Imagine having to hide your real, true self while continuously camouflaging to be deemed socially acceptable. Sounds like an exhausting and deeply uncomfortable situation, right?
Sadly, this is the reality for thousands of people with ADHD.
In a world where neurodiversity is considered abnormal and discriminated against, individuals with ADHD and autism are forced to hide their symptoms to be considered normal (or neurotypical).
This phenomenon, popularly known as ADHD masking, is increasingly used as a coping mechanism by neurodivergent individuals.
Now, we all use a certain level of pretension and impression management to portray ourselves differently, so how’s it different for those with ADHD?
Well, for people with ADHD, masking and camouflaging are a whole different ball game. They are required to put in concentrated efforts to hide their natural instincts, which can lead to serious health implications.
This is why it is important to understand what ADHD masking is and how it affects neurodivergent individuals. In this post, we’ll dive into ADHD masking behaviors, their implications, and ways to cope with them. Let’s get started.
What Does Masking In ADHD Mean?
ADHD masking is an unhealthy self-preservation or coping mechanism tool that those with ADHD use to appear ‘normal’ by the set parameters of social understanding. An individual practices ADHD masking behaviors when they act in a way to suppress or hide their symptoms. Scientist Russel Barkley referred to this tendency as ‘impression management.’
ADHD masking in adults is also called camouflaging when someone with ADHD mimics the actions and behaviors of someone who doesn’t have the condition.
While masking in ADHD affects people across all spectrums, those who identify as women are more likely to be affected by it. In fact, ADHD masking in females and gender bias in medicine are reasons why most women with the condition never get a proper diagnosis and access to the required help. Additionally, people belonging to marginalized and minority communities that have been historically discriminated against are more likely to mask their symptoms to protect themselves and their livelihoods.
What Does ADHD Masking Look Like?
People with ADHD are deemed to be annoying, disruptive, and socially inappropriate. This is because the mainstream image of almost all neurological and mental health disorders is primarily based on the symptoms of people at the extreme end of the spectrum.
So, for instance, if one student with ADHD fights or talks loudly in class, it’s soon associated with every child with ADHD.
This is why people with ADHD are found to mask their symptoms. The tendencies to mask symptoms have been found in adults and children of all ages. The common signs of ADHD that people mask include the following:
- speaking loudly,
- poor concentration,
- feeling restless or exhausted,
- feeling agitated,
- mood fluctuations,
- impulsive behaviors,
- procrastination, etc.
The signs of ADHD masking in adults or children are tough to catch. However, it’s possible to spot them within yourself if you have an idea of what ADHD masking looks like. Here are a few examples of ADHD masking:
- hiding your hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms with unusual calmness,
- behaving and reacting how you are supposed to be in a social setting instead of how you are actually feeling from inside,
- avoiding talking or making conversations to hide your symptoms,
- being anxious before meeting someone and, therefore, arriving extremely early (on the pretext of being on time) to cope with your anxiety,
- burning out and being an overachiever to combat your lack of concentration or increasing procrastination,
- organizing your desk, paperwork, or bag to hide your fidgety behavior,
- calling in sick or not showing up to social events that make you anxious,
- being a perfectionist in a bid to hide your neurodiversity,
- always wanting to stay in control and avoid being vulnerable,
- mimicking others in social situations to appear ‘normal,’ etc.
So, Why Is Masking ADHD Symptoms Bad?
Now that we have an understanding of what ADHD masking behavior looks like, let’s dive into the consequences of why it’s deemed so bad.
What is the deal with masking ADHD symptoms?
Well, for starters, it’s exhausting and self-sabotaging. Research around ADHD masking in females leads to delays in diagnosis and getting the right help. As per a study published in BMC Psychiatry, untreated ADHD can lead to the development of other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. It also affects people’s abilities to function effectively in their personal and professional lives.
Here are the most debilitating implications of masking ADHD symptoms:
1. Stress and burnout
The first and biggest issue with ADHD masking is that it’s exhausting.
Like, really exhausting.
Constantly having to mask your instincts and behaviors is taxing and can take up a lot of your energy. For individuals who are clinically diagnosed with the condition, masking comes with the persistent fear of getting caught in the act by others. Therefore, such individuals might also have social anxiety.
2. Imposter syndrome and a lack of self-esteem
Masking in ADHD stems from an inherent lack of self-esteem. Individuals with the condition feel insecure about themselves. This insecurity has a lot to do with how neurodivergent individuals are perceived by society. This lack of self-esteem and confidence means that they regularly dismiss their accomplishments as mere flukes and are obsessed with finding faults in themselves.
Additionally, to compensate for their symptoms, people with ADHD often overcompensate by putting their mental and physical health on the line.
All these factors come together to give rise to imposter syndrome, which becomes an added stressor for those with ADHD.
3. Unhealthy perfectionism
ADHD masking behaviors often lead to unhealthy perfectionist tendencies. These individuals become hyperfocused on the mythical pursuit of perfectionism. They develop intolerance toward certain traits within themselves as well as others. This can make them judge others harshly and be disrespectful at times.
This unhealthy perfection, combined with imposter syndrome, can lead to heightened sensitivity toward rejection or criticism. Even minor feedback can negatively affect their self-esteem and make them feel worthless.
How To Stop Masking ADHD Symptoms?
The first step toward learning how to stop masking your ADHD is to recognize you are practicing these behaviors in the first place. Once you have deduced that you practice ADHD masking behaviors, you can slowly start learning how to accept your condition and stop pretending to be someone that you aren’t.
Here are a few things that you can do to deal with ADHD masking:
1. Awareness is the key.
Identify the type of ADHD masking behaviors you practice. Spend time analyzing your regular actions and thoughts. Sometimes, these behaviors are so entrenched in your daily life that you might not even realize their impact until you objectively assess them.
2. Get professional help.
Try talking to a mental health professional. Therapy and guidance can help you break these negative thoughts and behavior patterns. It can help address where your shame and stigma regarding your condition stem from. Once you reach the focal point of your actions, you can effectively rewire your thoughts and try to be more of yourself gradually.
3. Develop healthier coping mechanisms.
A lot of people perceive ADHD masking as a healthy coping mechanism to protect themselves. However, that’s as far from the truth as possible.
Now that you know about the harmful implications of ADHD masking, it’s time to make the shift toward healthier coping mechanisms. If not masking, what else can you do?
You might need to rethink your relationships, work boundaries, and overall the ways you function to chalk out these coping mechanisms effectively.
4. Surround yourself with supportive people.
Often times while dealing with ADHD, people shut out their friends and family. However, social support is immensely helpful in dealing with ADHD masking. Therefore, talk to your loved ones about your needs. Tell them when you need help. Be specific about what kind of support you want.
The supportive company of people who love you will make it easier to become yourself and accept who you are.
ADHD masking is an unhealthy coping mechanism that people with the condition use to hide their symptoms from a world that looks down upon neurodivergent individuals. This masking and camouflaging come at a great physical and emotional cost. It leads to late diagnosis, imposter syndrome, and a lack of self-esteem.
However, getting the right professional help, working to find healthy coping mechanisms, being in the supportive company of your loved ones, and practicing self-compassion can help you move out of this shell.
As a society, we need to provide safe and open spaces to neurodivergent individuals where they can fully accept themselves and seek proper help. Awareness and knowledge are paramount in this whole process. To learn more about what ADHD is and how it affects people, click here.
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