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The Spookiest Symptom of ADHD: Emotional Masking

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Halloween is a time for costumes, spooky stories, and enjoying the frights of the season. For many people with ADHD, however, it can also be a time for increased anxiety. Considering that Halloween is all about pretending to be someone or something else, it's no wonder that ADHD symptoms can often manifest in particularly spooky ways.

ADHD symptoms

While most people associate ADHD with symptoms like hyperactivity and impulsivity, there is one spooky symptom that is often overlooked: emotional masking.

Emotional Masking is when people with ADHD use humor or other mechanisms to avoid showing their true emotions. This can be tricky to deal with because on the surface everything seems okay, but inside the person is feeling overwhelmed and struggling.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, please read on for more information about emotional masking and how to deal with it.

What is Emotional Masking?

Emotional masking occurs when someone with ADHD suppresses their emotions in order to appear "normal." This can be done consciously or unconsciously, but the result is the same: the person with ADHD seems emotionally flat or deadpan. On the outside, they may seem fine, but on the inside, they are struggling to cope with their emotions.

For example, someone with ADHD might laugh when they're feeling anxious or angry instead of expressing those emotions. On the surface, it may seem like emotional masking is a good thing—after all, who wants to be an emotional wreck all the time?—but the reality is that it can be incredibly harmful. This can lead to a lot of internalized stress and anxiety.

At the end of the day, when you’re finally able to take off the mask, you're exhausted. It takes a lot of energy to keep up the act. And it's not sustainable in the long run. Sooner or later, the mask always comes off. And when it does, it's often in a way that's not ideal.

Why Does It Happen?

There are a few different theories about why emotional masking occurs in people with ADHD. One theory is that it's a coping mechanism for dealing with overwhelming emotions.

When everything feels like a big emotion all the time, it can be easier to just numb out emotionally.

Another theory is that it's a way to avoid feeling embarrassed or ashamed about having strong emotions. If you've ever been told that you're "too sensitive" or "too emotional," you might start to believe that it's better to just keep your emotions under wraps.

Why Emotional Masking Is Harmful

1. One of the reasons why emotional masking is so harmful is that it prevents people from dealing with their emotions in a healthy way.

It's like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. It might stop the bleeding for a while, but eventually, the pressure builds up and the wound explodes. When that happens, all of the built-up emotion comes rushing out at once, and it's usually in the form of an ADHD meltdown. Meltdowns are destructive and harmful, both to the individual and to those around them. They cause damage that can take months or even years to repair.

2. Another reason why emotional masking is harmful is that it makes it difficult for

people to form meaningful connections with others.

When you're constantly putting on a happy face, it's hard for people to see the real you—and that can make it difficult to form close relationships. When we constantly suppress our emotions, we are effectively telling the people around us that we are not safe to be close to.

This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as making it difficult to form trusting and intimate relationships. In addition, emotional masking can also make it difficult to read other people's emotions, further hampering our ability to connect with others.

Ultimately, emotional masking is harmful because it makes it difficult for us to build the close relationships that are so essential to our wellbeing.

3. Emotional masking can take a toll on your mental and physical health.

Studies have shown that suppressing emotions can lead to increased levels of stress,

anxiety, and depression. It can also lead to physical health problems like high blood pressure, headaches, stomach problems, and trouble sleeping.

How Can I Tell If I'm Emotional masking?

ADHD emotional masking can be exhausting because it requires a lot of effort to keep up the "mask." If you're not sure whether you're ADHD emotional masking, here are some signs to look for:

  • You frequently put on a "happy face" even when you're feeling upset or overwhelmed

  • You have trouble identifying your own emotions

  • You bottle up your emotions instead of expressing them

  • You find it difficult to be assertive or stand up for yourself

  • You often feel exhausted from trying to keep up the "mask"

If you identify with any of these signs, it's possible that you're ADHD emotional masking. If you're concerned about ADHD emotional masking, or want to learn more, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. They can help you understand what's going on and how to best deal with it.

Ways to Deal with Emotional Masking

1. Understand Your Triggers

One of the first steps to emotional masking is understanding your triggers. A trigger is anything that sets off a negative emotion or reaction. For people with ADHD, triggers can be things like loud noises, bright lights, or large crowds. Once you know what your triggers are, you can start to plan ahead to avoid them or have a strategy for dealing with them.

2. Develop a Support System

Another important step in emotional masking is to develop a support system. This can include family, friends, therapist, or a support group for people with ADHD. Having someone to talk to about your emotions can help you to better understand and manage them.

3. Learn Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques can also be helpful in emotional masking. Some relaxation techniques that may be helpful include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization. Learning how to relax your body and mind can help you to better deal with stressful situations.


If you have ADHD, it's important to be aware of the potential for emotional masking. While it may seem like a harmless coping mechanism at first, the reality is that it can be incredibly harmful—both to you and to your relationships. If you find yourself constantly suppressing your emotions, or feel like you or someone you know may be struggling with emotional masking, please reach out for a consultation. You can also check out some resources below.

Now, go take off the costume and eat some candy. Happy Halloween.



There are a number of books that provide helpful information on emotional masking in ADHD. Some of these include “The ADHD Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Gain Motivation and Confidence” by Lara Honos-Webb, “Taking Charge of ADHD, Revised Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents” by Russell A. Barkley, and “ADHD & Me: What I Learned from Lighting Fires in the Bathroom and Other Adventures” by Blake E. Butler.


There are also a number of websites that provide helpful information on emotional masking in

ADHD. Some of these include , , and

Support Groups

Another resource that can be helpful for those struggling with emotional masking in ADHD is a support group. There are many different types of support groups available, so it is important to find one that is a good fit for you. Some support groups are run by organizations such as CHADD or ADDA, while others are run by independent facilitators.

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