8 tools to overcome imposter syndrome and ADHD.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome and ADHD are closely correlated. It can feel as if you are wearing a mask.

Imposter syndrome and ADHD are commonly seen together. Imposter syndrome is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as the “persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.”

What this means is that you are constantly fearful that you are not doing a good job. You believe that everything you do is not good enough, even if your boss, friends, or family praise you repeatedly for the great work you have done. You discredit their praise and feel like you are faking it all. You feel like everyone will eventually see that you suck at everything and are a failure. You live in fear and cannot see your own accomplishments.  

The correlation between Imposter syndrome and ADHD.
Feeling like you must work harder than others to get the same results. 

Being neurodivergent in a neurotypical world is hard. There is no denying you must work harder than others because most systems are designed for neurotypicals. Your brain does not work the same way and therefore the same system will not work for you. You may have to put in more time at work to stay focused on completing mundane tasks. It may take a neurotypical 5 minutes and it takes you 20 minutes. The important piece is that you completed the task! You also must work harder to change the system to find what works best for you. In short, you may have to work harder than others, which can lead to feelings of being an imposter.

You know your brain works differently than neurotypical’s and you feel like it is wrong. 

A coworker explains how to go about completing a task. They make it sound so easy and it flows perfectly when they tell you the steps. But your ADHD brain does not think in a linear manner, and most directions are set up in that way. You feel like it is wrong since you have to complete the task in a different way. This leads to feelings of imposter syndrome because you feel like a fraud as, in your eyes, you haphazardly move through your work tasks. This can lead to feelings of imposter syndrome because you do have to do things differently and you may view that as faking it.

Feeling less than your peers due to the poor structure of the school system for neurodivergent individuals. 

Most individuals with ADHD have negative memories from their experience in school. Many of you were taken to different (special Ed) classrooms for additional help. Many of you got in trouble frequently for disrupting class, had to stay in from recess, went to the principal’s office, or had to sit in the hall while the rest of the class continued learning. I could go on and on about how this impacts your self-esteem and creates feelings of being less than your peers. There are so many things wrong with the list above. You likely felt singled out, stupid, not good enough, among other feelings. All because the system is structure for neurotypicals and not the neurodivergent.

(Side note: I know some schools are working on this. Some schools are better than others. But majority of adults with ADHD experienced the broken system and it took a toll on their self-esteem.) 

Negative self-talk and low self-esteem. 

There are several factors that lead to low self-esteem for individuals with ADHD. I go into more detail about it here, so I will not venture too far down the rabbit hole now. If you struggle with low self-esteem and negative self-talk, you will not feel confident in your abilities. This can directly feed into feelings of imposter syndrome.

You have been conditioned to question your every move. You second guess every step of the process. You may have a wonderful job that you are excelling in, or you may have a hobby and create beautiful artwork that people love. Yet you feel like a phony because your internal dialogue is that “you are dumb,” “you are a failure,” “you are not good enough,” etc. Harold Robert shares more on negative self-talk due to imposter syndrome with ADHD here.

How to improve feelings of imposter syndrome.
  • Maintain a positive mindset. We believe what we tell ourselves, so say great things! The more positive beliefs you have about yourself, the more confident you will feel in your abilities.
  • Write positive affirmations and post them around your house and workplace. Read them as many times throughout the day as possible.
  • Write down a win at the end of each day and share them with friends and family.
  • Make a list of your positive traits. If you have trouble with this one, recruit your friends and family to help.
  • Take a break from social media scrolling. Social media traps us in a world of comparisons and worrying if we “measure up” to others which can increase feelings of imposter syndrome.
  • Develop a plan for each task. Highlight the important pieces in the directions and then get to each of those steps however you need to. You can read more about motivation and identifying steps here.
  • Recognize and accept that mistakes happen to everyone. Mistakes are part of learning and is does not mean you are a failure. Learn from your mistake and try again.
  • Reward yourself for your success. Celebrate it!