Imposter Syndrome is a psychological term, first created by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, which describes a collection of feelings experienced by individuals who frequently doubt their credibility and competence within work or academic settings. Imposter Syndrome is quite common but not often addressed as it relates to years of ADHD symptoms. Imposter Syndrome can lead to negative emotional effects and has the following traits: (1) agonizing over even the smallest mistakes or flaws at work, (2) attributing your successes to luck or outside factors, (3) extreme sensitivity to even constructive criticism, (4) downplaying your own expertise, even in areas where you are genuinely more skilled than others, (5) spending lots of time and energy thinking about what didn’t go well, (6) dwelling on the self-defeating thoughts or negative self-image, and (7) disregarding your accomplishments or the praise you receive for them. In sum, Imposter Syndrome can seriously hinder your career development and your personal relationships, because you perceive yourself as generally not deserving of success and always needing “to do better.”
As a psychotherapist, I have observed that many clients with Adult ADHD have experienced a lifetime of insecurity and of comparing themselves with others when it comes to their performance. This can create daily anxiety, a negative self-image, a sense of being a fraud, difficulty internalizing their successes, and a pervasive fear of being discovered as “not normal” or “not intelligent.” If you struggle with Adult ADHD, you can relate to keeping part of yourself hidden from coworkers, romantic partners, and family members. You may experience the Imposter Syndrome, due to feelings of guilt and shame. It also causes fear about what would happen if people found out about the “real, incompetent you.”
Negative Emotional Effects of Imposter Syndrome with Adult ADHD
There are many negative emotional effects of living with Imposter Syndrome and Adult ADHD. First, you do not perceive your successes as connected to your hard work and intelligence. Instead, you feel that any accomplishment must be due to luck, a fluke, or another random factor. Secondly, you are constantly looking at the next task that needs to be done better. This cycle can create anxiety and depressive symptoms. Third, you spend no time appreciating the glory of a job well done. Fourth, you may ruminate about regrets and other self-defeating thoughts, which causes you to give up on your pursuit of life goals.
Imposter Syndrome can be exhausting, because you need to maintain your persona for different roles which are necessary for fitting into others’ perceptions of you. Moreover, you may lose touch with your authentic identity and develop a negative self-image. With Adult ADHD, it often takes you two or three times as long as others to complete a work or academic task, but you must hide this process and appear confident in the presence of your boss, coworkers, or classmates. In this case, Imposter Syndrome is necessary and involves hiding your ADHD struggles for the sake of appearing competent. You must exert extra effort to stay focused and productive, yet this results in feeling like a total fraud. Another possible negative outcome of having Impostor Syndrome is that you might feel like you are not good at anything and that your accomplishments don’t belong to you. You may feel uncomfortable and alienated if people compliment you or recognize your work. While Imposter Syndrome allows you to “keep up” with different life situations, it can also greatly decrease your daily motivation.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome by Owning Your Adult ADHD
As a psychotherapist, I devote much effort toward guiding my Adult ADHD clients in exploring the self-defeating thoughts which were wired through repeated life experiences in their neuronal pathways. When you learn how to track your actions, you can see how much you contributed to your accomplishments. This process can also be a valuable tool for identifying behaviors and thoughts which need to be revised. By educating yourself and others about the neurological, emotional, and social struggles of Adult ADHD, you can reframe the intense and continual fear of not being good enough into a strong, lifelong drive to manage your symptoms and to achieve your goals. It also helps to start paying attention to your negative self-image or thoughts when you are experiencing insecurity and the sense of being “a fake.” With Adult ADHD, you can overcome Imposter Syndrome when you are willing to embrace your shame and self-defeating thoughts and to just admit to yourself and others that your brain has greater difficulty with completing even small tasks, with staying organized, with remembering information, and with communication skills. In sum, being authentic and accepting your challenges is key to personal growth and motivation. While caught in the cycle of Imposter Syndrome, it is impossible to tap into your authentic self.
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