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Imposter syndrome isn’t something that just folks with ADHD experience. It’s universal. Studies show that approximately 82% of people have experienced imposter syndrome at some point, and it’s most prevalent in high-achievers. It’s that feeling of not being good enough or feeling like a fraud, even if we have the knowledge and skills to succeed.
Now add to that, folks with ADHD who often suffer from RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria), where every real or perceived rejection can cut like a knife, this can compound the feelings of imposter syndrome and leave you feeling frozen in fear.
Recently, I asked our ADHD community what they’re struggling with, and I received several comments about challenges with imposter syndrome, so, in this blog post, I’ll share strategies that have helped me, and hopefully, they’ll be useful for you too.
Here’s a few of the comments from the community. Can you relate? I sure can.
My imposter syndrome loves to point out the ways ADHD affects my work performance and its exhausting. I’m scared that if I don’t resolve it, I may lose this job and it’s a good job (marketing and communications manager)
The extreme tiredness and fatigue that comes along with it. Also being rejection sensitive and not ruminating about work comments or relationship communication
Sometimes the OCD turns into overthinking and causes me to “shut down” on the task because I am thinking too far ahead of all the potential problems instead of focusing on the next reasonable/actionable step towards completion. Perhaps there is a mental tool or question that I can ask myself to confound that line of thinking and help me to know to relax?
If any of these struggles feel familiar to you, then keep reading
What Happens to us When Imposter Syndrome Kicks in?
Biologically, our nervous system reacts to the fear of being “caught” or found out by going into sympathetic mode. This is our fight or flight mode, but very often it can also look like freeze mode, where we can’t get ourselves to do anything.
Internally, we are serving up a hormonal cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol. Because when we are feeling fear, our brain is overrun by the amygdala (the fear center) which takes over our thought process and reduces our executive functioning.
As a result of this biological reaction, we can’t seem to move forward. We’re stuck in freeze mode, unable to get past the perceived fear of being called out as an imposter. In the short term, this makes for a highly unproductive state, and can lead to the OCD tendencies mentioned above. Over the long term, it can lead to anxiety, depression and/or burnout.
How to Manage Imposter Syndrome on the Job
When you get into these states, whether they are triggered now and again, or you have the underlying feeling all the time, it’s important to get clear on what’s triggering the feeling and what the core belief is that’s driving it.
The more you can clarify the root of the feeling, the better able you will be to address it.
Here’s what I recommend….
Externalizing the Situation
ADHD’ers struggle with sorting things out in our minds, so it’s helpful to put our thoughts on paper. So the next time you start feeling “imposter-y”, start by noticing what you’re experiencing and write it down. Acknowledge your imposter syndrome and the fears and beliefs associated with it. Identify the triggers that led to these feelings, whether it’s a person, a task, or a specific situation.
Evaluating the Validity of Feelings
Once you’ve written down the emotions and triggers related to your imposter syndrome, pause and ask yourself, are these feelings justified? Are you truly unqualified to do what you’ve been tasked to do? If you have specific skill gaps, get clear on what you don’t know and identify areas for improvement. However, if you find yourself generalizing your fears, it might be an emotional reaction to a lack of clarity. Ambiguity is kryptonite for folks with ADHD. When we don’t have clarity on what we’re doing, we tend to fill in gaps with negative, self-defeating thoughts, so asking more questions to clarify expectations can help alleviate these feelings.
Advocate for Yourself
If you’re unsure about certain expectations or tasks, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Remember, your boss would prefer you to ask questions rather than make assumptions and miss the mark. Asking questions shows that you’re thorough, thoughtful, and collaborative. Bonus points if you ask for examples of well-executed work. Templates and examples can help fill gaps in understanding and boost confidence.
Seek Ongoing Feedback
Regular feedback from your manager can provide valuable insights and help you move away from ambiguity. Schedule regular 1-on-1 meetings to discuss your progress and ask questions like:
- What does success look like in this role and how am I tracking?
- What could I improve on?
- What would you like to see more of?
- Where should I focus my time and skill development?
I know it can be scary to ask for feedback, especially if you struggle with RSD. But here’s the thing – structured feedback not only helps you understand your performance but also demonstrates your commitment to growth and improvement. Wouldn’t you rather know what you’re doing and do it with confidence, then spin your wheels in self-doubt? Clarify = confidence.
Closing Skill Gaps with the 100-Hour Rule
To address specific skill gaps, consider implementing the 100-hour rule. This concept suggests that it takes approximately 100 hours of deliberate practice to become proficient in a new skill. Deliberate practice involves focused, intentional practice rather than mindless repetition. Identify the areas where you feel less confident and create a 100-hour plan to improve those skills. Dedicate focused learning time through online resources like YouTube, LinkedIn Learning, podcasts, books, or courses. By taking action towards closing skill gaps, you’ll become a stronger employee and gain confidence, reducing imposter syndrome.
Reframing Overwhelming Thoughts
Imposter syndrome often leads to overwhelming thoughts that derail our focus. To combat these thoughts, it’s helpful to reframe your perspective by reminding yourself of a few key points:
- Your intention is in the right place: Clearly you care about your work and want to do the best possible job or else you wouldn’t be so worried about your performance. So be kind to your mind. It just wants to do a good job.
- Remember your worth: You were hired based on your wisdom, experience, and knowledge. If your employer didn’t think you could do the job, you wouldn’t be there.
- It’s not brain surgery: Put things into perspective and recognize that the consequences of imperfection are often minimal (unless you’re a brain surgeon, of course).
- Are your peers really that much better?: Assess what your peers know that you don’t, and determine if there’s a genuine skill gap or if you’re being too hard on yourself.
Additional Tools and Strategies
Two additional tools that can help:
- Chat GBT: Start a conversation in Chat GBT, providing it as much context as you can regarding your job or tasks. Ask it to generate ideas, outlines, and sample plans for work-related tasks. This tool can provide clarity and inspiration. It can also be used to refine your writing and thought process.
- Heart Lock-In Breathing Technique: This technique helps you accumulate energy and recharge emotionally. By focusing on your heart area, activating regenerative feelings like appreciation or care, and radiating those feelings, you can reduce stress and anxiety.
Imposter Syndrome Doesn’t Have to Derail You
Overcoming imposter syndrome, particularly when you have ADHD, requires that you slow down and get clear on your thoughts and beliefs. However, by questioning your thoughts, seeking ongoing feedback, getting additional training where needed, and reframing overwhelming thoughts, you can navigate imposter syndrome with confidence.