ADHD masking – sometimes referred to as “camouflaging” – occurs when someone with ADHD tries to cover up their symptoms by copying the behaviors of people who don’t have the condition. It involves hiding symptoms or overcompensating for them. ADHD masking may be a way for some people with ADHD to fit in socially, avoid being stigmatized, or feel more accepted.
What ADHD Masking Can Look Like
If you are masking your ADHD, there are many ways it can show up:
- Purposefully saying less so you will not talk too much or interrupt people
- Excessively writing everything down so you can remember it later
- Suppressing strong emotions
- Having difficulty focusing because you’re trying hard to hide excess energy
- Feeling unable to relax before an upcoming appointment because you might lose track of time
- Feeling the urge to organize a task or project rather than work on it
- Experiencing irritability from having to focus on a low-interest activity
- Maintaining perfectionist standards to hide your self-perceived flaws
- Mimicking other people in social situations so you’ll fit in
- Calling in sick to avoid being placed in stressful or anxiety-inducing situations
- Taking on too much responsibility to make up for what you perceive as your faults
- Overdoing something until exhaustion sets in so that others see how capable and reliable you are even though deep down you are struggling
- Hiding that you may feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities leads to feelings of shame and guilt
- A need to always appear in control to avoid feeling ashamed about whether others see your struggles
- Suppressing stimming behavior
The Potential Impacts of ADHD Masking
ADHD masking behavior is not all negative. Some coping strategies can help you get through the workday and handle living in a neurotypical world. But these behaviors can have downsides. For example:
- ADHD that is undiagnosed can prevent people from receiving support that might be beneficial
- The stress of masking untreated or undiagnosed ADHD might contribute to anxiety and depression
- People might not believe you need some help if you’re too good at masking
- Masking might delay or prevent ADHD diagnosis. This untreated ADHD can lead to an increased chance of developing substance use disorder
- Masking might lead to impostor syndrome and low self-esteem
- Masking behavior might lead to a distorted sense of self
How to Manage Your Masking
Here are some recommendations from experts about dealing with ADHD masking.
- Become aware of when you are masking – Try to make yourself aware of masking, and think about why you’re doing it. Does it shield you from emotional hurt or shame? Does it provide you a sense of security at work? Or is it helping you live in denial that you have ADHD?
- Take control of your masking – If you’ve been masking on autopilot, start making conscious decisions about which situations you’ll put your mask on. You could decide to mask in some situations and not do so in others. Your choices should be based on how comfortable you feel.
- Allow other people the time to get used to the “real” you – If you completely drop your mask in every situation all at once, some people might be surprised by how you act. You might face some rejections. So, decide who you’ll take your mask off for and how gradually you’ll do so. You could also decide whether you want to explain your ADHD symptoms to them, with or without mentioning the condition by its name.
- Seek the support of others – Spend time with friends, family, and other people who accept you for who you are.
- Practice self-compassion – Learn to make friends with the negative voice in your head. Give yourself some positive affirmations and develop. Also, learn to celebrate your ADHD strengths.
ADHD masking is a way of coping. But taken too far, it can have harmful effects. The good news is that you can recognize and manage it so you can realize the benefits without being a victim of the downsides.