Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

This article dives into the struggle many adults face with impostor syndrome, especially those with ADHD. We offer targeted advice for overcoming impostor syndrome, identifying its signs, and shifting your mindset. Whether you're high-achieving or just getting by, this is the guide to help you spend less time thinking negatively and more time living successfully.

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Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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ADHD & Imposter Syndrome: How To Stop Feeling Like A Fraud

Living with ADHD often comes with unique challenges, one of which can be crippling feelings that you're somehow a 'fraud' in everyday roles and aspirational pursuits. 🥺 You might even find yourself downplaying your accomplishments out of fear that others will discover the 'real' you - a person you think is not as competent or deserving as they believe. 

This psychological whirlpool, known by experts as 'imposter syndrome,' isn't uncommon among adults with ADHD. In fact, clinical psychologists have noted that this syndrome often lurks in plain sight among many with the condition.

In this comprehensive guide, we're going to deep-dive into the perplexing world of this phenomenon, particularly how it often becomes a direct result of the struggles tied to ADHD. We'll look at the not-so-pleasant aspects of this, like the stress it can bring and the personal sacrifices many of us make for social acceptance. 

We'll also explore the unexpected ways this syndrome can motivate us to achieve more than we thought possible. And, of course, we'll share some practical tips for managing and overcoming imposter syndrome. Are you ready to release that shame and find the confidence and success you deserve? Let's get into it.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

'Imposter syndrome' is a term you've most likely heard on social media - but it’s much more than a buzzword. It was first coined by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, and it describes the feelings experienced by individuals who doubt their accomplishments, even when ticking off all the boxes of high-achieving people. This is something many adults with ADHD can relate to, and let me tell you, the struggle is real. 

Now, this term isn't just a complex way to describe doubt or low self-esteem - it's more complicated than that. It entails constantly comparing yourself with others, making you feel like you're not deserving of your success. The stress and fear of this can become overwhelming and debilitating; imagine meeting deadlines and your boss singing your praises, but deep inside, you're scared someone will uncover you as a 'fraud.' As a result, you might overcompensate; you're making personal sacrifices and pulling all-nighters just to keep up with the expectations. You're juggling so many everyday roles, trying to fit into other people's perceptions, and it's honestly exhausting.

What's surprising is that high-achieving people are not immune to these feelings. You might be achieving plenty - and even exceeding expectations—but that often comes at a cost. Your boss, colleagues, or teachers might think you're pretty great at your job or one of their best students, but they don't see the hidden effort and hard work behind the scenes. It's like you're always wearing this mask of capability, but deep down, there's a gnawing feeling that you're not what others think you are.

The ADHD Imposter Connection

At present, there's not any scientific research that ties ADHD and impostor syndrome directly together. However, many feelings and experiences accompanying impostor syndrome, like low self-esteem, perfectionism, shame, and self-criticism, are commonly felt by adults with ADHD. (internal links)

Impostor syndrome isn't something that happens overnight - it's like a slow burn that often starts from years of criticism and judgment. Over time, this takes a toll on your self-image, and before you know it, you're caught in a cycle of feeling like a fraud hiding in plain sight. 

If you've grown up constantly being compared to neurotypical standards and falling short, it's no wonder these feelings of not being 'good enough' get internalized. You're left anxious, constantly fearing that someone will uncover who you think you are. 

Many adults with ADHD have a hard time taking in positive feedback. Years of hearing about their 'failures' or facing challenges that come with a neurodivergent brain leave many of us with feelings of inadequacy. According to research (Schubert & Bowker in 2019), this constant battle often leads to low self-esteem and fewer positive thought patterns. 

So, although ADHD might leave us vulnerable to feeling like a fraud, it's important to point out that anyone can suffer from it. However, if you're dealing with ADHD and impostor syndrome together, it can feel like you're carrying double the emotional weight.

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Can Imposter Syndrome Ever Be Beneficial?

Let's flip the script for a moment and focus on the unexpected upsides of having impostor syndrome, especially when navigating life with ADHD. Some experts argue that impostor syndrome isn't all doom and gloom; it can light a fire under you to work harder and achieve more. One study (link) even pointed out that feelings of being an impostor don't necessarily hamper your job performance; they might sharpen your interpersonal skills.

You see, the angst and the anxiety of feeling like an impostor can serve as motivation. For adults with ADHD, this feeling can tap into an untapped brilliance you may not even realize you have. The fear of not being 'enough' can drive you to excel, meet deadlines, and shoot for the stars in your personal and professional life. 

Although impostor syndrome can evoke negative thoughts that make you question whether you deserve the accolades and praise. But these thoughts could be the nudge you need to find success, encouraging you to put in the extra effort because you think you have to.

However, keep in mind that balance is crucial. Being perpetually on edge thinking you're not good enough isn't sustainable. There are ways you can balance the positive and negative experiences - and it starts with self-awareness.

How To Manage and Overcome imposter syndrome With ADHD

Managing and overcoming impostor syndrome when you also have ADHD is absolutely possible - and it starts with breaking the cycle of negative thoughts.

Recognize The Cycle of Negative Thought Patterns

First, it's crucial to identify when these thought patterns start. Are they triggered by a specific event, like a meeting at work or a comment from a friend? Or do they sneak up when you're already feeling overwhelmed? By pinpointing the triggers, you can better manage these self-doubt spirals.

A super helpful way to recognize and break this cycle is to keep a thought journal. Every time one of these impostor syndrome or negative ADHD-related thoughts pop into your head, jot it down. Describe the situation you were in and how the thought made you feel. After a week or so, you'll start to notice patterns. You'll also gain the perspective of seeing your thoughts on paper, making them easier to challenge and ultimately helping you stop feeling stuck in that loop.

Understand the Full Picture

Camouflaging your ADHD traits to the extent that you lose sight of who you are is not okay. If you find that you're working way harder to meet deadlines or expectations of so many people because of ADHD and impostor syndrome, then it's time to deal with it.

When you're consistently masking (link) your ADHD symptoms and pushing yourself to fit into societal norms, you're not just doing a disservice to yourself but also robbing the world of your unique abilities.

This is where setting boundaries - with others and yourself - comes in. Start by clearly communicating what you can realistically handle in your job or in your relationships. It's okay to say no or to ask for an extension on a deadline. You might feel like you're letting people down, but honest communication is crucial.

For self-care, create a list of non-negotiables - those activities or practices that keep you grounded and make you feel more 'you.' This could be as simple as setting aside time for a favorite hobby (link), taking short breaks to refocus during work, or even practicing mindfulness techniques (link) to keep your ADHD symptoms in check. These practices serve as gentle reminders of who you are beyond your diagnoses and help you deal with the combined struggles of ADHD and impostor syndrome.

Get the Right Support

No one has to go through this journey alone. An ADHD coach or therapist can provide specialized support. Coaching can be a great option if you're trying to focus better at your job or just want to feel more at ease in life. A therapist or ADHD specialist can help guide you through treatment options tailored to your ADHD.

If you're lucky enough to have a supportive relationship partner, trusted friend, or family member, lean on them. Discuss your struggles and anxieties. Feeling isolated and lonely often comes with the territory when grappling with ADHD and impostor syndrome. That's why having a solid social support network is like a lifeline.

Recognize Your Untapped Brilliance

Adults with ADHD often have extraordinary, yet unrecognized, skills and intelligence. Don't let your ADHD diagnosis keep you in the shadows. Your hard work and unique way of thinking can actually make you stand out - in a good way!


Navigating the maze of impostor syndrome might feel like an endless struggle, but it's crucial to remember that you're not alone. There's a community out there, whether it's a helpful ADHD coach or a psychologist who can help guide you toward overcoming impostor syndrome. 😌

Tackling ADHD and impostor syndrome is more than just hard work; it's a balancing act. Sure, it might take a bit of extra time, focus, and a lot of effort, but the success you'll achieve in your life will make it all worthwhile. Remember, you're not a fraud but a unique, smart, capable adult. You deserve success, belonging, and recognition for who you really are - not just what you can achieve.

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ADHD and Imposter Syndrome: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is impostor syndrome a symptom of ADHD?

Impostor syndrome isn't officially a symptom, but many find themselves struggling with it. Some experts think it might be a direct result of the challenges that come with ADHD, like difficulties in organization or time management, which could make you feel less competent than you actually are.

Is impostor syndrome a mental illness?

While it isn't formally classified as a mental illness, it can significantly contribute to anxiety. For some, it becomes a roadblock to success, while for others, it may be an uncomfortable yet manageable feeling. If you find that it's negatively affecting your mental health, it's worth considering professional guidance or treatment options.

What triggers impostor syndrome?

Triggers can vary from person to person, but it's often triggered by new challenges or environments. It could be the next thing in your career, starting a new course or even launching a new project. For adults with ADHD, the triggers might be closely tied to self-esteem issues or anxiety about one's abilities. At this point, it's important to focus on overcoming impostor syndrome by identifying its triggers and then working on strategies to mitigate them.

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