Imposter syndrome is an insidious problem that affects many neurodivergent people.
It can lead to feelings of inadequacy, shame, and low self-esteem. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to overcome imposter syndrome and regain your sense of confidence and self-worth.
Let’s learn more about what imposter syndrome actually is – and then go over some tips for dealing with it so you can live the most authentic life possible!
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome, sometimes referred to as “Impostor Phenomenon” because it is not a formally recognized condition by psychologists and psychiatrists (or other clinicians), refers to an overwhelming sense of insecurity and self-doubt in an individual.
It occurs when someone feels that they don’t really belong or are unable to succeed despite accolades or recognition they receive.
Imposter syndrome can affect individuals of all ages and walks of life, especially those who have experienced success in the past.
People with this condition often view their successes as luck or even as cheating their way into receiving praise.
Left untreated, severe imposter syndrome can contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
What is the Root Cause of Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome can be a difficult concept to grapple with, especially when the root cause is unclear. The truth is, there are multiple contributing factors to imposter syndrome.
For some people, it’s the fear of failing or being judged by others in the workplace. For others, it could be that they feel overwhelmed by their own accomplishments and worry they are fooling themselves and will come up short eventually.
Another factor can be past experiences that shaped their beliefs about capability.
Finally, feelings of needing to be “perfect” while striving for external validation can also lead to imposter syndrome.
ADHD and Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome can be especially challenging for individuals with ADHD or who are otherwise neurodivergent, as they already may feel like they are hiding their difficulties from public view.
There are many reasons behind this. One is that the amount of extra effort we put in to achieve their goals on top of the internal struggle to juggle tasks can lead to immense amounts of stress and anxiety.
These emotions present themselves when taking on new tasks and challenges, leaving those affected by imposter syndrome feeling helpless and frightened.
Keeping part of themselves hidden can lead to a feeling of shame as they worry that someone else might discover their shortcomings.
Despite how difficult it may be, overcoming imposter syndrome requires one to recognize their own strengths and flaws, and to accept their unique capabilities in order to move forward.
Signs of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is an experience that many people have, yet often don’t realize they have. It can be difficult to recognize if you have imposter syndrome because it manifests in many subtle ways.
One way you may identify that you are dealing with imposter syndrome is by looking at how you view your own successes. If instead of attributing successes to your hard work, intelligence, or creativity, you instead assume any success was due to only luck or the help of others, this may be a sign that you have impostor syndrome.
And if, despite your accomplishments, you still think more about any perceived failures than successes, this may also be a sign of experiencing impostor syndrome. If you don’t allow yourself any time to celebrate your successes and are instead worrying about the next deadline or goal, unsure if you’ll be able to achieve it – then you guessed it. Imposter syndrome could be to blame.
Though it can feel discouraging to recognize these signs in yourself, understand that this is an incredibly common phenomenon – in fact, it’s estimated that up to 82% of all people face these feelings, and that it might be even more common in individuals with ADHD or other types of neurodivergence.
Tips for Dealing With Imposter Syndrome
Although impostor syndrome may be inevitable for many people living with ADHD, there are ways to actively manage these feelings before they become too overwhelming or intrusive on daily life functioning.
For starters, recognizing that no one has it all figured out is incredibly important. Everyone struggles sometimes but having a positive attitude towards mistakes rather than berating yourself for them can help reduce stress levels significantly.
Here are a few more tips:
Understand the Facts Behind Your Success
Imposter syndrome is rooted in the belief that you don’t deserve your success, leading to feelings of insecurity and unworthiness. To combat this feeling, it’s important to recognize the facts behind your success—facts like hard work, dedication, and skillful execution.
Taking time to reflect on how far you’ve come and all that you have achieved can help give you a more realistic perspective on what it took for you to get where you are today.
Address Your Feelings of Shame
Shame is a common emotion associated with imposter syndrome. It may be helpful to take a step back and look at why you feel shame in the first place—is it because of something someone said or did?
Or maybe because of something that happened in your past?
Once you identify the source of your shame, it will be easier to address it head-on and move past these negative emotions.
Forgive Yourself for Mistakes
Making mistakes is part of being human—we all do it from time to time! However, neurodivergent people with imposter syndrome tend to beat themselves up over even minor errors or failures. Instead of dwelling on mistakes or perceived failures, try focusing on what lessons can be learned from them so that they can be avoided in the future.
This shift in perspective from guilt over mistakes towards learning from them can help tremendously in overcoming imposter syndrome.
Stop the Negative Self Talk
Negative self-talk can be one of the most debilitating aspects of imposter syndrome; oftentimes it’s not what we think about ourselves but how we think about ourselves that really matters.
If negative thoughts start taking root in your mind, try talking back to yourself—acknowledging such thoughts while also disputing them with evidence from your successes or achievements.
This type of inner dialogue helps build confidence by reinforcing positive beliefs about yourself rather than dwelling on negative ones.
If you find yourself regularly stuck in a pattern of thinking, mindfulness can help you move back toward success. Try our free .pdf downloadable “Body Scan” exercise from The Real-Life Executive Functioning Workbook. This short mindfulness exercise can help you recognize and re-set your thinking.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Comparing yourself to others is one of the quickest ways to induce imposter syndrome. You may look at someone else’s accomplishments and feel like your own successes do not measure up, but this could not be farther from the truth.
Everyone has unique gifts that they bring to the table, and no two paths are the same. Instead of comparing yourself to someone else, focus on improving your own skills and reaching your own goals.
Share Your Feelings With Others
Opening up about imposter syndrome can be difficult, but it is important for your wellbeing. Find someone you trust—a family member, friend, mentor or therapist—and talk about how you feel in a safe space free from judgment or criticism.
Speaking with someone who understands can be incredibly helpful in recognizing that there are many pathways to success, and that everyone experiences setbacks at times. Having a support system will also make it easier for you to stay positive during challenging moments in life.
Celebrate Your Successes – and Share Your Failures
Celebrating your successes is an important part of overcoming imposter syndrome by reminding yourself that you have achieved great things despite any perceived shortcomings or failures along the way. Acknowledge all of your successes—big or small—and take pride in them!
Try sharing stories about your successes with others as well as times when things didn’t work out so well; both can be valuable learning experiences!
Perfectionism can be a major trigger for imposter syndrome because it sets an impossible standard for success and causes us to feel like we don’t measure up when we fail to reach our goals or make mistakes along the way.
Instead of striving for perfectionism, focus on doing your best and making steady progress towards your goals over time; this will help reduce feelings of insecurity and build confidence in yourself and what you can do.
Say Yes to Opportunities
One of the best ways to combat imposter syndrome is to say yes to new opportunities, even if you’re not sure you’re qualified. Stepping outside of your comfort zone will help you build new skills and confidence. And, who knows? You may find that you’re more qualified than you think.
Track What You Do – and Stop Attributing it to Luck
When you accomplish something, take a moment to track it. This could be keeping a running list in a notebook or using a task manager app. Seeing your accomplishments in writing will help you realize just how much you’ve accomplished and stop attributing your success to luck.
Consider Executive Function Coaching
If imposter syndrome is impacting your ability to get things done, consider executive function coaching. A coach can help you develop strategies for goal setting, time management, and task completion. They can also provide support and accountability so that you can stay on track.
Overcoming imposter syndrome is not impossible, although it may require some work and determination.
Everyone experiences imposter syndrome to some degree, but for those of us who are neurodivergent or have ADHD, it can have a profound impact.
But with intentional action, individuals suffering from impostor syndrome can flip the script and learn how to become empowered by their struggles, no matter what their situations may be.