8 Reasons Why Adults with ADHD Feel Stupid

Credit Freepik: "designed by http://Freepik.com"I hate the word ‘stupid’ but I put it in the title because that is how many people with ADHD describe themselves. The ADHDers I have met (which are a LOT at this point), are bright, intelligent, sharp, smart, wise, good company and wickedly funny.

Clearly there is a big discrepancy between self-description and fact. But why do people with ADHD feel stupid?

1) Academic success.
ADHD isn’t a learning disability but it is one of those conditions that make learning difficult. Struggling to pay attention in class, with memory, organizing skills, problems, etc. mean getting good grades is hard. Society places a huge emphasis on academic success as a way to gauge intelligence.

2) Learning Disabilities
About 40 percent of people with ADHD have a learning disability in addition to their ADHD. Approximately 20 percent have Dyslexia and some ADHD adults have more than one learning disability. Learning disabilities can cause difficulties when reading, writing, performing calculations, as well as, visual or auditory perception difficulties.

3) Behavior at school
If you were a high-energy student unable to sit still or stop talking, you were properly getting into trouble with your teachers. While this doesn’t mean you are ‘stupid’, it can make you feel that you are.

4) Simple Tasks
ADHDers struggle with things that other people find easy; such as showing up on time, planning a meal, remembering to take out the recycling on the right day.

The thought pattern seems to be: if I can’t do ‘simple’ things like this, then I must be ‘stupid’. But this isn’t true; just think of the professors who have many letters after their name, but still struggle to make a piece of toast? No one thinks they are stupid!

5) Information Retrieval
ADHDers can struggle to find the words to express themselves. It could be at a party or in a meeting at work. This doesn’t have anything to do with smarts or knowledge; it’s an information retrieval problem. The good news is, this can be improved quite easily.

6) Topics of Interest
ADHDers don’t lack knowledge; they are life-time learners. However, they only remember things that interest them. If you are at a party and people at discussing a certain general topic that is boring to you, you might not be able to contribute.

7) General Knowledge
If you have a learning disability, you can spend a lot of time and energy on learning things for school and no brain space left for general knowledge. This happened to me; I spent so much time on reading and spelling, that my general knowledge was immensely lowered. Usually, it improves when you are out of the academic environment.

8) Who You Spend Time With
Have you noticed how when you spend time with certain people, you feel smart, sharp and funny? Then with other people (perhaps those who you feel are critical or judgemental of you), you feel ‘stupid’? It’s not your imagination. Researchers found that the people you spend time with do affect your conversation. Pick your friends and romantic partners carefully. You want to spend time with people who naturally bring out your best.

What can you do to stop feeling stupid and start feeling smart?

1) Stop calling yourself stupid, either out loud or quietly to yourself.

2) Intelligence is so much more diverse than what appears on an IQ test. If you feel ‘stupid’ because you didn’t do well at school or for any other reason, check out Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory on Multiple Intelligence. He found there are 8 types of intelligence. It may be very validating to you.

3) Focus on what you are good at! Because ADHDers often struggle with the basics, they develop a struggle mindset. This means you don’t value what comes easily to you. However, this is where your strengths and gifts lie. Spend as much time as possible doing these things!

4) Often, feeling ‘stupid’ is connected to low self-esteem. Check out this book, ‘Self-Esteem’ by Patrick Fanning and Matthew McKay.


Do you ever feel ‘stupid’? Leave a note for me in the comments section below.


  1. Kelly says:

    I’m the wife of an ADHD’er and although his struggle doesn’t seem to bother him, I find myself hurting trying to keep our household, relationships, and children from suffering from the less kind effects of the disorder. His interruptions, self centered thoughts and projections. He comes across so unkind and aloof. I’m running out of understanding and coping skills!

    • Is your husband taking medication for his ADD/ADHD? If he isn’t I suggest your husband should see a psychiatrist to be prescribed some. This will help with his attitude problems.

  2. While I feel rather stupid having just deleted a heartfelt response to so many of your comments in my first blog, I write again so I don’t feel hard on myself. I do feel more comfortable in my own skin; that is, my non-linear temperament which enlivens me. Thom Hartmann’s books have helped me to validate the role my type of nature has played in society and evolution; those skills of a “hunter”. While I don’t carry a spear (at least recently!), I’ve found job, self-employment (partnership with a non-ADHD introvert) and eventually longevity in a career where my ability to think on my feet, be responsive to the moment with flexibility and decisive action has served me. While my resume for a few years resembled swiss cheese (sometimes working two jobs) and, at least, kept food on the table and my rent paid, I found (with more self-acceptance of my ‘divine ambiguity’— and perseverance) a profession well suited to my ADHD temperament; I was part of a professional team, where I could check in frequentely to keep myself sequenced, was given a lot of independence in my schedule and also needed to deliver (using both focus, aided by Adderal, hyperfocus, and a sense of humor). In our work environment, where we “thrived successfully in chaos”, I learned how much more energy and self-discipline I had in a collaborative team situation, where we watched each other’s back, when necessary, and worked our asses off. While life was very difficult when I went thru a few years in the career I’ve loved, where the job function changed in that it required much more structured daily planning, standardized frequent reports, more hierarchy and systemization—I learned to accept a need for Lamictal when my anxiety level, isolation from colleagues, feelings of being discounted (inadequate and stupid) surfaced after many years being “on top of my game”. I’ve gained so much from Mindfulness and DBT class offered thru my provider and have down shifted my life; my marriage is better due to better self-regulation skills and my life remains fresh. The greatest new development has been taking time to see that updating myself on current science helps me recognize that the ladder of self-perception “must be moved to another wall” when I allow myself to get pulled into a myopic lens on life. Non-local, often non-linear aspects of 95 percent of the universe (that which is unseen to the naked eye) is receiving more and more rigorous empirical research (see Dr. Larry Dossey, Institute of Noetic Sciences). My direct experience with ADHD and more self-acceptance has expanded my world; writers like Judy Cannato, Rupert Sheldrake, Dr. Stuart Hameroff, and Dr. Eben Alexander, Ken Wilbur, Thomas Keating helps me to more and more part of this “Magical Mystery Tour”.

  3. Esme says:

    Urgh, I often feel like so am the stupidest person on the entire planet.I always assume that everybody knows more about everyone I know. However something weird happens here whereby I learn and learn and learn and learn because I want to feel smart,perhaps because I need approval.Except that person doesn’t know about what I have learnt.I think this is where my autism comes into play.It is almost like I see it so black and white . Like ” oh, you haven’t heard of this philosopher, but I thought you were smart (I thought you were smarter than me).And then my brain does this kind of double take where it’s like ” what? Ok maybe that means I’m still not smart let’s learn more”. I can relate on the general knowledge thing.It took me so long to remember when the Second World War ended and I still have to remind myself.Ot’s not something that would stick in my mind.The only historical date I know off by heart is 1066 .It’s very frustrating because so feel like I try to do so much learning.Anx by this I mean endlessly studying random books in the reference library .Any I can find. But… I feel really hurt when I can’t seem to remember a single fact about it.So ,I’m trying to learn more about Lenin .I could read a really interestbig piece about his life . But if you asked me about significant dates I would have no idea.The most upsetting thing is that I feel like all my friends are smarter than me and they pitty me or something.
    I have cried so much over all these above things this article talks about.

    • Cedric says:

      This post is the expression of an intelligent and self-aware person. Your friends are pretentious and superficial eggheads that are stupid bbecause they can be coordinating their minds with yours in ways that would unite strengths that compensate for each others’ weaknesses, but instead they wanna use your insecurity to feel smart.

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