can contribute to someone developing imposter syndrome for a variety of reasons, including ADHD’s inherent nature and some of the primary symptoms, such as inattention and impulsivity.
Specifically, many people with ADHD may feel like they need to double their efforts to live in a predominantly neurotypical world. This encompasses several aspects of life, e.g., from friendships to romance and the workplace environment.
They may have to put in extra effort to concentrate, manage their time effectively, and limit their hyperactivity.
On the outside, they may seem that they are excelling. Others may even praise them for their successes. However, there can be a lot of hidden struggles ranging from masking, fear of judgment, and trying to balance ADHD symptoms while wanting to fit in (Barkley, 2020).
In addition to imposter syndrome arising from primary ADHD symptoms, secondary symptoms that manifest as a result of primary symptoms can also contribute to imposter syndrome.
One such example is low self-confidence. People with ADHD may experience low self-esteem, low confidence, and fewer positive thought patterns as a result of their symptoms (Schubert & Bowker, 2019).
In turn, this can make them feel undeserving of praise or that they do not truly deserve the successes they have achieved.
Another such example and key contributor is perfectionism. The drive to constantly be perfect and uphold oneself to very high standards can make someone shift their attention and focus on flaws, problems, and situations that need fixing.
In turn, successes and rewards can seem underserved due to the incongruence between personal expectations vs. more realistic allowances (Wang, Sheveleva & Permyakova, 2019).
Signs of Imposter Syndrome in ADHD
Let us now discuss, in more detail, some of the frequent signs of imposter syndrome in ADHD.
It is important to note, however, that just because someone has ADHD does not mean that they will also experience imposter syndrome. The two may often occur together, but they are not always presented together (Ivey, 2015).
Many people with ADHD may put a lot of pressure on themselves to overperform, overachieve, and overcompensate for any self-identified areas they may “lack” in.
This can lead to behaviors such as having very high standards for themselves and their work. They may also experience procrastination in completing such tasks out of fear of them not being perfect enough (Asherson, 2005).
These can then generate negative feelings and self-perceptions of being lazy or unworthy due to them not completing their work.
People pleasing behaviors
People pleasing is another sign of ADHD imposter syndrome arising due to the lack of belief in one’s self and capabilities.
This can relate to behaviors such as being unable to say “no” to requests from others or often crossing personal boundaries in an effort to be helpful and avoid confrontation or being rejected by others.
This lack of personal confidence can also become outwardly projected in the need for external validation that they are indeed intelligent, good people, capable, etc.
People pleasing can be a more heightened trait in girls and women with ADHD compared to boys and men with ADHD (Taylor & Keltner, 2002).
Due to feelings of low self-esteem and confidence, it may be easier for someone with ADHD to avoid taking credit for successes and instead attribute any accomplishments to external factors and influences.
For example, instead of taking full credit for a project at work, they may minimize its importance, shift the focus on someone else or begin thinking of all the ways it could have gone better.
Additionally, this minimization can also arise in dismissing any compliments or positive affirmations from others.
Suspicious about compliments
Despite receiving positive feedback, someone with ADHD may find it challenging to believe that they are genuinely deserving of praise.
This disconnect between their own self-doubt and the positive affirmations from others can give rise to suspicion.
Consequently, they may interpret compliments as insincere gestures, assuming that people are merely being polite or trying to be nice without truly meaning what they say.
This suspicion can lead to a diminished perception of the merit behind the words of appreciation or acknowledgment.
Comparison to others is another commonly experienced sign of imposter syndrome for people with ADHD. They may regularly measure their own abilities and achievements against those of others.
For instance, if they are participating in classes or academic pursuits, they may reflect on their performance and often perceive themselves as falling short, not meeting the standard, or not being good enough.
They may believe that they take longer to complete tasks or make more mistakes compared to their peers.
This perception of themselves is often heavily skewed due to the heavy focus on people who may be doing better in addition to negating their own personal successes.
Seen as capable to others
The pressurized environment created in efforts to be seen as capable by others is another byproduct leading to imposter syndrome.
People with ADHD may feel like they need to mask who they are and their behaviors and adopt a new “persona” that is able to assimilate with neurotypical individuals.
This may even be exacerbated if they are told by others that they seem like they have their life together. In reality, outsiders may not see the full extent of struggles someone with ADHD goes through to get to where they are.
For instance, someone with ADHD may have had to make many adjustments to account for their forgetfulness, attentional difficulties, or problems with time management.
Consequently, this can lead to fears of their true selves being “exposed” and people seeing that they are not as capable or confident as they portray themselves to be.
This can further generate symptoms of performance anxiety, fatigue, and a disconnect in their sense of self.
“We worry about whether someone’s going to discover the real you, the incompetent or foolish or irresponsible one… it’s hard to dismiss these thoughts because they can be deeply ingrained.”Dr. Sharon Saline
Feeling like a failure
Unfortunately, due to all the reasons outlined, feeling like a failure or fraud is also associated with imposter syndrome.
The high-achieving mentality, perfectionistic tendencies, and hyperfocus on mistakes and self-perceived inadequacies can make someone develop a very negative image of themselves.
They may feel like they are not living up to their own expectations or those around them, despite any available evidence showcasing otherwise.
The Problem With Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome can have several problems associated with it. Firstly and most importantly, going about your life feeling like your achievements are not deserved is not a sustainable lifestyle.
Unfortunately, despite any evidence depicting otherwise, people experiencing imposter syndrome can adamantly refuse to attribute their successes as being worthy and are often plagued with feelings of inadequacy in comparison to others.
This, in turn, can have other detrimental consequences for one’s self-esteem, quality of life, and overall psyche.
A 2020 meta-analysis has concluded that imposter syndrome is comorbid with several other negative outcomes, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, and even social dysfunction (Bravata, Madhusudhan, Boroff & Cokley, 2020).
Any such elevated levels of anxiety or depression can then begin to impact one’s daily life and create a whole other array of problems.
The stress of feeling like people will discover the real you and see that things may not come about as effortlessly as they look on the surface can be the source of distress and intrusive thoughts for many.
Low self-esteem can also further agitate negative self-perceptions and judgments, creating a vicious cycle of not feeling deserving or good enough, further enabling imposter syndrome.
How Can Someone With ADHD Overcome Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome, as we have seen, can have several negative effects on someone’s daily routine, mental health, and overall quality of life.
Learning ways to manage symptoms and begin working towards improving this area can be imperative and help in finding better self-fulfillment.
Thus, let us now discuss some ways someone with ADHD can overcome imposter syndrome.
Acknowledge the thoughts
The first step in dealing with many issues in life is acknowledgment. Take the time to self-reflect on your thought patterns, behaviors and the motivational drives behind them.
For example, on the surface, you may be procrastinating, but deep down, you may actually be worried that you will not do a good enough job.
The behavior is procrastination, and the thought behind it stems from potential insecurity, perfectionism, and/or lack of self-belief. Note down any such things that plague your day-to-day life to help get them from abstract to more concrete.
Challenge and reframe thoughts
Once negative thought patterns have been recognized and acknowledged, the next step is challenging and reframing them.
This is going to take time, and it may not happen right away, but consistency and slowly building up a more positive mind frame will get someone a long way. It is important to also consider external factors, e.g., perceptions and comments from people around you.
Let go of perfection
Perfectionism is a big catalyst for imposter syndrome in those with ADHD, so tackling this head on may help you manage day-to-day life better.
Acceptance that there is no such thing as absolute perfection and that mistakes are a natural occurrence in life is an important first step.
If tendencies to compare begin to flare, which is highly probable that they might, remember that there are 2 sides to everything, and just as someone may be more skilled at something than you, you are also more skilled at certain things than others. Begin to be kinder and learn to forgive yourself.
Focus on strengths
A shift in perspective is also a good step in managing ADHD imposter syndrome. There is a natural bias toward focusing on any shortcomings and weaknesses.
However, you can slowly begin shining the spotlight on strengths and successes instead. For example, if you are hanging out with friends but get distracted at points, instead of beating yourself up for losing focus, consider that you worked on your social confidence and spent time with people close to you.
‘…paying more attention to things that go well in your life… Because we have to shift from ‘ugh, I’ve wasted my time. I’m messing up. I can’t focus… I’m not productive’ to noticing when things are actually moving in a productive, effective direction. So this is about shifting your perspective from what’s wrong, or the ways that you’re not enough, to celebrating what’s positive.’Dr. Sharon Saline
On that note, feel free to ask loved ones for their favorite qualities about you or even colleagues at work. Some positive validation from people whose opinion matters to you might help you move along on this journey.
Begin writing everything down to help create a visual proof of all the great things you have accomplished.
Acknowledging efforts is another big step forward, as it helps you focus on all the available evidence of your hard work and efforts.
Instead of dismissing any success as ‘not that big of a deal,’ begin to congratulate yourself and celebrate victories no matter how big or small.
By slowly becoming your own best champion, you will begin appreciating your efforts and not just the end result, build an overall more positive mindset, and improve your self-confidence.
Don’t make comparisons
Lastly, reducing comparisons as much as possible is key due to it being a big contributing factor to imposter syndrome.
Each person is unique in their own strengths and weaknesses, so acknowledging that you are worthy of praise and love just like anyone else is an important first step.
Reshift your focus from constant comparison to self-reflection instead, and turn this into actionable steps for your own growth journey.
Remember to be kind to yourself along the way, and other people’s opinions do not take away from all your hard work and personal worth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can imposter syndrome ever be beneficial to someone with ADHD?
Imposter syndrome may have some benefits for someone with ADHD.
For example, it can act as a drive and motivational factor for someone to do well because of the need to excel and showcase your capabilities to the world.
Additionally, it may increase someone’s overall quality of work, as perfectionistic tendencies may kick in, making someone more detail oriented and thorough.
However, it is important to note that as an overarching idea, imposter syndrome can have rather detrimental consequences over any benefits.
It is, thus, key to have regular check-ins with one’s self and try to catch negative self-perceptions before they begin spiraling.
Are people with ADHD more likely to have imposter syndrome?
Having ADHD does not inherently mean that imposter syndrome will also follow. However, it may increase the likelihood of this occurring.
This may be due to the fact that masking can lead to a disconnect between one’s real self and the persona they adopt in social settings. As a result, this can prevent people from being present and enjoying their time interacting with others.
Additionally, some ADHD symptoms can directly correlate with imposter syndrome behaviors.
For example, they are more prone to negative self-talk and perceptions which can then begin to foster thoughts of them not being good or capable enough. This can ultimately lead to feeling like a fraud or an imposter.
Can positive self-talk help imposter feelings in those with ADHD?
Positive self-talk can certainly help imposter feelings for those with ADHD.
This form of emotional regulation focuses on consciously replacing negative thought patterns and perceptions about oneself with positive ones (Mainali, 2020).
For example, the thought “I do not deserve this position because I am not smart enough” can be replaced with “They would not have hired me if they did see and believe in my capabilities to fulfill this role.”
It takes time to start reframing your thoughts, so be patient and allow yourself the space to begin incorporating this technique.
Reaching out to a professional may be a good avenue for additional ways to help support you in this journey.
Asherson, P. (2005). Clinical assessment and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults. Expert review of neurotherapeutics, 5(4), 525-539.
Barkley, R. A. (2020). Taking charge of ADHD: The complete, authoritative guide for parents. Guilford Publications.
Bravata, D. M., Madhusudhan, D. K., Boroff, M., & Cokley, K. O. (2020). Commentary: Prevalence, predictors, and treatment of imposter syndrome: A systematic review. Journal of Mental Health & Clinical Psychology, 4(3).
Ivey, C. L. (2015). Glossary (Not) for Non-ADHD Partners: Negotiating Relational Terms after the Diagnosis. Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, 4(4), 99-116.
Mainali, S. (2020). Being an imposter: Growing out of impostership. JNMA: Journal of the Nepal Medical Association, 58(232), 1097.
Saline, S. [ADDitude Magazine]. (2023, February 27). Focus Issues and Imposter Syndrome with Dr. Sharon Saline, PsyD [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcQ838hjWJ8&ab_channel=ADDitudeMagazine
Schubert, N., & Bowker, A. (2019). Examining the impostor phenomenon in relation to self-esteem level and self-esteem instability. Current Psychology, 38, 749-755.
Taylor, E. W., & Keltner, N. L. (2002). Messy purse girls: Adult females and ADHD. Perspectives in psychiatric care, 38(2), 69.
Wang, K. T., Sheveleva, M. S., & Permyakova, T. M. (2019). Imposter syndrome among Russian students: The link between perfectionism and psychological distress. Personality and Individual Differences, 143, 1-6.