Masking ADHD Symptoms

Masking ADHD Symptoms

Plenty of adults with ADHD turn to the tactic of ADHD masking to fit in and avoid judgment. But is concealing your symptoms a viable coping strategy? Here's the lowdown on what you should know about masking ADHD symptoms.

Published on
27/11/2022
Updated on
27/11/2022
estimated reading time
minutes

Written by

Alice

The mini Adhd coach

Reviewed by

In this Article

Reviewed by

A word form our expert

Why (And How) Some People With ADHD Mask Their Symptoms

Picture this: you're sitting in a social setting, painfully aware of every little ADHD symptom that could potentially 'out' you as being 'different' from others. It could be that you have difficulty listening carefully or you have a tendency to get overly excited and impulsively share your thoughts. 🤯

That's where masking comes in - an invisible shield that helps us act 'normal,' or at least what society perceives as normal. It's all in the name of social acceptance, but sometimes, it feels like a full-time job.

Masking is more than just a term; it's a coping mechanism many people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder resort to, often without even realizing it. Over time, our learned behaviors help us dodge criticism and judgment in a world that usually doesn't quite get the nuances of a neurodivergent disorder such as ADHD. 🥷

In this article, we're diving headfirst into ADHD masking. We'll dissect when and why this coping strategy kicks in and explore whether it's doing us more good than harm. The ADHD diagnosis rate has been on the rise 📈, but the mental health content available often doesn't address the real struggles - like the exhausting effort of masking - that many people with ADHD face daily.

We'll also examine why it's crucial to separate unhealthy masking from adaptive coping strategies and delve into the most common symptoms that people try to mask. Finally, we’ll discuss the need for more awareness about the experiences of neurodiverse people. 👍

So, if you've ever found yourself exhausted 😴from masking or a supporter of someone with ADHD, this article is your roadmap to understanding it all better.


What is ADHD Masking?

According to psychologist Russell Barkley, ADHD masking is about behaving in specific ways to cover up ADHD symptoms. This can be done both consciously and subconsciously. It's widespread among adults (especially women) who have grown up without an ADHD diagnosis; these folks often create their own coping mechanisms. Research indicates that untreated ADHD is often a significant reason behind this masking behavior.

So, what's the point of ADHD masking? Well, it's often about impression management. We're basically trying to control how other people perceive us, especially when we're hiding symptoms of ADHD. 🙈This kind of masking can often kick into high gear when people with ADHD are feeling particularly anxious about social interactions. While this approach might offer immediate relief, it's just a temporary fix for the ADHD community - and is usually situation-based.

But where does it start? ⬇️


Masking In Childhood

Childhood - a time filled with play, imagination, and, for some young people, their first experiences of ADHD masking. Even without an ADHD diagnosis, many children are taught to stop fidgeting, focus on tasks, and maintain eye contact while chatting. 👀

So, why do these young kids feel compelled to suppress ADHD symptoms? It's often because well-intentioned parents and caregivers tell them to change their natural behaviors. This narrative sets the stage for them to develop masking behaviors early on - life skills they think are beneficial because they help them fit into their small but significant worlds. 😞

These children, even those with undiagnosed ADHD, sense the need to prove their worth and capability. They become adept at hiding what they consider the 'real' but 'unacceptable' parts of themselves 🎭. They mask trouble focusing, suppress stimming behaviors, and cloak their hyperactivity with newly learned life skills. Over time, they might find themselves exhausted from masking, finding it challenging to show their true selves.

Whether you're a parent, an educator, or a loved one, it's vital to recognize the early seeds of masking behaviors. Understanding how this starts in childhood offers a window into the complex world of adult ADHD masking. 

So, what happens when childhood masking becomes adult masking? When we transition into the grown-up world, those early habits of masking we picked up as youngsters don't just vanish. In fact, they often intensify because the stakes are now sky-high. Work deadlines, complex relationships, and never-ending bills are all responsibilities that can push us over the edge. 

As adults, we often find that the world doesn't accept 'different' ways of thinking or acting. So what happens? Our neurodiverse behaviors get misinterpreted, misunderstood, or straight-up judged. And the outcome? We feel an even stronger urge to mask and conceal those parts of us that make us who we are. 🎭

Let's talk more about this in relation to stigma.


When We Mask Due to Stigma

When people learn you've been diagnosed with ADHD, the atmosphere can get awkward. 😬 Some folks may feel uneasy around us, thinking we're somehow volatile due to emotional regulation challenges or issues with self-control. 😱 The thing is, it's not always down to being cruel - it's often about a lack of awareness or education around neurodiversity. 

Regardless, many of us don't want to be seen as disruptive or different, especially in ways society stigmatizes. So what happens? People with ADHD often resort to impression management, becoming overly careful and sometimes even exhausted from masking their true selves. It's as if we're 'cosplaying' life, making it appear that being a fully functioning adult just comes naturally to us. 

While we could use these moments to spread awareness and break down stereotypes, we often opt for the path of least resistance. Instead of diving into a conversation that could be a teaching moment, we zip it, mainly because we're afraid of the questions or misconceptions that might follow. 🤐 

So how can we cope with this pressure? And better yet, how can we change the narrative? The thing is, these scenarios aren't set in stone, and awareness is growing. Understanding why we mask and the stigma that fuels it is the first step to managing this exhausting cycle. 

With this in mind, let's jump into the specific symptoms that can cause us to attempt to hide our ADHD.

How We Mask Our Symptoms

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder isn't one-size-fits-all - it's a nuanced, multifaceted neurodivergent disorder. In other words, while there are some hallmark ADHD symptoms that many of us experience, they're not universal. You and I might be in the same ADHD boat, but we're sailing in different waters. 🚢

Some of us might be battling classic symptoms like impulsivity or attention issues, but this disorder can also manifest in many other ways. In fact, the ways we, as adults, engage in ADHD masking are just as diverse as the symptoms themselves. 

Here are a few types of masking you've likely been doing without even realizing it - and how they relate to some common symptoms. 👇

ADHD Masking & The Predominantly Hyperactive Presentation

In the hyperactive-impulsive presentation of ADHD, symptoms go beyond physical restlessness; there's often mental restlessness. The challenge is not just moving around a lot but also having difficulty focusing on tasks for a long time. 🤯

Besides being energetic, people with this type of ADHD may act without thinking much about the consequences. For example, speaking out of turn in a conversation can upset others and make them feel frustrated or left out.

To manage this, some people try to appear calm and focused, even when their minds are racing. 🏃While they might look like they are listening carefully, inside, they put a lot of effort into staying focused and not interrupting the conversation. 

Another common scenario involves hiding hyperactivity symptoms, like trying not to fidget or make sudden movements. The aim is to manage how others see them by not fitting the stereotypical image of someone with ADHD. This 'impression management' is done to avoid misunderstandings or assumptions others might make about them. 🤐

However, this can be draining, both emotionally and mentally. While trying to cope and hide the most common symptoms of ADHD, like hyperactivity and impulsivity, people may also unintentionally suppress their creativity and other strengths. Many people get exhausted masking their behaviors - it can limit the mind's freedom to think openly, which is often considered one of the positive aspects of ADHD. 💕

ADHD Masking & The Predominantly Inattentive Presentation

Many people with inattentive ADHD also find themselves masking symptoms. Inattentive ADHD impacts focus, task organization, and the ability to follow instructions closely. To compensate, some people might work harder or longer to cover up these difficulties. Some may even be masking behaviors related to inattention without realizing it, especially if their ADHD is undiagnosed.

Have you ever found yourself triple-checking your work to avoid errors? ✅What about thinking up imaginative (but believable) reasons why you were late for another important meeting? These are tactics people with ADHD use to manage the common traits of inattention and to avoid making the same mistake twice.

For example, I tend to zone out while chatting with people at social events and often find my thoughts drifting off-topic. When this happens, I put in the extra effort to look engaged in the conversation, even if I'm not genuinely interested. 😆

​​

Time management is another challenge, especially in social situations like meeting a friend. Time blindness is a common symptom of ADHD that many of us struggle with. I often arrive much earlier than necessary to avoid making someone wait for me. However, the rush to get there early can sometimes make me forget essential items. 😭

Incorporating these little changes or new skills into our lives can often feel necessary to blend in, but they can also lead to 'exhausted' masking. It's a lot to manage, especially when juggling the other facets of life and potentially navigating therapy or a recent diagnosis. 🤹 But it's essential to remember that while masking might provide a short-term solution, it may not be sustainable for an extended period and could lead to other health issues.

Let's examine when masking is helpful - and when it's not. ⬇️

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When Masking Means Trouble For People With ADHD

I see masking ADHD as a double-edged sword. On one hand, masking can make life easier in the short term, helping us blend in with the neurotypical world. 👍We might even feel less stressed when we successfully cope with our surroundings - we get offered more opportunities at work, get accepted into college, or even make friends. 

However, extended periods of masking can lead to chronic stress 😭. If you constantly perform to meet societal expectations and feel you have no opportunities to 'switch off,' it might be time to seek professional help.

When busy masking, we often neglect to celebrate our ADHD strengths. Instead of embracing our unique traits, we might focus on trying to 'pass' as neurotypical. This can lead to lower self-esteem, a burden of too much responsibility, and even feelings of being an imposter 💔.

In a nutshell, masking can be a helpful tool but shouldn't be a long-term strategy. If masking is becoming a central part of your life and identity, it could be a sign that it's time to look into therapy or get an official diagnosis. After all, a band-aid only sticks for so long, right? 🤒We all need to have opportunities to feel safe enough to 'unmask' - whether around trusted family or friends.

The Power of Awareness For People With ADHD

Thanks to the many resources and ADHD communities to support you, you're never alone on your ADHD journey. 🥰These communities are treasure troves of shared experiences, advice, and empathetic ears,  particularly for adults diagnosed with ADHD. 

The thing is, awareness is where the magic happens. 😊 The more people understand ADHD symptoms and what life is like for those with it, the less need we have for masking. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with ADHD are more likely to experience other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. So, it's essential to amplify understanding and awareness about this neurodivergent condition ❣️.

At work or university, understanding from colleagues or classmates means we can finally bring ourselves to the table. We get to unmask and celebrate ADHD strengths, offering the world unique perspectives and problem-solving skills they wouldn't have access to otherwise. 💪

Being open about ADHD means we can stop (or reduce) making those exhausting adjustments just to fit in or be understood. If we all pull together to shine an ADHD spotlight on what it means to live with it, we create an environment where we can be accepted for who we are, quirks and all.

Unmasking and living authentically starts with awareness, which is the key to unlocking a more understanding and inclusive world for everyone. 🌏

Conclusion

In summary, ADHD masking is a complex but common behavior often exhibited by people with ADHD to manage how others perceive them. Whether you're an adult with ADHD or dealing with undiagnosed ADHD traits, masking can be both a blessing and a curse. 

On one hand, it helps navigate social gatherings and work settings, but on the other, it can intensify feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. ADHD is more than just its symptoms; it's a part of who we are, complete with unique strengths and intense emotions that should be celebrated. While therapy and a proper diagnosis can offer meaningful support, the ultimate goal should be a world where masking isn't the go-to strategy.

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Masking Hyperactive ADHD & Inattentive ADHD: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is ADHD masking?

ADHD masking is a behavior where people with ADHD actively or subconsciously hide their symptoms. This is often done to manage other people's perceptions and can be especially common in adult ADHD. It's not just about hiding the 'obvious' symptoms like leg bouncing or fidgeting but also masking feelings of stress or anxiety that often accompany ADHD.

Is masking common with ADHD?

Masking is quite prevalent among people with ADHD. In fact, many adults with ADHD have been masking for so long that they might not even realize they're doing it. It's a coping mechanism - or survival skill - to navigate social and professional settings. Masking is not unique to ADHD; people also mask other forms of mental health conditions.

How do you know if you are masking your ADHD?

You might be masking your ADHD if you constantly suppress or hide your symptoms to fit in or avoid judgment. For instance, if you're consciously controlling your impulses to fidget or are going to great lengths to appear organized when you're feeling overwhelmed, you're likely masking. Diagnosis and therapy can provide more insight into whether you're masking and how it affects your mental health.

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