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ADHD and: Imposter syndrome

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Imagine sitting in a conference room, feeling nervous about presenting to your team. This isn’t your first time presenting. In fact, you’ve done this many times before. But despite your accomplishments, a voice inside whispers, “You’re not qualified to be here.”

Dealing with imposter syndrome is a common challenge for many women with ADHD. Listen as Dr. Monica Johnson talks about imposter syndrome and how it’s closely linked to ADHD. And get tips for overcoming self-doubt and quieting your inner critic.

Episode transcript 

Dr. J: Are you the type of person to have thoughts like "I'm not good enough" or "I don't deserve to be here"? Or when you're successful at something, think that it's because of luck or timing, or because you fooled everyone into thinking that you're more competent than you actually are?

This is "ADHD and." I'm Dr. J. Today we're going to talk about imposter syndrome.

What I want to do is give us a working definition of imposter syndrome. Modern research sees imposter syndrome as a behavioral health phenomenon, in which a person engages in feelings of self-doubt around their abilities, their accomplishments, and even their standing amongst their peers. And this can happen regardless of how successful another individual actually is.

Basically, when you have imposter syndrome and you look around amongst all of your peers, you really just feel like you're not making the cut. So, to help us get a better understanding of imposter syndrome, I want to walk us through an example.

So, let's imagine Amy, who's a software engineer. She's been working in the field for over ten years and overall has accomplished some pretty great things in her career, despite having a series of successful projects, being known as a reliable problem solver, and getting the respect of both her peers and her superiors, she feels like she doesn't belong in this environment and is constantly worried that she is going to be found out as a fraud.

I think it's really important to think about how imposter syndrome may come up for a person with ADHD. Something I've talked about before is that those with ADHD can be overly concerned over making mistakes, and they can also be hypercritical of themselves when they make them.

In this example, if you were to make a mistake, you could see that as evidence that you truly are an imposter. This is what we would call a confirmation bias. And it's important to understand what a confirmation bias is so that you can be aware of it when it happens, and not use it as evidence to justify your internalized feelings of self-doubt.

OK, so you might be wondering, how do I cope with imposter syndrome? It's unlikely that you're going to fully eliminate imposter syndrome. It's actually fairly normal to have these types of feelings. So, the strategies that I'm going to talk you through are more about what to do when imposter syndrome arises, so that it can happen less frequently and be less intense.

My first tip is to practice more positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is the practice of making affirmative statements about oneself, and it's utilized to combat negative thoughts and emotions. This mental strategy is used to boost confidence, manage stress, and also reinforce your own capabilities.

Through the use of positive self-talk, over time, you can change your perspective to be more compassionate, more optimistic, and to have a more constructive view of your own circumstances. So, I want to talk you through a handful of ways that you can use positive self-talk to your benefit.

The first one is acknowledging accomplishments. What this can look like is instead of walking past your accomplishment, saying to yourself, "I earned this through my hard work and my skills."

Another way that positive self-talk is helpful is around reframing thoughts about failure. So, you want to replace thoughts like, "If I make a mistake, everyone's going to know I'm a fraud" with "It's totally normal to make mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow and not evidence that I'm an incompetent person."

Another way to use positive self-talk is through self-compassion. So, if you're having a difficult moment, you can say to yourself, "It's OK to feel unsure sometimes. I don't have to be perfect in order to be good at what I do."

One of my personal favorites is rational evaluation. So, when you're doubting your skills, you can think to yourself, I have successfully handled this type of situation a million times and I have the training and resources to do it again. Rational evaluation is essentially just checking the facts. Oftentimes we feel things and we will treat our feeling as fact, even though it doesn't match the objective reality.

By regularly practicing this kind of self-talk over time, you can change your internal narrative about yourself, which could potentially lead to more self-confidence and reduce your imposter syndrome overall.

And my second tip is to embrace being you. You are unique and irreplaceable. There's no one that has your talents, your abilities, your perspectives. Imposter syndrome has a way of creeping into your head and convincing you that you don't have value, or that you don't belong. You just have to understand that's all just noise.

Now, if you heard all that and your thought was, "Yeah, but is different for me. I really don't belong." I'm going to refer you back to tip number one. And also, welcome to the club. We all feel that way sometimes.

The last thing that I want to mention is acknowledging and celebrating your accomplishments. So often in my life, I see people who do amazing things like complete marathons and win awards, and they talk about them like anybody could do it. Meanwhile, my jaw is on the ground and I just want to celebrate how awesome they are.

Regularly acknowledging or celebrating your own accomplishments can lead to a boost of self-confidence, and over time, this can change your internal dialog about yourself. You actually leave less space to get into ruminative negative cognitions, which is going to be really helpful for reducing the self-doubt thoughts that can creep in when you have imposter syndrome.

Another way that this tip is helpful is that it can increase your resilience by reminding yourself of your successes and your capabilities, it allows you to know in real time that you actually are a strong, capable person and not a fraud.

For example, in my role as a psychologist, I am routinely called to lead speaking engagements and I never like it. It is not uncommon for me to have thoughts like "Why am I here? There's no way I'm going to be helpful." And then I remind myself of the thousand other times I led this talk and everything went well.

And lastly, celebrating your achievements can help with motivation and momentum each time you celebrate your success, it acts as a reinforcement that motivates you to continue going further. That's like compound interest on wins. Remember that you're not likely to eliminate imposter syndrome, but by using these strategies, you can change your relationship with it and hopefully reduce the impact it has on your life over time.

And that's it for today. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of "ADHD and." This show is brought to you by Understood.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia. Learn more at Understood.org.

"ADHD and" is produced by Tara Drinks and edited by Alyssa Shea. Our video producer is Calvin Knie. Ilana Millner is our supervising producer. Briana Berry is our production director. Neil Drumming is our editorial director. Our audio engineer and music composer is Justin D. Wright. Our executive directors are Laura Key, Scott Cocchiere, and Seth Melnick. And I'm your host, Dr. J.

Hosts

  • Jaye Lin

    is an ADHD Coach, speaker, instructor, and podcaster.

    • Cate Osborn

      (@catieosaurus) is a certified sex educator, and mental health advocate. She is currently one of the foremost influencers on ADHD.

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