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.

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. Cynthia says:

    I have been told my whole life that I am lazy and weird, asked if I was stupid, and threatened that I am just crazy. It wasn\’t until I read the title of a book \”you aren\’t lazy, stupid or crazy\” in a bookstore that I asked myself for the very first time – Are you sure it isn\’t more than you needing to \”try harder\” or \”only if you would apply yourself\”. For the first time in my life I questioned the people in my family, friends, teachers, and others that were around me my whole life that not only told me these things, but influenced how I felt about myself. I struggled deep in my mind, heart, and soul with what could be the truth of it. When I questioned if I had ADHD as a \”girl\” I began research. I even went back to old report cards. They all said the same thing… ADD. Great! Let\’s fix it. Every book, including the one I picked up that day – were full of information. Even ways to improve skills. So, much available data and interesting research. But, One major problem – I HAVE ADD – I can barely focus long enough to read a paragraph, and when I hyperfocus I couldn\’t recall the information in my head long enough to apply the information! I gave up, for awhile. Went to a doctor for medication. If I can get on the correct medication then I can read the information. Hopefully, I went. Then I found out I couldn\’t take any of the medication available. I have heart issues and I can\’t raise my heart rate. So, I chose to do something my ex convinced me was the problem – I need a day planner and a schedule! So, I pounced on a trusted friend and begged for help. She was great – she patiently sat down with me and using a paper day planner. We scheduled my day, week, and month. Chores, and daily activites. Even a couple of ideas on overwhelming tasks – like bedroom: pile everything on the bed and cover it with a sheet. Stick your arm under and pull out one item. Do something with it. Before long only the sheet is left. Helped me tremdously. One thing at a time. The basics only. It was amazing, and I used it faithfully – for about 6 days. Then a friend wanted to go out of town. I dropped everything and went. It was 3 weeks later before I found my day planner. Promised to use it faithfully this time, and tried again. This time the reason I stopped was about 3 weeks later. I just didn\’t feel like it today. Months went by before I tried again. I was in counseling for a traumatic event in my life, and I was feeling better. Then I woke up panicked, and anxious. I had watched the news…a shooting close to home; it triggered what became the first of a long line of events. Now, Complex PTSD – ADHD and I feel even more Lazy, Stupid, and crazy. So many people telling me to just get over it. Try harder. I know there is an answer out there… I know there are people like me, we need help each other. I\’m so glad I came across this site. I\’ve never written to one. But, I want to encourage people. Being stupid, and feeling stupid are two completely different things. The definition of stupid by the Webster\’s Dictionary is \”given to unintelligent decisions or acts : acting in an unintelligent or careless manner\” My questions is – Who measures and to what scale. If you measure a fish on it\’s ability to climb a tree is it stupid?? I love this analogy. I don\’t believe the word stupid should be used for anything but an insult. I don\’t believe anyone is stupid. I repeat, no one is stupid. If I made a bad decision, it doesn\’t make me stupid – it means I made a bad decision. I\’ve reached to take something hot out of the oven with a mit, I was destracted not stupid.

    I\’m hyperfocused on this subject and should end this before it is 3 pages long. To all of you on this same trip as me… welcome. We can get through this by holding hands, being kind, and remembering we are not alone.

  2. Tami says:

    all. the. time. Logically many of us know better, but it is there. Thank you for the well worded response to our dilemma.

  3. Bekah says:

    OMG yes! I was amazing at UNI -top of my class because I am totally obsessed with my degree subject , and even the careless mistakes werent enough to drag my grades down too far. But as soon as I got into the workplace everything changed. Part of my ‘incompetence’ was down to lack of experience and lack of confidence, but the careless mistakes exacerbated it and made it hard to find a job and keep it. I found a lovely company who put up with me but I basically stagnated in an entry level job feeling like a total failure because I couldnt even do that very well. People think that because you cant do dull, tedious tasks that they view as simple, you cant do the more complex ones which is completely the opposite of the truth. I have found that vitamin B really helps with the focus and that checklists and error checking strategies really help. Im finally able to go back to my university subject and apply it at work and realise the potential I always knew I had.

  4. Has anyone tried minimizing and removing unnecessary things? I wonder if being a minimalist helps with adhd. I can’t go from one room to another without wanting to start something I don’t have time for.

    • Marie says:

      Yes it has made a fantastic difference to my life. I found the book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: The Japanese Art by Marie Kondo, very helpful when I was getting rid of things.

  5. Lulu says:

    I have always felt stupid. My step brothers and sister would call me stupid. I didn’t pass first grade which made it worse. So my self esteem has been low since then. My son is having the same struggle in school so this is how i found out that he and I have ADD. I kinda a relief to know that this has a name. I’m trying not to go the medication route. Magnesium helps so he and I use the multi-vitamin calm that helps with mood.

  6. Suzanne says:

    All the freakin time! I am in a job that I don’t like much, and always think I’m going to get fired. Behind on quotas because I can’t organize myself (please refrain from helpful hints, I’m not in the mood right now)
    On our last team conference call the department heads gave status updates on their various projects…I realized as I listened that I did not know the meaning of most of the business lingo and abbreviations they rambled off like a fast food order. I took notes to look up the meanings, so I guess that’s being positive?
    Haven’t done it yet!

    • Linda says:

      I hear you. and someone telling me to stop calling myself stupid is like telling me not to breathe. I have amazing days, a lot of them, but growing up in a world that didn’t know about ADD or ADHD and being different, I knew I was different no one had to tell me, instils a “stupid” permanent mark in your brain. No matter how much you try or how many self-help things you do, you still miss important social stuff like business lingo and when you think on it over and over, as we all do, sometimes it’s a year or several years later that “we get it”. All these apps and “how to get over your ADHD” websites and books, yeah, like our attention span will let up finish it or keep up with the app. Paperwork? I am great at it from Jan to June, then warm weather kicks in and I have all those things outside that need done before winter sets in again, so I am mostly organized half the year, because the other half I am working hard outside and then I have 4 months of paperwork to catch up on, and no, doing it on the computer does not work because I am exhausted at the end of the day. Everyone tells me I am one of the most positive and upbeat people they’ve ever met. But there are times I feel stupid or do stupid stuff and recovery is not as simple as telling me to tell myself I am not stupid. I have told myself that in the past and it has helped some, but it will not just go away. And the stuff I am good at, doesn’t help at work because a positive attitude doesn’t get the promotions or keep one employed for very long. Tell a stay at home mom with ADHD or ADD that she just needs to tell herself that she is not stupid, with all the working moms tell her she needs a job to feel smart. She has a job, a very important job, and one that takes intelligence to deal with her children that are smarter than her because they understand how the world works.

  7. Kelsey says:

    This is exactly what I have needed!!! I’ve never really felt smart my whole life but recently I have really been critical of every little thing I do and say and compare myself with other people especially articulately. I have never been one to be very articulate and the older I get the more and more inadequate I feel around others because I’m not articulate enough or I can’t join in on conversations about sports or the news or politics because I don’t pay attention to that stuff. It drives me nuts. And more and more I feel like I stumble over my words more than usual over the simplist words. It’s awful

  8. Mark Bertrand says:

    I am a parent with a son that has ADHD/Asburgers and I so worried about him he is in 10th grade and I pray he gets through HS. He turns 18 in September. I worried he might quite school. He thinks he is stupid and nobody wants him around. I try to encourage him and love on him . I don’t know what to do about this. I pray alot

    • Bryan Gaston says:

      It will be a lifetime of struggling and trying to fit in. I hurt all the time. I don’t tell my mom anymore because it makes her too upset. He will compensate for this frame of mind and become very wise, caring, and kind. But that journey is fraught with depression, anxiety, and a lot of tears. Great people are built from great suffering. My thoughts will be with you and your son. I write this with tears in my eyes remembering my struggle and seeing words in this message that are not there but which communicated from my mind to my hands. I went back and placed them in their proper place, unfortunately our lives lack a spell check or a backspace.

    • Karen Gilbert says:

      I’m sorta in the same position I’m raising a grandson who is dyslexic has had to Matic brain injury and is ADHD I worry about him so much he’s in third grade now and he’s starting to realize that he doesn’t get very good grades he starting to that self-esteem starting to get low how can I help him

  9. 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.

    • Mark Bertrand says:

      I am going thru the same.

  10. 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”.

    • Brad Whiteley says:

      I think u should b a chef, and I mean that whole heartedly!

  11. 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.

    • Kati says:

      Esme, I studied education and history in college. I can tell you’re quite smart, and those friends sound unhelpful. I agree with Cedric. Plus, knowing dates is NOT what history is all about. The ideas, the events themselves, their impact… those are usually more important to understand. And they’re more interesting.

      To me, dates come easily, and it helps me put historical events and people in context. I can see how they relate. However, that is not the only way to do that. There are so many learning styles. Being able to recall a date or a certain philosopher’s name used to be what schools focused on. Now that’s not as important as the events and ideas. Plus, in the information age, you’ll rarely need to know that data in a situation where you can’t look it up. And you can take notes of things you want to refer back to – not all of your knowledge/resources need to be in your head. 🙂

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