In ADHD parlance, ‘masking’ is when a person tries to hide their ADHD symptoms to blend in with the crowd and protect themselves from judgment. 

My memory is vague, but I remember hearing Marlon Brando in an interview talking about how we are all actors, in the sense that we behave differently with different people in different situations.  

I definitely think that’s true. Depending on the circumstances, one could call that ‘masking’, or consider it a mark of social intelligence, not inauthenticity. 

That said, the case can be made for ‘unmasking’ by ceasing to cover up a neurodivergent behavior in order to appease others. ‘Coming out’ in this way can alleviate a lot of stress and self-abnegation.  

So let’s take a look at when it is or isn’t appropriate to unmask.

I do a lot of stimming which means I do a lot of involuntary repetitive movement in order to focus. It can look like I’m davening. In instances where this has been a distraction for people, I have no problem explaining myself. Once I do, I have yet to encounter a situation where my stimming continues to be an issue.

Alternately, if your hyperactive ADHD causes you to to blurt insensitive remarks and constantly interrupt people, it pays to curb that behavior as much as possible. Otherwise, you become a must to avoid, which is definitely undermining of success. (Please note: I am not referring here to certain extreme symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome. I’m referring to verbal impulse control symptomatic of ADHD in some people.)

If you notice a lot of annoyance or anger directed towards you, at first you might take up a ‘masking behavior’ like not speaking up at all. A better response would be to get curious rather than shamed by negative reactions so that you can elicit useful feedback, or get professional support. 

Professional support through a therapeutic team following diagnosis, consisting of a therapist, psychiatrist and ADHD coach is a powerful triumvirate. I would say the diagnosis is somewhat optional, although many would argue. As a coach, I am not a diagnostician. As far as appropriate interventions within the purview of coaching are concerned, if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, it will probably benefit from what ducks need. 

Unmasking for the sake of your own happiness and ease is important. And it takes courage. Because if you’ve stuffed your true self down and resorted to behaviors like smiling and nodding when you actually don’t follow what someone is saying, that becomes a safety default behavior. 

It takes courage to move into discomfort by resisting our default behaviors in order to accomplish something, like admitting you don’t understand what someone is saying, or getting help for yourself. 

Comfort equals sameness. If you don’t like the status quo, you need to change it. 

That will probably be uncomfortable at first, so get whatever support you need.