Blog Posts

Imposter Syndrome and Masking

One of my clients recently told me she has been feeling so overwhelmed her productivity is at zero. She then shared that she knows it’s fear driving those feelings, primarily what’s known as the imposter syndrome. I started thinking about what we can do to move her past that. With my group coaching program on unmasking on my mind, I wondered if there’s a connection between masking and imposter syndrome. Here’s the result of my research:

What is Masking?

Masking is what many neurodivergent people use to fit into neurotypical social situations. Adopting the mannerisms of the neurotypical world involves consciously suppressing our natural behaviors. This allows us to “pass” as “normal,” but it comes at a high cost. After years of masking, many neurodivergent adults experience strong feelings of imposter syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome refers to feeling like a fraud or imposter, despite evidence of competence and achievement. Imposter syndrome makes people doubt their abilities and achievements, and they think their success is due to luck or other factors. They constantly fear being “found out” as an imposter or fraud.

For neurodivergent individuals, imposter syndrome often stems directly from the masking process. When neurodivergent people mask their behavior to appear neurotypical, it can make them feel like their true selves are not good enough. Years of masking teaches them to discount their own authentic way of being in the world.

How Masking Leads to Imposter Syndrome

There are several ways years of masking can lead to feelings of being an imposter:

  • Masking requires constant vigilance and anxiety about “keeping up appearances” as a neurotypical person. This stress reinforces the idea that one’s natural neurodivergence is unacceptable.
  • Expending energy to mask neurodivergent traits leaves less energy available for actual work and accomplishments, which can degrade self-confidence.
  • Masking your identity can lead to an inaccurate understanding of others’ opinions about you.
  • Masking leads to neurodivergent people constantly judging themselves using neurotypical criteria instead of their genuine identity.
  • Groups of purported peers may lack authentic connections if no one’s true neurodivergent self is present. This can exacerbate imposter syndrome.

Moving Forward by Dropping the Mask

The good news is that imposter syndrome, borne of habitual masking, can be overcome. Here are some suggestions:

  • Consciously choose to stop masking whenever possible. Recognize your neurodivergence as integral to who you are.
  • Surround yourself with people who validate your true neurodivergent self rather than your masked persona.
  • Make space for your natural modes of thinking, communicating, and behavior in your life.
  • Own your authentic strengths and talents, which often come directly from your neurodivergence. You are accomplished as a neurodivergent person, not in spite of it.
  • Separate masking behaviors from your sense of self-worth. How you had to behave to survive in the past does not dictate your value now.
  • Get involved with the neurodiversity movement, where your identity is affirmed rather than questioned.

The more we own our authentic neurodivergent identities, the less imposter syndrome can gain traction. You are not an imposter for being who you are. You deserve to live as your true self, in all its diversity.

Want to learn more about unmasking and living your authentic life out loud in full color? Click here to check out the Living Out Loud groups starting next month.