Ever been told, "You don't really seem like you have ADHD"?
I questioned it myself from the very start. Even when I received an official diagnosis, I felt like a fraud.
Such comments, though seemingly harmless, may arise because many people with ADHD, knowingly or unknowingly, practice what's called "masking" of their symptoms.
So, let’s talk about ADHD masking. It's complex, and we will explore the reasons behind it and equip you with insights into why so many of us with ADHD find ourselves masking daily.
What is Masking in ADHD? 🎭
Masking, specifically concerning ADHD, refers to the act, whether intentional or not, of concealing ADHD symptoms to align oneself with societal expectations and norms.
It’s like donning an invisible mask, a façade, which works to hide the day-to-day challenges and nuances of living with ADHD from the surrounding world, often at great personal mental and emotional cost.
Examples Of ADHD Masking 🥷
Let's walk through some everyday scenarios and instances where ADHD masking can be observed:
Imagine trying to remain stationary during a long, drawn-out meeting, even when every part of you is itching to move or fidget.
Often neurodiverse people have been told they fidget too much throughout their lives, so they mask the hyperactivity by putting all their focus into sitting still and not interrupting.
All very well and good until you forget to listen to what is being said!
Taking on overwhelming tasks to prove one's worth or capability, even if it means stretching oneself too thin.
Yep, you guessed it, one of the many signs of masking your assumed “incompetence” by proving you’re overly competent.
Burnout, here we come!
Daydreaming and Zoning Out
Pretending to be engaged in a conversation or a task while your mind has wandered far away, lost in its thoughts.
With the odd nod here and a sprinkle of “uh huhs”, no one will ever know you’re mind is trekking through the wonders of the universe.
Avoidance and Procrastination
Consistently pushing tasks to the back burner, only to tackle them in a marathon session when no one's watching.
Midnight marathons burning the candle on all sides just to get over the finish line without anyone knowing otherwise is the perfect masking display!
Humour and Distraction
Skillfully using humour as a deflection tool, especially when one might have forgotten something or displayed other ADHD symptoms.
Chances are, this type of humour is self-deprecatory.
You know, call yourself out before anyone else does!
This has been my magic masking tool for years.
Reasons for Masking in ADHD 🕵️️
Wanting to Belong
Isn't it a universal human experience to desire a sense of belonging? Wishing to be part of a community, to be understood, and to be embraced for who we are?
This intrinsic human longing can often become a powerful driving force for many with ADHD, pushing us to mask our symptoms in a bid for smoother, more "normal" social interactions.
Fear of Social Rejection
No one cherishes the feeling of being judged or left out.
For individuals with ADHD, this fear is magnified.
The dread of being sidelined, misjudged, or rejected due to our ADHD traits can serve as a potent motivation behind our masking behaviours.
Social Preference for Neurotypicality
In today's world, there is a distinct lean towards celebrating 'neurotypical' behaviours and patterns, despite the discourse that everyone is seemingly championing neurodiversity.
When you deviate from this perceived "norm", especially in the case of neurodivergent individuals like those with ADHD, societal pressures to conform can be immense, leading many to suppress or mask their genuine selves.
Challenges of ADHD Masking 😵💫
ADHD Burnout from Masking
Continuous masking is like an energy-draining marathon.
Always being on guard and always performing can lead to profound physical and emotional exhaustion.
It can unlock an ADHD burnout cycle, severely affecting your overall health and well-being.
Unsurprisingly, hiding who you are can come with pitfalls for our psychological well-being.
Over prolonged periods, this perpetual masking can severely dent one's self-confidence, making you question your value and place in societal structures.
No Sense of Self
Ever ponder existential questions like, "Who am I, beyond this mask?".
Okay, perhaps not in a literal sense, but you might feel like you don't know who you are.
This consistent conflict between our authentic self and the masked persona can lead to a tumultuous inner landscape, challenging personal identity and authenticity.
Distraction and Inattention
Ironically, the very act of masking, meant to help you "fit in", can become a major distraction in itself.
I mean, it's such an effort; it can lead to full-on exhaustion, a few hours in a social setting often leaves me wiped out for the rest of the day.
It can be a significant impediment, making it even more challenging to concentrate on tasks at hand, further intensifying ADHD symptoms. Yipee!
Walking on a tightrope, fearful of slipping – that's the constant state of someone masking their true self.
This perpetual state of alertness and the accompanying fear of "being found out" can exponentially heighten anxiety levels.
Our Old Friend, Depression
Leading a double life, one true and one masked, can sow seeds of isolation, sadness, and in prolonged cases, depression.
This duality can take a toll on mental health, leading to feelings of disconnection and loneliness.
Masking vs. Mirroring
Masking, as we've seen, involves suppressing or hiding genuine symptoms.
In contrast, mirroring is about observing and then reflecting on behaviours seen in others.
This can be a healthier adaptive strategy, allowing us to pick up positive habits and integrate them into their behaviour while retaining our core identity.
Although be wary of who you surround yourself with, it's a fact that we are a reflection of our five closest companions.
Ensure you don't fall into the trap of mirroring those who may not have the most adaptive coping mechanisms themselves!
And while you are at it, try our ADHD accountability partner app.
Unmasking ADHD: 6 Coping Strategies to Deal with ADHD Masking 🦹️
1. Identifying Masking Behaviours
The first step to addressing an issue is acknowledging it.
Recognise when you're masking. Are you suppressing your symptoms because it's what you genuinely want, or is it an unwarranted societal pressure compelling you?
2. Distinguishing Healthy and Unhealthy Behaviours
It's crucial to discern between adaptive and beneficial behaviours from maladaptive masking behaviours.
Think mindfulness, exercise and eating well as the beneficial sort.
Look to overindulgence in not-so-good-for-you activities or avoidance as the maladaptive types.
Addressing and rectifying unhealthy masking habits is a significant step towards holistic well-being.
3. Emotional Regulation
ADHD can be a whirlwind of emotions.
Finding emotional self-regulation techniques, like mindfulness and meditation, can be invaluable in helping manage and process these emotions, especially during the unmasking journey.
I'll always advocate for therapy, but the key is finding a therapist attuned to your emotional behaviour who can help detect habits and change your internal narrative.
4. Be Authentic: Embracing Individual Strengths
Every individual, ADHD or not, brings unique strengths to the table.
The ADHD brain, with its unique quirks, also possesses incredible creativity, innovation, and empathy.
Celebrate these strengths rather than fight against them.
I've always been told I talk too much and get overly hyper when stimulated. I'd shy away, hide and self-criticism. Then I realised I'm full of ideas and wouldn't have achieved all I have without them.
5. Be Yourself: Considering Dropping the Mask
Perhaps it's time to evaluate the weight of the mask you carry.
Consider gradually shedding it, embracing vulnerability, and displaying your true self.
Because, at the end of the day, isn't authenticity the most liberating experience?
6. Seeking Professional Help
While internal reflection and self-help strategies are great stepping stones, there's no substitute for professional guidance.
Whether it's securing a diagnosis, understanding the nuances of your ADHD, or seeking effective coping strategies, asking for help will never be a weakness.
If you live in the UK you can apply for the Access to Work ADHD grant to cover expenses for coaching, therapy, or tools related to overcoming ADHD masking.
Is ADHD masking a form of self-sabotage?
While masking might seem beneficial in the short-term, it might act as a “self-sabotaging” mechanism in the long run, leading to emotional and psychological strain.
Though, the term self-sabotaging could be a little harsh, given that most people don’t realise they are doing it.
Can ADHD masking cause anxiety?
The constant pressure to maintain a façade can significantly heighten anxiety levels.
Is unmasking a liberating experience for adults with ADHD?
Without a doubt, for many adults with ADHD, shedding their masks feels akin to freeing themselves from shackles.
Embracing authenticity can be a profoundly transformative and liberating journey.
I’ve found accepting myself for who I am, quirks, struggles and brilliance combined to be one of the most healing aspects of my ADHD experience.
I no longer feel like a fraud. I feel like me and welcome every trait with warmth and love.