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for Attention Deficit Disorder Adults

Bonnie Mincu

Senior Certified ADHD Coach

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ADHD shame creates fear of looking stupid
Are you sabotaging yourself because you’re ashamed to ask a question?


Many people with ADD / ADHD are afflicted with a toxic shame response that is far more self-sabotaging than simply having ADD.  If you’re one of them, and you avoid taking a necessary step to follow through, shame is likely the culprit.

Sometimes taking action isn’t possible because there’s something you need to know first.  It might be information, instruction, or guidance on how to start or where to find what you need.

The obvious way to get an answer to any question is to ASK, right?

That’s not so easy if you’re shame-based.  One symptom of toxic shame is the fear that asking a question makes you “look stupid.”

Fear of Looking Stupid

When you get stumped by something, do you find yourself thinking things like this?

… “I should know this.”
… “Everyone else knows what to do.”
… “There must be something I’m doing wrong.”
… “I should be able to figure this out on my own.”

Or the worst default of all:

… “If I didn’t have ADHD, I wouldn’t have this problem.”

The underlying assumption for those with ADHD and toxic shame is that everyone else knows something that you don’t.  And if you reveal that you don’t know it, you look stupid.

This assumption can pervade just about all aspects of your life.  As an ADHD Coach for 18 years, I’ve heard clients express this fear across all age groups, all professions – even from people at high levels of responsibility.

The irony is that this fear of looking stupid usually doesn’t stand up to logic.  All it takes is a few questions to make it fall apart.

Here’s a strategy to pull yourself out of shame-based avoidance when you’re afraid of asking a question or admitting there’s something you don’t know.

STRATEGY:  “Take It to Court”

Imagine you’re testifying in court on the witness stand.  You’re required to answer any questions posed to you with only facts… not assumptions or fears.


Heather was recently hired as a research analyst for a large, fast-paced financial firm.  She was told to research a new biotech company and submit a report in two days.  She was given no guidance as to the expected format of the report, how in-depth it was expected to be, or whether background of the industry was required.

Heather knew she needed more direction, but she was afraid that asking would make her look stupid.

She imagined herself on a witness stand, being questioned by an attorney.

Attorney:  Why didn’t you ask someone on the team for more direction on this report?

Heather:  They always seem so busy and impatient, and I was afraid of looking stupid.

Attorney:  Did you get any training on how these type of reports are normally done?

Heather:  No, I’m an experienced researcher.  I guess they assumed I knew what to do.

Attorney:  Have you done any work for this firm before?

Heather:  No, this is the first report I’ve been assigned for them.

AttorneyAre you a mind-reader, or do they expect you to be?

Heather:  No, I’m not a mind-reader.  That wasn’t stated as a job requirement.

Attorney:  If you were given no training or guidance, and you can’t read their minds, how would you be able to know what was required without asking someone?

Heather:  I guess there’s no way to know.

Attorney:  Can we then conclude that your statement about “looking stupid” if you ask for guidance isn’t credible?

Heather must now conclude that her fear of looking stupid has no grounds:  it didn’t hold up in court.

The key question in this imaginary exchange is “Are you a mind-reader?”  Because usually, when someone is afraid to ask a necessary question, they would have to be able to read minds to know the answer any other way.  (And trust me, most non-ADD people aren’t mind-readers either!)

When you ask the right questions with confidence, it makes you look competent… the opposite of stupid.

Coming up next: When an intimidating person makes you feel stupid

Have you held back lately because you were afraid of looking stupid? Would your argument stand up in court?

Please comment and share!


Author: Bonnie Mincu
Senior Certified ADHD Coach, Founder of "Thrive with ADD," Bonnie has been coaching adults with ADD / ADHD traits since 2001. She has developed numerous training programs to help with the challenges of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.



    My first impulse was not leaving a comment, for fear of sounding stupid, and feeling rejected unless someone immediately replies and validates it… sigh.

    It’s sad how deeply this post resonates with me, and also a relief to hear that I’m not the only one. The constant hiding and second-guessing makes life exhausting and very lonely.

    Thanks Bonnie for shining some light on the emotional roadblocks that come with ADHD.

    Emelie, Thanks so much for commenting. Your comments validated the post even more, and I appreciate it.

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Bonnie, there are no words to express how deeply I’ve been affected by your blog! I’ve only read a few things, but they have created such a complete mind shift that the tears shed have washed away my struggles forever!

For the first time in my life I feel understood and hopeful that I can put some tools and systems in place to help me overcome!”

—Michelle near Seattle

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