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Inattentive ADHD Masking: Compensating Strategies and Coping Mechanisms
Sometimes, when other people have no idea what neurodivergent people struggle with, they tend to make fun of or criticize them without meaning to do so 😞. Hence, when some people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder get too uncomfortable with the crowd because they feel different from others, they develop skills or coping mechanisms to protect themselves from judgment. After all, encountering these incidents can be traumatic for some people with ADHD, especially when they lack the self-confidence or knowledge to defend themselves effectively.
That's probably one of the reasons why we try to hide our ADHD symptoms and not let other people know that we have challenges with our neurodivergent disorder. ADHD Masking 🎭 may be common in some people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It involves activities or coping strategies that “cover” symptoms. The goal is to have social acceptance and avoid criticism because of “being different”. They tend to be overly careful when people are around and practice learned behaviors, so they can still act "normal" with neurotypical people.
But how do ADHD masking traits come to be? Are they new skills we develop, or are there deeper causes for our behavior? Let's try to understand more about ADHD masking 👌.
Childhood ADHD Masking
ADHD masking may occur as early as childhood 🧒 and even when there's still no ADHD diagnosis. Parents often tell their children to stop fidgeting, concentrate on tasks, and maintain eye contact when communicating 👀. Partly due to this, some children begin to wonder if there's something wrong with them - why do they need to change their natural behaviors? To prevent being called out, they might suppress the ADHD symptoms that they experience.
Masking behaviors to cover or hide their trouble focusing, stimming behaviors, and hyperactivity are newly learned life skills that they think are healthy because they help them blend in. These children, even those with undiagnosed ADHD, think they need to prove their worth and capability to fit in with others, so they compensate for their behaviors by hiding the real ones . But, eventually, they might grow tired of seeking approval from others and have difficulties showing their true selves.
Masking ADHD Diagnosis Due to Lack of Awareness
Many people get misunderstood when they say they are diagnosed with mental health disorders, such as ADHD. Some neurotypicals may feel unsafe with having us around because we are neurodivergent and may do something unreasonable due to our possibly unstable emotional regulation or impulsivity and lack of self-control 😱. Likewise, we may also start to feel aloof because they think our mental health issues may be disruptive to society and the people around us.
That's why to prevent these scenarios from transpiring, some adult ADHD people mask off the truth about their ADHD diagnosis. We may get asked often what ADHD is, but instead of us having to spread awareness and educate them about it, we often choose to hide the truth and appear fine, as if we have no stress to handle 😓.
We often choose not to elaborate on our mental health condition to avoid questions that may arise out of it. After all, we might only hear the ADHD stereotypes, not what actually happens extensively in our daily lives.
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Masking Behaviors behind the Most Common ADHD Symptoms
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a complex neurodivergent disorder that gives off different symptoms to individuals 👌. These ADHD traits aren't absolute to all people. Instead, different people experience various symptoms at different intensities. Common symptoms may be present, but other forms of manifestation can also happen. The way we mask our adult ADHD symptoms can also differ from each other. But here are some of the ADHD masking instances that you might already be doing.
Hyperactive ADHD Masking
Common symptoms of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD presentation may not only include physical hyperactivity but mental restlessness as well 😵💫. Since our brains are constantly on-the-go, we often experience difficulty staying focused on tasks or managing our movements for an extended period. Aside from being full of energy and enthusiasm ⚡, people with hyperactive ADHD behaviors tend to do activities without thinking extensively about the consequences. Our impulsivity may make us blurt out answers even if we aren't supposed to, which may make the other person we are talking to feel offended.
In this case, we mask our hyperactive-impulsive behavior by refraining from taking the ADHD spotlight 💡. As much as we can, we suppress our energy and passion by appearing as typical as possible. We may not be able to speak up or contribute anything, but at least we try our best to hide any ADHD symptoms that tend to disrupt the conversation. We also appear to be actively listening 👂 to someone speaking, but we are trying our best to remain focused, stop interrupting conversations, and stop blurting out answers.
Another instance that we often do in putting up an ADHD mask is when we are hiding hyperactivity symptoms in plain sight. We try not to fidget too much while staying in one spot and do any active movements to blend into the background. We also try our best not to look like a person with ADHD because it may give off wrong impressions. This is quite a challenge because we tend to release stress and intense emotions through activities like leg bouncing, fidgeting, and pacing back and forth 🪑.
Hence, as we tend to hide these activities, we might become tired mentally and emotionally 😞. As we try to cover the common symptoms of ADHD hyperactivity and impulsivity, we also limit our ADHD brain's capacity to think freely and produce creative ideas 🧠, which we are most of the time known for. The ADHD strengths we tend to suppress and the masking behavior we have adopted to stay unnoticed may cause more harm than good.
Predominant Inattentive ADHD Masking
A lot of people with inattentive ADHD traits also mask their symptoms. Since this category of ADHD affects the abilities to focus and concentrate on tasks, listen carefully to instructions, or organize tasks and responsibilities, we might compensate by exerting more effort or doubling the amount of work we do to compensate for our shortcomings 💪. As this type can also be an undiagnosed ADHD territory, we might be already doing some of the masking behaviors related to inattention without us knowing.
Have you ever experienced triple checking your work because you are afraid of making mistakes often? Or have you ever put thousands of reminders in different spaces in your house to not forget anything important? 📝 These are some things we try to do because we are prone to the common traits of inattention and we try our best not to fall twice in the same pitfall.
Social gatherings are something I am not fond of. To be honest, I often zone out while talking to different people and sometimes catch myself having wandering thoughts about unrelated things. So when things like this happen, I always try my best to look eager to know more about what people are discussing, even if I am not really interested in listening to them 🎭.
Another thing about social situations, like meeting a friend, is managing my time carefully. Time blindness may be a common symptom of ADHD, and it is one I often struggle with ⏲️. I have to wake up earlier, squeeze my way to the traffic, and wait a long time to meet a friend at a specific place. As I don't want them to wait for me, I tend to arrive way too early than necessary. However, as I hurry to arrive earlier than the agreed time, I might forget to bring something valuable and essential.
Because we feel overwhelmed with preparing to go somewhere, we might get stressed and make adjustments - sometimes, unnecessary ones. Did I check my pockets if the keys are there? Did I lock the door when I left? Have I turned off the TV before going out? Well, let me try and check again for the nth time to be sure.😢
Is ADHD Masking Good or Bad Behavior?
According to psychologist Russell Barkley, ADHD masking is the process of behaving in certain ways to hide ADHD symptoms. He added that the person can actively and intentionally mask their symptoms, or do this subconsciously. This behavior is often seen in adults who have grown up without an ADHD diagnosis as they learn to develop their coping mechanisms. Having untreated ADHD can also be a probable cause of masking ADHD traits.
ADHD masking is primarily about managing other people’s impression of us. We tend to handle and manipulate external factors when we are hiding symptoms of ADHD from others. A lot of people with ADHD tend to do masking behaviors when they have too much anxiety and worry about how people will get to know them. This can be beneficial to the person with ADHD, but this is just a band-aid solution 🩹 for the ADHD community.
Is it okay to mask ADHD behaviors? For me, there are two sides to it. With masking, we can manage ourselves well without worrying about how neurotypical people will view us. We tend to adapt comfortably to our surroundings if we have already blended in and coped with our environment. But, if there's prolonged ADHD masking where you have to constantly keep up with the impression of being somebody you are not, this might be a sign that it is time to get help from a professional. After all, prolonged masking can mean chronic stress 😭.
When we try to mask our ADHD symptoms, we try to bring out behaviors based on what the society finds acceptable . However, when we avoid being genuine and honest to ourselves, we might forget and never celebrate ADHD strengths and just try to avoid people noticing us. This can result in lower self-esteem, too much responsibility, or even imposter syndrome 💔
The Importance of ADHD Awareness
Many resources are available online that can help you with your ADHD journey. There are ADHD communities worldwide that can help support you when you feel like there's no one to listen to your woes 🧑🤝🧑. All the struggles and difficulties of adults diagnosed with ADHD can be best shared with each other. But what does it have to do with ADHD masking?
Awareness about ADHD can help increase the understanding of other people about what ADHD is 🙂. It can also create a much-needed conversation topic for people with ADHD to let out their struggles, experiences, and symptoms to address the possibility of worsening conditions. People with ADHD, according to the American Psychiatric Association, are more prone to be exposed to anxiety and depression due to their difficulties in understanding the world around them, and that's why it is best to spread understanding and awareness about this neurodivergent disorder ❣️.
So, let's try to be kind to one another, as we don't exactly know what they struggle with. Many people diagnosed with ADHD make necessary adjustments for the sake of being accepted and understood. I think it's time that the world knows about ADHD and everything about it so that we meet halfway in understanding this mental health matter. After all, understanding is the key to accepting each other's differences.
Masking Hyperactive ADHD & Inattentive ADHD: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is ADHD Masking?
ADHD masking happens when a person behaves in particular ways that hide or conceal their ADHD symptoms. Mostly, people do masking to avoid being judged by others or to better blend in with the people they come in contact with.
Is Masking good or bad?
There are two sides to ADHD Masking. It can be good in the sense that it helps the person feel more relaxed in an environment. After all, if you blend in, you won’t get anxious about being judged. However, when done frequently or intensively, it can be stressful, too. Trying to be somebody you are not can do more harm than good because of the built up stress.
How do you know when your ADHD masking is no longer helpful?
When you’re starting to feel the effects of stress due to masking, it could be a sign that the behavior is no longer healthy. It’s best to get in touch with a mental health professional.