What is Masking? And what are some examples of masking.

September 25, 2023
Karthika Suseelan

What is masking?

Masking is the act of concealing one's true personality or feelings too; fit in with a group. For example, one may pretend to be happy when they are sad, or one may pretend to like certain things when they do not to be included. For neurodivergent people, masking is the act of hiding their neurodivergence. They try to demonstrate to others that they have it under control by controlling their symptoms. They behave in neurotypical ways.


What are some examples of masking?

● Staying too quiet and being overly cautious about what one says to avoid speaking too much or interrupting others

● Obsessively checking personal belongings to ensure that nothing is misplaced or lost.

● Reacting in class as expected rather than how they feel on the inside.

● Hide hyperactivity behind calmness so that people believe everything is fine, but in reality, they have difficulty focusing because their mind jumps from one thing to another too quickly to process what anyone around them is saying at the time.

● When someone is speaking, they must listen carefully and focus intensely so that they do not miss anything that is said.

● Feeling sick inside after bottling up intense emotions.

● Suppressing stimming behaviors.

● Mimicking or copying other people in social situations.


Why do neurodivergent people attempt masking?

Neurodivergent suppress behaviors that are common in them like stimming, fidgeting, speaking quickly, interrupting while someone is talking, or sitting strangely in a chair. Why do they do this? They do this to conform to social pressure, to avoid rejection or bullying, and as a part of impression management.

Neurodivergent people are frequently punished or corrected as they grow up for behaviors that appear strange to neurotypicals but are completely normal to neurodivergent. This is one of the reasons why they learn to suppress them.


Is masking harmful for people with ADHD?

Masking can sometimes help people with ADHD in a healthy way, such as achieving goals and establishing relationships, particularly with neurotypicals. It appears healthy in the short term, but it can hurt their mental health in the long run. The type of masking required of an ADHD brain can lead to burnout.

Masking can cause a delay or misdiagnosis, resulting in them not receiving the level of care they require. It can be difficult for people to believe that a person with ADHD is struggling.

 Masking can be exhausting. For example, a child attempting to sit quietly, in a still position, listen and concentrate while their ADHD mind jumps from one thing to another depletes their working memory slots, which are already limited.

Because an ADHD mind is constantly trying to hide fundamental aspects of who they truly are due to social pressure, masking can lead to a sense of loneliness. It can also cause anxiety because many of the behaviors that are normal for an ADHD brain are considered 'weird' by others. They are coping and self-regulation mechanisms that assist them in focusing and relieving anxiety.


How to cope with masking?

-  Identifying the masking behavior can help to learn new ways to cope rather than turning into someone else. Management of behavior is the key rather than suppressing it.

-  The entire process of unmasking must be slow and gradual because it is a conditioned behavior that has been practiced for years to put forward their so-called "best behavior

-  Learning to deal with emotions rather than denying them by seeking professional help.

-  Connecting with others in the same community who are going through similar experiences can help to feel less lonely and more heard or accepted.


How can we help them?

Learning and understanding more about neurodivergence and recognizing the differences for what they are. They are differences, not deficits or flaws. The world needs all kinds of brains and feelings too