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On the internet, “catfishing” means deliberately deceiving. An online user pretends to be someone else to unsuspecting users. After years of ridicule and judgment about their all-too-public missteps, adults and children with ADHD become experts in misdirection, trying to “pass as normal.”
Given the stigma and shame around ADHD, it’s not surprising that many folks with the condition design a wardrobe of disguises to wear when situations require adherence to linear standards. Though there are many variations on these themes, a few are especially popular among the ADHD crowd:
1. THE PERFECTIONIST: I must do everything perfectly. Then perhaps no one will notice that the rest of my life is a mess. The Perfectionist works so hard to overcompensate for ADHD that he or she may have “control issues.”
2. THE LIFE OF THE PARTY: I tell the jokes, you laugh (with me, not at me) and you won’t notice my mistakes. The Life of the Party loves the limelight, when the response is positive, and people don’t see the clown crying inside.
3. THE INTELLECT: I want you to see how smart I am, so I will outthink everybody in the room. The Intellect works so hard to be brilliant, he or she sometimes falls apart after an intense brainstorming session.
4. THE LOSER/THE BLACK SHEEP: It’s all my fault! I am always the outcast, no matter how hard I try to please you. The Loser/Black Sheep secretly hates being labeled, but is resigned to a life of underachievement and self-pity.
5. THE SPACE CADET: I’ve been called a “ditz” or an “airhead” all my life because I have trouble paying attention. The Space Cadet is wounded by false accusations, but has learned to play dumb, so people don’t expect much from him or her.
6. THE SUPERHERO: I get lots of warm fuzzies when I help other people — the bigger the crisis, the better. Generous to a fault, the Superhero wins “friends” by being indispensable but never ever asks for help for herself.
7. THE REBEL/THE HOTHEAD: I’m Frank Sinatra — I do it my way. If you don’t like it, tough tiddlywinks! What is wrong with you? The Rebel/Hothead pushes people away with angry remarks or arrogance, using it as a protective shield against criticism as well as intimacy.
For adults and children with ADHD, the need to hide is so acute that they use Super Glue to fix their masks in place. Their Authentic Selves are so damaged that no one should be allowed to see them. Yet what these folks yearn for more than anything else is to be loved for being who they are. No mask.
The first step to loving your Authentic Self is to come out of that ADHD closet without any disguises. However, there are some caveats:
Know and embrace your masks. When a mask has been in place for a long time, you forget you are wearing it. Your masks have protected you in the past, but release them with love.
Be realistic. Dropping disguises all at once is too drastic. Some of them may still serve you on occasion. Make sure you choose to use a particular disguise, and that you are not just going back to old habits.
It takes time. If you have lived in your mask, your close associates may not appreciate your Authentic Self. Don’t let that dissuade you from making the change. Be candid about your changes and surround yourself with people who love you for who you are.
Let your Authentic Self shine. The vast potential of the ADHD brain can be tapped only when children and adults with ADHD unlock their Authentic Selves. Remember that you were born to be extraordinary. So live your life with gusto — and with ADHD!