The stigma around mental health and illnesses often compels people with ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to hide their symptoms so that they could avoid ostracization in society.
When someone with ADHD hides their ADHD symptoms this is known as ADHD Masking.
Many scientific research papers have shown that people often ignore the signs and symptoms of cognitive issues and simply label them as behavioral problems, especially in the case of young kids.
For example, when a girl sleeps a lot, she is termed as lethargic or lazy or when a boy plays a lot, he is conveniently labeled as hyper-energetic or super-active.
But there could be a chance that they are experiencing a neurological condition called ADHD. Now when these kids grow up into adults, they may or may not be diagnosed with the condition.
Regardless of their diagnosis status, their coping mechanism may aim to hide their ADHD traits as they do not want to bring any embarrassment or shame upon them because of their personality traits.
This is known as ADHD Masking and in this comprehensive article, we will discuss in detail what it is, the symptoms of ADHD Masking, why people with ADHD mask their problems, the impact of this masking, sound strategies to help people who mask their ADHD traits, and how different groups of people like girls or individuals with undiagnosed ADHD mask their condition.
What is ADHD Masking?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD Masking is the condition when people with ADHD present themselves in a particular manner that makes them feel like they are living a life that is devoid of their condition.
According to psychologist Russell Barkley, who has coined the term ‘impression management’ specifically for this condition, one-third of all people who are diagnosed with ADHD show signs of masking.
In the ADHD community, masking is also known as camouflaging as people with ADHD use behaviors of people who do not have ADHD as coping mechanisms to cover up their own symptoms. It has been seen that people with ADHD rely on this masking because they want to feel socially acceptable, avoid being stigmatized and shun any embarrassment that comes because of ADHD.
What are the ADHD Masking Symptoms?
ADHD Masking is basically a coping mechanism for hiding symptoms through learned behaviors which people with ADHD use to avoid shame and ridicule.
People use these impression management tactics in their childhood, but as they grow old, these learned behaviors become overwhelming and difficult to manage.
The Symptoms of ADHD Masking are:
- Staying Too Quiet
- Being Overly Careful
- Obsessive Checking
- Always Giving Expected Reactions
- Always Putting Forward the ‘Fine’ Expression
- Being Overly Concerned About Cleaning
- Hiding Hyperactivity Through Calmness
- Being Unable to Relax Without Worrying
- Listening Carefully & Focusing Too Hard
- Excessive Write-up to Cope with Forgetting
- Obsession with Organizing Everything
- Bottling Up Intense Emotions
- Calling in Sick to Avoid Stressful Situations
- Being Irritable when Trying to Focus Hard
- Taking on Too Much Responsibility
- Developing Perfectionist Tendencies
- Constantly Overdoing Everything
- Hiding because of Shame and Guilt
- Always Trying to be in Control
- Suppressing Stimming Behaviors
- Copying or Mimicking Others
One of the most common and earliest coping mechanisms that people with ADHD use is silence. As kids, they are often told off for being too talkative or for interrupting others, and as a result, they start keeping quiet so that they would not be reprimanded.
This silence continues into their adulthood, and as a result, they fail to voice their opinions and views on various matters. They might also avoid participating in social gatherings and events as they feel shy and insecure.
Being Overly Careful
Another common symptom of ADHD Masking is being extremely careful about everything they do. For example, people with ADHD might double and triple-check their work to avoid making any mistakes.
They might also take a long time to complete tasks as they want to make sure that everything is perfect. This need for perfection often leads to procrastination as people with ADHD are never satisfied with their work.
People with ADHD often have an obsessive need to check things repeatedly. For example, they might keep checking their phone to see if anyone has texted them or called them.
They might also keep checking the locks on doors and windows to make sure that everything is secure. This need for repetition often leads to anxiety and stress as people with ADHD are always worried that they might have missed something.
Always Giving Expected Reactions
Another symptom of ADHD Masking is that people with ADHD always try to give the expected reaction in any situation. For example, if someone tells a joke, they would laugh even if the joke is not funny.
This is because they want to avoid any awkwardness that might come from not reacting in an expected manner. This need to conform often leads to people with ADHD feeling like they are not being their true selves.
Always Putting Forward the ‘Fine’ Expression
One of the most common symptoms of ADHD Masking is always putting forward a ‘fine’ expression. People with ADHD might say that they are fine even when they are not feeling okay.
This is because they do not want to burden others with their problems and they also do not want to be seen as weak or vulnerable. This need to appear strong often leads to people with ADHD feeling like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Being Overly Concerned About Cleaning
Another symptom of ADHD Masking is being overly concerned about cleaning and ordering. People with ADHD might spend hours cleaning their house or their workplace even if there is no need to do so.
This is because they want to avoid any criticism that might come from having a messy house or workplace.
Hiding Hyperactivity Through Calmness
One of the most common symptoms of ADHD Masking is hiding hyperactivity through calmness. People with ADHD might try to sit still and be calm even if they are feeling restless and energetic.
This is because they do not want to be seen as disruptive or disorderly. This need for control often leads to people with ADHD feeling like they are bottled up and ready to explode.
Being Unable to Relax Without Worrying
Another symptom of ADHD Masking is being unable to relax without worrying. People with ADHD might find it difficult to relax and enjoy themselves as they are always worried about what other people might think of them.
This is because they want to be seen as ‘normal’ and they also do not want to be seen as lazy or undisciplined. This need for approval often leads to people with ADHD feeling like they are always on the edge.
Listening Carefully & Focusing Too Hard
ADHD Masking also causes people to listen carefully and focus too hard on conversations. People with ADHD might find it difficult to follow a conversation as they are trying to remember everything that is being said.
This is because they want to make sure that they do not miss anything important. This need for perfection often leads to people with ADHD feeling like they are always one step behind.
Excessive Write-up to Cope with Forgetting
Another symptom of ADHD Masking is excessive writing to cope with forgetting. People with ADHD might find that they need to write down everything in order to remember it.
This is because they have difficulty retaining information in their memory.
Obsession with Organizing Everything
ADHD Masking can also cause people to be obsessed with organizing everything. People with ADHD might find that they need to organize everything including their house, their workplace, the places they go to, and even their schedule in a very specific way.
This is because they want to avoid any chaos or confusion that might come from having a messy environment.
Bottling Up Intense Emotions
Another symptom of ADHD Masking is bottling up intense emotions. People with ADHD might find that they bottle up their emotions and do not express them in order to avoid any conflict or disagreement.
This is because they want to keep the peace and they also do not want to be seen as overly emotional. This need for harmony often leads to people with ADHD feeling like they are walking on eggshells.
Calling in Sick to Avoid Stressful Situations
One of the most common symptoms of ADHD Masking is calling in sick to avoid stressful situations. People with ADHD might find that they need to call in sick to work or school in order to avoid any situation that might be too overwhelming for them.
This is because they want to avoid any conflict or criticism that might come from being unable to handle any anxious, stressful, or challenging situation.
Being Irritable when Trying to Focus Hard
Another symptom of ADHD Masking is being irritable when trying to focus hard. People with ADHD might find that they need to focus so hard on something that it makes them angry or frustrated.
This is because they want to be able to show that they are capable of focusing and completing any task. This need for perfection often leads to people with ADHD feeling like they are always under a lot of pressure.
Taking on Too Much Responsibility
ADHD Masking can also cause people to take on too much responsibility. People with ADHD might find that they need to be in charge of everything in order to avoid any mistakes or mishaps.
This is because they want to be seen as reliable and responsible.
Developing Perfectionist Tendencies
One of the most common symptoms of ADHD Masking is developing perfectionist tendencies. People with ADHD might find that they need to be perfect in everything they do in order to avoid any criticism or disapproval.
This is because they want to be seen as competent and capable.
Constantly Overdoing Everything
ADHD Masking can also cause people to constantly overdo everything. People with ADHD might find that they need to do more than what is required in order to be seen as successful.
This is because they want to be able to prove that they are capable of meeting any challenge.
Hiding because of Shame and Guilt
Another symptom of ADHD Masking is hiding because of shame and guilt. People with ADHD might find that they need to hide their symptoms in order to avoid any criticism or judgment.
This is because they want to be seen as normal and not as someone who is different.
Always Trying to be in Control
One of the most common symptoms of ADHD Masking is always trying to be in control. People with ADHD might find that they need to be in control of everything in order to avoid any mistakes or mishaps.
The reason behind this is that they want to be certain about the world around them.
Suppressing Stimming Behaviors
Another symptom of ADHD Masking is suppressing stimming behaviors. People with ADHD might find that they need to suppress any type of stimming behavior like leg bouncing, in order to avoid any criticism or judgment.
This is because they want to be seen as normal and not as someone who is different from others.
Copying or Mimicking Others
Another symptom of ADHD Masking is copying or mimicking others. People with ADHD might find that they need to copy or mimic the behavior of others in order to fit in and avoid any criticism.
This is because they want to be socially accepted in every situation like the others.
Why do People Prefer Masking ADHD?
Many psychologists like Dr. Russell Barkley believe that ADHD masking is a very common phenomenon among adults. However, the condition of masking ADHD has not been researched or studied extensively.
People with ADHD may believe that by masking, they can show others that their condition is under control and they could very well control their ADHD traits by taking charge of the symptoms.
The primary reason behind ADHD masking has always been found to be social acceptance. People who are diagnosed with ADHD live in fear that others will come to know about their condition, and will label them as outcasts.
They do not want the shame and embarrassment of ADHD and therefore, they rely heavily on impression management and coping mechanisms. In fact, they struggle a lot to act and behave like people who do not have ADHD.
Another facet of ADHD masking is that people do not admit that they have been masking their problems or ‘faking’ their behavior. This is another critical reason why many doctors believe that ADHD Masking is actually more common than what has been seen so far.
Impact of ADHD Masking on Mental Health
ADHD Masking is not a good behavioral trait as it can impact the person’s mental health and may avoid treatment.
ADHD Masking can have a significant impact on the lives of people as masking takes a lot of energy and effort, and as a result, people with ADHD often feel exhausted.
Some negative impacts of ADHD masking are as follows:
- Late Diagnosis
ADHD Masking basically leads to the hiding of symptoms of the mental condition which then delays proper treatment and diagnosis. Sometimes, people are not diagnosed with ADHD until they reach adulthood.
- Leads to Anxiety & Depression
People who mask their ADHD symptoms might be completely unaware that they have undiagnosed ADHD and therefore, in due course of time they could develop other mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
- People Stop Believing the Truth
Another flip side of masking ADHD symptoms is that if you are really good at it, people will not believe you when you will say you have an issue or you are struggling with something.
- Leads to Substance Abuse
People engaging in ADHD masking are more prone to substance abuse as they often need to cope with the feelings inside of them. This could very well lead to more serious health issues down the line.
- Increases Your Internal Stress
ADHD masking takes the stress of the outer world and puts it in a bottle inside of the people who are engaging in masking. They completely go undiagnosed for their condition and struggle a lot dealing with this huge internal stress.
- Struggles in Separating Reality from ‘Fake’ Acts
ADHD masking leads to a diminished sense of reality. People who engage in masking often struggle to separate reality from their actions and as a result, they become a person that is quite different from what lies inside them.
Strategies to Help People with ADHD Masking
There are many ways by which we can help people with ADHD solve their masking issues. We need to remember that these people have conditioned themselves for years trying to put forward their so-called ‘best behavior’. Therefore the entire process of unmasking needs to be slow and gradual.
We need to provide them with a calm and safe environment where they can fearlessly get rid of their defense mechanism and be assured of all their emotions. Until and unless we ensure this safe environment, ADHD people will neither open themselves up nor will they share their emotions.
We need to be sensitive to their condition and let them know that there is no one to judge them or criticize them.
If you yourself think that after being diagnosed with ADHD, you have been hiding your struggles for too long and now you are finally ready to live an ‘unmasked’ life, you can try the following:
Separate Healthy Masking Behavior from the Unhealthy Ones
For example, keeping a reasonably tidy home is a healthy behavior compared to when you are struggling to keep everything neat and tidy.
Learn to Deal with Your Emotions Instead of Avoiding Them
It’s always better to address your emotions rather than struggling to keep the active volcano dormant in you. You can definitely take the help of a health professional on this if you need it.
Understand that You are Not Alone
Whenever you feel alone, connect with people who undergo similar struggles. Join ADHD Support Groups or online communities where you will find a safe environment that is free of any judgment.
People Who Might also Mask: Girls Might Mask / Individuals Who Have Undiagnosed ADHD
In the ADHD community, it is seen that when it comes to young kids, boys are more prone to receiving an ADHD diagnosis than girls. However, when it comes to the adult population, the sex ratio is more or less fifty-fifty.
This highlights a critical part of ADHD Masking research as the data clearly shows that young girls often go undiagnosed with ADHD, even if they show all the tell-tale symptoms.
The reason behind this mismatch again boils down to the mindset that exists in our society. For example, whenever hyperactivity or attention deficit is discussed, more often than not people refer to an impatient and impulsive boy climbing on trees, jumping from here to there, or running around the lawn. The same people describe a young girl as somebody bubbly who has a lot of friends and works extra hard for getting good grades.
It could very well be that the girl also experiences ADHD symptoms but has nobody to notice or share her experience with. When this girl grows up and understands her condition, chances are very high that she will opt for masking rather than coming in the open and looking for therapy or support.
Similarly, when people who have not been diagnosed with ADHD in their childhood, compare their behavioral traits with others, they understand the differences with the help of the maturity that comes with adulthood and in the fear of embarrassment, they also fall back on impression management like other people with ADHD.
The underlying message of the article is that people with ADHD often tend to mask their emotions and struggles in order to cope with society’s expectations. This not only puts extra pressure on them but also leads to a lifetime of misery as they keep struggling with their mental health condition.
The best way to deal with this situation is to spread awareness about ADHD and help people understand that it is a real condition that needs to be addressed.
If you are somebody who has been struggling with ADHD, it is important to reach out for help and not try to manage everything on your own. There are many resources available these days that can help you live a better life, whether you have trouble focusing, need to stop fidgeting or feel overwhelmed with self-control. Always remember, that you are not alone in this journey.
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Stacey Neglia. (2021, June 22). ADHD spotlight: 7 things to know about masking. RogueNeuron. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://rogueneuron.com/7-things-to-know-about-masking/
What is ADHD masking? how to stop masking ADHD? Calm Sage – Your Guide to Mental and Emotional Well-being. (2022, January 20). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.calmsage.com/what-is-adhd-masking/