ADHD & Shyness

Understanding Shyness and Social Anxiety in Adults with ADHD

Shyness and social anxiety are common yet often overlooked aspects of ADHD in adults, contrasting with the typical hyperactive stereotype. These feelings can stem from past experiences of misunderstanding and negative social interactions due to ADHD symptoms. Adults with ADHD may struggle with social cues and feel anxious or shy in social settings. Recognizing and addressing these challenges is crucial. Strategies like cognitive-behavioral therapy, social skills training, and gradual exposure to social situations can help build confidence and reduce anxiety. Acknowledging this dimension of ADHD is key to fostering better social interactions and self-esteem.

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Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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A word form our expert

ADHD Shyness Is Not As Rare As You Think

When we think of ADHD, we probably don’t imagine a shy person. Instead, we might see someone who is outgoing and extroverted. This perception arises from the assumption that those with ADHD exhibit loud behaviors and are in constant motion due to hyperactivity.

As someone who has personally experienced the complexities of ADHD, I understand that shyness can also be a significant aspect of this condition. However, it is often overlooked or misunderstood.

Shyness, in the context of ADHD, exists as a valid and genuine experience. It is not limited to hyperactivity alone; it encompasses many experiences, including shyness.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Attention Deficit Disorder?


Some people have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder  (ADD) rather than ADHD. In the past, the diagnostic criteria for this condition referred to it as Attention Deficit Disorder, with or without Hyperactivity. However, this outdated term created confusion and misconceptions about ADHD.

The term 'ADD with Hyperactivity' implied that individuals diagnosed with this condition were always energetic, constantly moving, and extroverted in nature. On the other hand, individuals with ADD without Hyperactivity were overlooked, as their symptoms were not as visible or well-understood.

To address these misconceptions, medical experts updated the terminology to ADHD. This new term encompasses both the hyperactive and inattentive symptoms, acknowledging the different presentations of the condition.

ADHD is now categorized into subtypes based on the predominant traits observed in each person. Those with high energy levels and impulsivity are classified as having Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD. 

On the other hand, individuals who are often quiet, struggle with inattention and have difficulty focusing are classified as having Predominantly Inattentive ADHD. It is important to note that some individuals may exhibit a combination of both types, leading to a diagnosis of the Combined Type.

By understanding the updated terminology and the different manifestations of ADHD, we can challenge the misconceptions surrounding this condition and promote a more accurate and inclusive understanding of its diverse presentations.

How Inattentive ADHD Symptoms Can Make People Shy

If you meet someone with Inattentive ADHD, you might notice that they appear reserved and withdrawn. They might struggle to maintain focus and attention, especially when someone is talking to them. It's like they're constantly battling distractions and trying to keep up with the flow of discussions. As a result, talking with someone with Inattentive ADHD can sometimes feel like a hit or miss as they navigate the challenge of staying present in the conversation.

The shyness exhibited by individuals with Inattentive ADHD is closely tied to their symptoms. The constant struggle to focus and attentive can lead to feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness. They may keep quiet and avoid drawing attention to themselves to avoid potential misunderstandings or mistakes. While this trait is often associated with children with Inattentive ADHD, it can persist into adulthood and impact their social skills. Over time, these experiences and relationships can build up, reducing their desire and confidence to engage and mingle with their peers.

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What Can Make Adults With ADHD Experience Shyness?

Navigating life with ADHD is complex, and it's important to recognize that not all individuals with ADHD fit the stereotypical image of being loud and active. In fact, many of us lean towards the quieter side of the spectrum. Various factors can contribute to individuals with ADHD appearing shy and reserved, even in those who may also experience hyperactivity.

Negative experiences and self-esteem issues

Constant struggles with concentration, energy levels, and academic performance at school can make us feel nervous and shy as a way to cope with the challenges we face. We might do this to protect ourselves from criticism and judgment. Unfortunately, these experiences can result in self-esteem issues, anxiety and depression. This anxiety can make us uncomfortable in social situations, leading us to shy away from connections to avoid reliving past traumas.

The connection between ADHD and learning difficulties

While ADHD is not a learning disability, it can affect our learning ability. Tasks like solving math problems or spelling correctly may pose significant challenges for a person with this condition due to trouble focusing. Research suggests that up to 50% of children with ADHD experience learning difficulties and be behind their peers at school. As a result, we may struggle with social skills and become shy and withdrawn, both as a child and as an adult. Conversations can become daunting as we struggle to find the right words. The anxiety surrounding social events can be overwhelming, leaving us hesitant to participate and causing us to keep our thoughts and ideas to ourselves.

Fear of social interactions

Living with ADHD can mean facing the constant fear of making mistakes and struggling to stay focused and remember details. The judgment and criticism from others loom over us, as there seems to be little room for errors. This fear can push us into masking our symptoms and avoid talking to others, in order to protect our self-esteem and shield ourselves from potential humiliation. As a result, our shyness becomes a defense mechanism, preserving our sense of self while navigating the social landscape.

Mood Disorders & ADHD

Research shows that living with this condition increases the likelihood of a coexisting mood disorder such as depression. When two mental health conditions intertwine, they can significantly affect our behavior in social settings, making us more prone to shyness and less inclined to engage with others. Together, these conditions can cause people to have a hard time with social interaction, causing us to withdraw and become distant from those around us, including our parents and other adults who may struggle to understand our experiences.

Effects of mood disorders on Social Connections

According to the Mayo Clinic, mood disorders can create considerable challenges in coping with everyday life, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, fatigued, and anxious. People with mood disorders often experience difficulties in consistently connecting with their emotions and those of others. When we cannot get into the mood to be around people, it significantly limits the potential for building meaningful relationships. We may prefer solitude and silence, avoiding open conversations or unintentionally giving others the impression of coldness. Over time, we may realize that we have become more introverted and distant, making it increasingly challenging to reengage with socializing.

Increased likelihood of shyness and isolation

For neurodivergent people, life experiences can sometimes become overwhelming, leading to feelings of quietness and shyness. However, connecting with others can become even trickier with a mood disorder. The burden we carry can cause us to feel isolated and alone, making socialization increasingly difficult and time consuming. The confusion of those around us, who may not fully grasp the complexities of our behavior, further hampers their ability to reach out and offer meaningful support in our struggles.

Understanding the impact of mood disorders on social skills is crucial for fostering empathy and support. The coexistence of ADHD and mood disorders create a complex interplay that can significantly affect our relationships and overall wellbeing. 

Social Anxiety Disorder  & ADHD

There is a significant connection between Social Anxiety Disorder and ADHD. Having both conditions can further contribute to feelings of shyness and anxiety in social situations, creating a complex web of emotions and behaviors that affect our ability to function in social situations.

Fear of judgment and humiliation

Individuals with ADHD and social anxiety disorder may develop a deep-seated fear of socializing with others, even those they are familiar with. This fear stems from the anticipation of being judged or humiliated. The experiences of repeated trauma, such as bullying, can intensify this anxiety disorder, making us even more inclined to avoid relationships. As a result, our self-esteem may decrease, and we may perceive ourselves as outsiders or outcasts in social settings.


Sometimes, we might withdraw from social interactions and isolate ourselves from people to protect our emotional wellbeing. This retreat and isolation serve as protective measures, shielding us from potential harm or further trauma. However, it can also make social anxiety disorder worse in the long run, and lead to depression.

If you think you may have social anxiety disorder, reach out to a mental health professional or doctor. Getting a proper diagnosis is essential for understanding why you might be suffering with behaviors such as self-isolation, fear and anxiety. By getting the right support and treatment for the main symptoms of social anxiety disorder, you may see a significant improvement in your social skills and confidence.  

How Adults With ADHD Can Overcome Shyness

If you frequently feel left out and isolated, remember that you don't have to face these challenges alone. By reaching out to a person you trust,, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities for growth and connection.

Overcoming shyness is possible, and there are strategies you can employ to improve your social skills. For example, social skills training and adjustments can make a significant difference. Learning effective communication techniques, practicing active listening, and building confidence in social settings can help you navigate interactions more comfortably. Remember, it's a journey; progress comes with patience and persistence.

Psychotherapy Treatments

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help manage symptoms and enhance social skills, especially if you have an anxiety disorder. You can better understand your thoughts, emotions, and behavior through CBT and learn practical techniques to address challenges and build resilience. 

Medications For Social Anxiety

In some cases, medication may also be prescribed by a mental health professional to help manage symptoms of an anxiety disorder. You may also find ADHD medications such as stimulant medication can be helpful in managing different symptoms. Remember, these treatment options should be discussed and administered under the guidance of a qualified healthcare provider, in line with a proper assessment and diagnosis. 

Maintaining an open mind and a positive attitude toward self-improvement is the key to feeling comfortable enough to open up to others. Remember that you are not defined by your challenges but by your determination to overcome them.

Social Support

Lastly, having a support system is invaluable. Surround yourself with individuals who understand and support you, even when feeling more withdrawn and quiet. Lean on them when you need a person to talk to or spend time with without needing to make conversation. After all, having friends and family members who understand when and why you might seem more withdrawn is essential for letting go of the mask many of us tend to wear in social settings.


Remember, not all adults with ADHD fit the stereotype of being loud and outgoing. Most people experience moments of withdrawal and shyness, and that's completely valid. But you don't have to face these challenges alone; reach out to understanding friends, family members, or professionals who can provide the guidance and support you need. You will likely find that most people are happy to be a source of strength during times of overwhelm or uncertainty.

It may take time and effort, but you have the power within you to gain experience in developing your social skills so that you can  build confidence, and navigate relationships. Whether through social skills training, therapy, medication, or practicing new strategies, there are tools available to make a real difference.

If you are naturally shy and have ADHD, that's okay, too. It's important to remember that not everything about us is directly linked to our diagnosis and we all have our own personality traits. Many people embrace their introversion and find joy in their own company. What truly matters is that you feel connected to the people you love and feel understood by them and yourself. 

You are not defined solely by your diagnosis but by your personality and your connections with others. So, whether you're introverted, shy, or navigating the complexities of your diagnosis, remember that you have the power to create a fulfilling and meaningful life. 

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ADHD & Shyness FAQ

Is it true that all people with ADHD are hyperactive and impulsive?

No, it isn't. Not everyone with ADHD experiences hyperactivity and impulsivity. There are different subtypes of the condition, including the Predominantly Inattentive type, where hyperactivity and impulsivity may be less prominent.

Can ADHD cause shyness?

While shyness is not an official symptom of ADHD, it is possible for individuals with this condition to experience shyness. ADHD can affect various aspects of a person's life, including social interactions. Factors such as past negative experiences, difficulties in social settings, or co-occurring anxiety disorders can contribute to shyness in individuals with ADHD.

Should you get help for having ADHD and being shy?

Whether you should seek help for ADHD and shyness depends on the level of distress it causes you. Some people are just naturally more introverted and shy, and that's okay. However, if this significantly impacts your wellbeing and relationships, it may be beneficial to seek support. Understanding the underlying reasons for your shyness and exploring strategies to manage symptoms can help improve your overall quality of life. Additionally, ensuring you are getting the correct ADHD treatment from a specialist doctor can be helpful. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer, and the decision to seek help ultimately depends on your individual needs and goals.

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