People face painful realizations and life changes on a daily basis. For individuals diagnosed with ADHD, acknowledging and owning their specific challenges and strengths are truly important steps in understanding their own ADHD and how to live successfully with it.
This move is often easier said than done, as ADHD can quickly take a toll on self-esteem and self-efficacy. ADHD can lend itself to snap reactions, like the all or nothing thoughts that can masquerade as certain truth, but only serve to prevent and limit us. You know, the thought that says, “No way, I already know I’m terrible at that.” For adults that have been diagnosed, such symptoms can be especially damaging to their ability to accept areas of challenge and still see value in themselves.
It does not help that significant portions of society have grave misunderstandings, assumptions, or prejudices involving ADHD, thus verifying in the minds of many adults with ADHD the self-perceived faults that they struggle to live with each day.
What adults with ADHD think they have does matter, but so does a commitment to understanding and accepting that which makes each of us unique and valuable assets within our communities.
Here’s how ADHD can impact adults’ perceptions of themselves.
Impact on self-esteem
Many adults with ADHD are particularly hard on themselves for whatever symptoms they may be struggling with. The standout features of ADHD --- trouble concentrating, hyper-focus, impulsivity, emotional difficulties, hyperactivity, disorganization, and forgetfulness --- often open ADHD adults to a series of adverse outcomes that, for some adults, originated in a childhood where they may have been misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
Self-esteem; the general opinion a person holds of themselves and their competencies, can be quite low for those whose life experience has conditioned them to expect low levels of performance and high barriers of adversity. Many of the structures that institutions use to measure competencies reward conformity and memorization, which can be challenging areas for many with ADD. Such experiences can lead to avoidance strategies or trigger adverse stress responses.
Life experiences help to establish self-esteem, making it fundamental to the very essence of an individual. Experiences consolidate an individual’s self-image in childhood. Whether those experiences were positive or negative has a direct impact on the formation of the individual’s view of themselves. As the saying goes, “…if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Unfortunately, ADHD can affect an adult’s life in regards to work, academics, and personal or social interactions. Negative experiences associated with ADHD symptoms often impact the critical formation of an individual’s self-esteem. Without professional cognitive behavioral therapy and positive coping mechanisms, many adults with ADHD fall back upon dysfunctional strategies such as avoidance or procrastination, which only reinforces their negative views of self. 
Impact on self-efficacy
Adults with ADHD often suffer from low self-efficacy, so that they doubt their ability to perform a particular action leading to a desired outcome. Self-efficacy is helpful in dealing with stressors and anxiety-inducing situations, and it has a significant impact on emotions, behavior, and cognition.
Self-efficacy is concerned with a person’s sense of confidence in his personal competence about handling a variety of stressful circumstances in an effective, positive way. Adults with ADHD may hold limiting beliefs about their self-efficacy due to prior negative experiences and outcomes in their lives.
Steps to improve self-confidence and perception
Many adults with ADHD can take positive steps to improve both their self-esteem and self-efficacy. For example, through psychotherapy and, or professional coaching, adults with ADD can learn effective coping techniques to break the cycle of negative personal appraisal and use positive methods instead to handle stressful situations when they arise. 
In particular, studies have shown that using and including an ADHD adult’s primary resources --- family, friends, coaches --- into the advocacy of behavioral changes can result in higher self-esteem and self- efficacy. To create new, positive responses to life stressors, ADHD adults need to acknowledge their unique, personal resources and learn to apply them to daily life.
With positive reinforcement, adults with ADHD can learn to not only accept their diagnosis but own it and use it to reinforce the importance of their self-worth and purpose!
Mark Julian is a Certified Coach; Business Counselor, Author and ADHD Specialist serving startup and veteran business-persons with ADD related challenges. He provides mentoring and results-driven coaching to today’s new-breed of business builders! Mark’s a member of the ICF, CHADD and is an accredited Edge Foundation Coach. Mark’s office is located at the George Mason University Small Business Development Center where he’s provided guidance to business owners since 2010.