My Imposter Syndrome Fueled an Exhausting ADHD Perfectionism
When I was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety at age 8, I didn’t fully understand what these conditions meant. I just knew that I had a mind that couldn’t shut off and an internal voice that tended to worry.
That voice told me that everyone in my life expected perfection from me and, at the same time, nothing I did was good enough. It told me I was an imposter, a failure. The voice also fueled my drive, which seemed to propel me a million miles an hour, demanding greatness from all my endeavors.
I listened to the voice as I excelled in school, earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees with honors, and accepted great job offers. My public-facing personae beamed with accomplishments, but in private I struggled with my confidence. I worried that others would discover that I wasn’t competent at all – this fear would be compounded whenever I received feedback or constructive criticism. My brain wasn’t much help, as it seemed blocked out memories of my past successes and the tremendous amount of effort and passion they took to achieve. In short, I viewed myself as an imposter.
Finally, I recognized how my perfectionism kept me in a tortured, exhausted state. With the help of my therapist, I now have a better understanding of my anxious, perfectionistic tendencies, and I am re-evaluating expectations for myself. Here’s what has helped me.
7 Ways I Combat Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism
1. Find a support system. I can’t do this alone. Alienation and shame are already a part of having ADHD — I don’t need more of it. Talking to my husband, parents, and therapist has been life changing. I don’t always seek advice — just a sounding board to work through my anxieties.
[Get This Free Download: 9 Truths About ADHD and Intense Emotions]
2. Create and repeat affirmations. I’m trying not to rely on other people for reassurance. When my anxiety begins to take off, I tell myself that “I know it doesn’t have to be this way,” “I can change this,” “I’m not buying into this,” and “I know what’s going on here.” My anxiety doesn’t magically disappear when I utter these phrases, but the words do ground me.
3. Feedback is OK. I’m still processing that when someone gives me feedback or suggestions, it doesn’t mean that they dislike me or think I am stupid. I’m addressing my rejection sensitive dysphoria and also accepting that I do not need to know how to do everything all the time. I am a life-long learner who will make millions of mistakes, and through these mistakes, I will grow and have an impactful life.
4. Play the “what if” game another way. It easy to focus on the negative, but thinking about the positive is much more rewarding. Instead of automatically giving in to negative thoughts, I think: What if it goes well? What if I’m good enough?
5. Slow down. In the past, I tended to move at the speed of light, and made mistakes along the way. Now, I take things slowly, and pin-point two to three must-do tasks each day, which has eased my anxieties and improved my self-confidence. (I no longer feel shame or guilt for not completing a month’s worth of work in a single day.)
[Read: Is ADHD or Anxiety to Blame for My Perfectionism?]
6. Your best will look different every day. When I’m not as productive as I had hoped to be, I practice patience and forgiveness. All we can do is try our best, and tomorrow is a new day to try again. Acknowledging that each day will look different has helped me reframe my own expectations.
7. Notice your progress. As much as I can, I try to catch myself “being good” and recognize how I have overcome my perfectionist behaviors. These could be small victories like deciding to respond to a non-urgent email at a later time or not taking personally what someone said at work.
I am ready to start living instead of letting perfectionism dictate my self-worth. I no longer need validation from others; I can do this for myself. I am good enough – and so are you.
Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism: Next Steps
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.