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The Hidden Face of ADHD: The Phenomenon of Masking
Mental Health

The Hidden Face of ADHD: The Phenomenon of Masking

HR_author_photo_Aura
Written by Aura De Los Santos | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on January 2, 2023
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6 min

For many, living with ADHD can be a challenge. Some people who suffer from this disorder adopt certain behaviors to manage it, ADHD masking being one of them. Is masking the best strategy to address this disorder? This article explains it.

ADHD masking
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In the world, a high percentage of people suffer from mental disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some people with this disorder speak and raise awareness about it, while others decide to hide it and make others believe they do not have it. Hiding the symptoms of this type of disorder is known as ADHD masking.

Why are there people who practice these behaviors? Is this a positive strategy to manage symptoms, or is it detrimental? This article explains the reasons behind ADHD masking and strategies to manage it.

ADHD Masking: What Is It?

ADHD masking is when a person actively hides their ADHD. The person tries to adopt behaviors they consider “normal” so that others around them do not think they have the disorder.

People with ADHD symptoms go to great lengths to hide them. One reason ADHD masking occurs is that people with this disorder want to feel that they fit in socially.

Another reason for masking is that many people may mistake a cognitive or neurological problem for a behavioral one. Some people do not know the symptoms of this mental disorder and can misinterpret the behavior of someone with it, and to avoid this type of confusion, the person with ADHD does what they can to control the symptoms.

ADHD masking is also known as “camouflage,” when people avoid or try to perform certain actions that may open others to thinking that they are different.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD, also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder. This disorder is characterized by attention problems, which are when the person has problems focusing for certain periods, accompanied by impulsivity and hyperactivity. It is said that ADHD is one of the most frequent mental health disorders in the US.

ADHD is diagnosed in childhood, although some people live their entire lives without knowing they have it. Studies show that in the United States alone, millions of children are diagnosed with ADHD. Interestingly, boys are more likely to get diagnosed than girls, 13% compared to 6%. Adult ADHD in the United States is between 2.5% and 4.4%, where men have an ADHD diagnosis rate of 5.4% compared to women, who only have 3.2%. Statistics also indicate that adult ADHD is more common in non-Hispanic white groups, with 5.4%.

Executive and developmental functions are affected in people with ADHD. They find it difficult to pay attention and concentrate on what they are doing. Additionally, they have trouble finishing tasks or projects and are inattentive to details.

Another ADHD symptom is impulsivity. A person with ADHD is prone to interrupting others when talking, as they often do not recognize their own impatience or even notice that they are doing something wrong. When performing any task, they can be impatient and disorganized. They may also see themselves as socially inadequate, something they don’t do intentionally.

Mood swings, procrastination, and forgetfulness are also symptoms of ADHD. During adulthood, this disorder becomes more difficult to diagnose, as it is often confused with mood disorders and negatively affects the lives of those who suffer from it.

Examples of ADHD Masking

Many people diagnosed with ADHD choose to camouflage their symptoms, so they don’t attract attention and feel rejected or different. Here are some examples of that:

  • When a person is speaking, they pay extreme attention – they do not look anywhere or do anything other than just listen.
  • They pretend to be sick or busy to avoid social settings that cause stress and anxiety. Having to hide their symptoms can be exhausting, and sometimes they don’t want to deal with it.
  • They avoid speaking when another does so as not to interrupt. When quiet, and if asked to speak up, they politely refuse. If coaxed to express their opinion on a certain topic, they pick their words carefully to avoid saying something that may sound inappropriate.
  • They are extremely organized and afraid to lose their things. These practices can be exhausting.
  • Another masking behavior is that people with ADHD arrive very early. Although it can indeed be a sign of responsibility, they do it because they are usually late and want to avoid comments about it.
  • Perfectionistic tendencies are also common in masking. People with ADHD think they have to do everything perfectly to make up for mistakes and for not feeling good enough. 
  • They try to show that they are well when they feel sad. They often do not recognize what is happening to them but prefer not to comment on it to others.

Which ADHD Symptoms People Try to Mask?

For many people with ADHD, masking is a type of coping mechanism. They try to hide the symptoms that they perceive as negative and that they believe can affect their image. Some of the symptoms that people with the disorder try to hide are:

  • Not listening to others
  • Interrupting someone who is speaking
  • Repetitive movements of a limb or object
  • Impulsivity
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Messiness
  • Oversharing

What Does ADHD Look Like?

A person with ADHD may seem disorganized and uncaring. In some cases, they may appear inconsiderate and distant.

At work, they can forget about their daily tasks. They are constantly late, have an unorganized workspace, and often interrupt others when speaking.

In their personal lives, they may have problems communicating as they talk excessively and don’t let others speak. Additionally, they don’t deliver on their promises and tend to live carelessly.

These behaviors make them look irresponsible, thoughtless of others, and insensitive. When someone with ADHD knows how others perceive them because of their disorder, they may feel inadequate, leading to problems with self-esteem, anxiety, and, in some cases, depression.

How to Cope With ADHD? 4 Ways to Help Yourself

Masking, such as hiding ADHD symptoms, is not a good practice. In the long run, it can affect the well-being of those who suffer from this disorder. However, there are coping strategies that will help those who suffer from it live more healthily.

#1 Analyze the reasons for masking

People diagnosed with ADHD and who are aware of masking must analyze the reasons that lead them to do it. The fear of rejection or of a distorted public image may come to light. Knowing the reasons for masking is one step closer to changing these negative behaviors and adopting more positive ones.

#2 Get a proper diagnosis

Many people who live with ADHD feel that it has a significant impact on their lives. If undiagnosed or untreated, dealing with ADHD is even harder. A therapist can help get an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment.

#3 Psychoeducation

Looking for mental health content focused on ADHD can help people with this disorder learn more about it and help them manage the symptoms. However, only a licensed mental health professional can accurately diagnose ADHD and other disorders, and the information found online should always be taken with a grain of salt.

#4 Learn to regulate emotions

People who mask often show symptoms of anxiety, stress, and in some cases, depression, so learning to regulate their emotions is vital. 

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Applications like Sensa have functions that can help with this. Breathing techniques, journaling, and daily mood assessments are some of the features that can positively impact the mental health of those with ADHD.

A Word From a Psychologist

The term ADHD masking was coined by Dr. Russell Barkley, who defined it as behaving in different ways to hide ADHD. Barkley said that many people with this disorder mask. According to studies, women tend to mask more than men, which explains why men receive more treatment for this disorder.

People who mask often perceive their disorder as negative, preventing them from appreciating and celebrating ADHD strengths. There are many positive examples of living with ADHD. People with this disorder are often creative and imaginative and can solve problems in numerals or puzzles. They are also extremely focused when doing something they like, which usually provides good results.

Conclusion

ADHD masking aims to hide the behaviors of the person with the disorder. The person with ADHD thinks that pretending not to have the disorder is a way to feel equal to others and avoid being judged. People who do not accept their disorder can have both physical and mental health problems since maintaining a public image is exhausting.

Those with ADHD need to view this disorder as something that is part of their life and can be manageable instead of a handicap. A disorder of this type is not a sentence of poor quality of life. Instead, it is a matter of learning how to cope with the symptoms.

Raising awareness about this disorder will help people who mask feel open to expressing themselves, shed their negative self-image, and eliminate the stigma surrounding ADHD.

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  • Lessons based on the CBT method
  • Mood journal
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HR_author_photo_Aura
Written by
Aura is a psychological advisor for the Health Reporter. She has years of experience in mental health as a psychologist and as a content writer in the areas of psychology, education, and personal development.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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