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Imposter Syndrome and neurodiversity – it’s more common than you might think

Imposter Syndrome and neurodiversity – it’s more common than you might think

Imagine if your inner narrative kept telling you, “I’m a fake, I’m a fraud, I’ll be found out. I’m making this up as I go along. I have no idea what I’m doing.” 

Having spoken to, trained and coached people with Imposter Syndrome for many years, I hear this sentiment daily. Imposter Syndrome sufferers question their worth and doubt their accomplishments in the face of evidence that they are, in fact, competent, talented, and successful.  

To prevent themselves from being ‘found out or exposed’ they (Imposter Syndrome sufferers) become good at wearing a ‘mask’. They end up displaying self-sabotaging behaviours like perfectionism, overworking, avoidance, ruminating, or people pleasing (to name just a few) to ‘protect’ themselves. Although these behaviours quickly become ingrained and the ‘norm’ when tied to Imposter Syndrome, they don’t serve us, they are simply coping mechanisms that take their toll mentally, emotionally, physically, and even financially. 

Now imagine Imposter Syndrome being experienced by an individual who always feels like and/or knows they are in the minority. An individual who is already in some ways ‘masking’ their identity now also experiencing Imposter feelings. It can become a ‘double masking’ experience which is a heavy weight to bare. Neurodivergent individual(s) – particularly those with ADHD – assume it must be their fault if other people don’t get them because their brain works differently. 

To quote Sam, someone who experiences Imposter Syndrome and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, “That’s when the imposter sh*t starts”. 

For years, Sam worked in high-stress environments, pulling a rabbit out of a hat in the small hours of the morning, inventing new ways of solving problems, finding answers intuitively – and then having to justify them somehow to people who didn’t get it.

Sam always felt different. Weird. Alone in the way she received and processed information.

“…That feeling of never quite fitting in, jutting out at a slightly odd angle. Being able to see things that others couldn’t see, but only ever being in a room with 1-2 people who’d understand you and give you the head room.

Of course, you come out as feeling like you’re a total f**king fake despite all evidence to the contrary.”

– Sam

When the people interviewed for this article were diagnosed with ADHD, every single person said they felt like they could finally take a deep breath. There was no more hiding, no more ‘faking it’, no more masking.

But, for most of them, the journey towards discovering they had both Imposter Syndrome and ADHD took a lifetime.

I’ve been exploring how neurodiversity – and ADHD in particular – affects Imposter Syndrome sufferers, and I’d like to share what I’ve discovered with you so far (please note: this article has been months in the making and is the first of many stories and insights I will be sharing on these very big & diverse topics)

Busting ADHD myths

Let’s begin by busting some myths about ADHD.

  • ADHD doesn’t just affect hyperactive little boys. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders there are three types of ADHD – hyperactive (the one we’re familiar with), inattentive, and a combination of them both. 
  • ADHD isn’t an inability to focus, it’s a dysregulation of focus. As this article explains, “You can hyperfocus and then you can’t focus. You are distractible, but you’re also curious.” 
  • People can be diagnosed as adults. An increasingly significant number of women are coming to realise they’ve suffered with ADHD their whole lives when their children are diagnosed, as it can be an inheritable condition.
  • No, you don’t have to take drugs if you’re diagnosed. Some find medication helps them concentrate or focus for longer period of times, others find it calms down their busy brains. But others find a mixture of meditation, counselling, exercise, sleep and/or nutrition help them enough.
  • No, you don’t have to get a formal diagnosis – but it could help you confirm that you do have ADHD and not any other neurological or mental disorders. Waiting times are currently long (several months) and diagnoses can be expensive (around $700 for a telehealth diagnosis) – reports GP News.
  • It often presents itself alongside several other conditions (or comorbidities) such as depression or anxiety.
  • Although many believe ADHD is being over-diagnosed or over-medicated, it is more likely that people are finally being diagnosed and we’re starting to see the true number of people with ADHD. (Source

ADHD is more common in Australia, affecting 6-7% of the population, compared with a global average of 2-5% according to a study by Deloitte.

ADHD symptoms

Symptoms of adult ADHD may include: being disorganised, having a poor sense of time, difficulty prioritising, feeling restless, having a bad memory, not finishing projects, mood swings, getting stressed easily, finding it hard to listen when someone else is talking, struggling to remember things or follow directions, and having so many thoughts it’s hard to follow just one (source: webMD). But, of course, people are people and no two people with ADHD are the same. Neither are their symptoms.

High achievers with ADHD and their coping strategies 

So, if around one in 20 people has ADHD, why isn’t it more socially acceptable? Actress Emma Watson has ADHD. So does celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, Entrepreneur, Bill Gates, Actor, Ryan Gosling, and Olympic Swimmer, Michael Phelps to name a few (source: ADHD Embrace).

Perhaps it’s because we’re only just fully starting to understand ADHD and what it means to people who have it. Many adults have spent a life time masking it with coping mechanisms to overcome their neurological differences. These could include setting multiple alarms for deadlines, taking frequent notes to help remember important tasks or keeping a detailed calendar, for example.

ADHD in women

Another reason why ADHD may have gone undetected in so many for so long is that ADHD symptoms can vary significantly between men and women.  

Terri Martin, CEO & Founder of The Business Bunch and Vice Chair & Non-Executive Director at ADHD Australia explains “Hyperactivity can show up with the inability to sit still, but it can also be hyperactivity in the mind, which often affects women and girls. You’re constantly overthinking.”

In comparison, the symptoms of inattentive ADHD are still largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed by medical professionals who mistake them for mood disorders, anxiety, or another related condition. (Source)

As a result, “There is a lost generation of women who have not been diagnosed,” said Michelle Frank, a Clinical Psychologist in an article entitled ADHD in women: A lifetime of frustration, its cause easily missed. “They hide from their authentic selves and try to fit into a box.”

Laetitia Andrac, former strategic consultant with the likes of Deloitte and Telstra, and best-selling author of Light It didn’t hide but, she explains, “For my entire life, as I’ve been thinking differently and behaving differently.” 

Laetitia identifies as an Imposter syndrome sufferer who also has AUDHD – Autism and ADHD. She says, “For me, my journey with discovering and embracing diversity was a big permission slip to embracing who I am. Discovering that I was neurodiverse was a moment of, ‘Ah. That’s amazing! I can be who I am’.”

But it took burnout for her to discover how disease could lead to dis-ease and a breakdown could lead to a breakthrough. Today she is “just embracing the wild ride of being a bit different”.

ADHD and rejection-sensitive dysphoria

For many years throughout her career, Laetitia was told she was too emotional. The feeling of being rejected by others and the extreme emotional pain linked to feelings of rejection and shame often referred to by sufferers as rejection sensitive dysphoria commonly affects children and adults with ADHD. Like many Imposter Syndrome sufferers, “The condition often triggers a profound and wide-reaching sense of failure, as though the person with RSD hasn’t measured up to personal or external expectations.”

Terri tells us that this condition interferes with people’s ability to regulate their emotional response with feelings of rejection. “This is huge for Imposter Syndrome sufferers,” she says, “They hang on to any of the negativity that they are told and amplify it way beyond what is necessary. Feelings of not being good enough then get parked on top of that.”

Hearing from incredibly talented and competent women like Laetitia, Terri and Sam (plus many other incredible individuals out there) made me realise the overlap between Imposter Syndrome and ADHD can no longer be ignored.

It’s time for IS and ADHD sufferers to stop feeling shame, guilt and embarrassment.

What to do if you think you have ADHD

If you think you have ADHD, start with research. Excellent resources include ADDitude magazine, ADHD Australia and books like The Year I Met My Brain. If you believe ADHD is playing a negative role in your life, consider getting tested. 

Ultimately, though, realise that your ADHD is not a weakness, it’s part of your authentic superpowers.

People with ADHD have many strengths. They are great at divergent thinking, creativity and generating new ideas. They are often intuitive and have great ability for perception, observation and curiosity. Their low tolerance for tedium, need for movement and exploration and preference for being active can often bring a charismatic approach that unlocks new opportunities.

It’s time to show the world who you are! And remove any ‘masks’

Whether you have Imposter Syndrome or ADHD or both, being aware of the challenge is the first step. Then you can begin to dismantle the belief you hold about what makes you ‘less’ than others. 

Remember: The people who do the most amazing things rarely follow the crowd.

Owning who you are – including your neurodiversity – doesn’t mean you have to wear a t-shirt proclaiming it (although you might). But it does mean realising you’re not alone. There’s nothing wrong with you. Your brain is different and beautiful and brilliant – if you give it a chance to work the way it was meant to.

“Even when a mask fits well – even looks good on a person – there comes a time when that mask grows heavy, uncomfortable and probably suffocating. Sooner or later, the mask needs to come off.”

Dr Pauline Rose Clance author of The Imposter Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success

How to address Imposter Syndrome and ADHD in the workplace

Laetitia provided a list of tips which I have found effective for both IS and ADHD

  1. Stop trying to be like everyone else. Be you. 
  2. Rather than trying to fit into a box people are forcing you into, step on the box and step out.
  3. Look for mentors or leaders who accept you and embrace your uniqueness.
  4. Really embrace your intuition to make decisions.
  5. Make space – for yourself and your ideas. Magic happens in those moments of space.

Leaders can help support their neurodiverse employees by listening deeply to their needs and providing the right kind of context. This could include:

  • Psychological safety which includes an open and tolerant work environment;
  • Incentive and reward structures that make sense for neurodiverse people;
  • Leadership and management training to embrace diversity and different working styles;
  • Effective communication structures that promote honest, open feedback cycles.

Terri says, “Be open to understanding someone who’s different to you, to listening, to being empathetic because a conversation about peoples struggles – Imposter Syndrome or ADHD – could lead to that person thriving. You’ve lost nothing by listening. You’ve lost nothing by empathising. But it could mean the world of difference to someone with either”.

But, fundamentally, the only way for people to embrace these experiences – whether that’s Imposter Syndrome or neurodiversity – is to explore and embrace their fundamental belief system and the stories they tell themselves. We must understand our journey first and dismantle the belief that we are ‘less than or ‘not good enough’, before we can look to our environmental, societal or workplace triggers that contribute to our feelings of being an ‘Imposter’. Because we can’t control our environments, but we can to the best of our ability control ourselves and our actions.


If you suspect you may be neurodivergent and also suffer from Imposter Syndrome, please know you’re not alone!  This is not just ‘all in your head’. Your Imposter Syndrome will be exacerbated by the fact that you’re a neurodiverse individual. And there are experts like me who can help you.

Because I want you to know that if you have been experiencing Imposter Syndrome, it doesn’t prove you’re not deserving or competent, it’s in fact the opposite. Imposter Syndrome only impacts those who are talented, intelligent, capable, and qualified, you’re just temporary blocked from seeing yourself this way and internalizing the evidence of your success and capabilities. 

When you learn how to identify your ‘imposter’ triggers, you can then learn to intercept the negative stories you tell yourself before you begin to self-sabotage. You’re able to move from self-blame to self-awareness & know, you simply think differently to neurotypicals. You can start to see the advantages of your beautiful brain. And you can find the environments, roles, teams, or programs where you no longer feel the need to hide who you are, but where you can showcase your strengths and thrive as your authentic self. 

If you’d like support in overcoming your Imposter Syndrome, please contact me

I’ve also had the pleasure of collaborating with award winning Entrepreneur, Speaker, Clinical Psychologist & ADHD Coach, Mariane Power – you can listen to our episode and explore Mariane’s wonderful work on her Podcast Classroom 5.0 here



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