ADHD, Self-Esteem, and How You Perceive Your Worth

Do you notice that you often have negative thoughts about yourself? Do you struggle with your confidence and self-esteem? Do others describe you as being hard on yourself?

Issues with self-esteem and self-worth are common in those with ADHD. But why do many people with ADHD view themselves negatively or have low self-esteem? This article explores the answers.

Published: July 4, 2023

Table of contents

    What is the difference between self-esteem and self-worth?

    Self-esteem and self-worth are closely related, but they are two different things. Self-esteem is best described as the overall way you think and feel about yourself and your traits — typically in the moment. It can change depending on your current circumstances and mood, or it can fluctuate depending on the approval of others. Genetics, life experiences, health, age, and social circumstances also all factor into your overall self-esteem. [1]

    Self-worth, on the other hand, is knowing your worth and value as a person no matter how you happen to view your traits in the moment. It’s less likely to fluctuate and is built upon the core beliefs you have about yourself. Those beliefs are engrained and allow you to recognize what you are deserving of, [2] even when your self-esteem is low.

    How do self-esteem and self-worth differ from self-confidence? 

    If self-esteem is an internal reflection of yourself, and self-worth is your core belief in yourself, then self-confidence is your ability to trust yourself and how you deal with life’s challenges. Self-confidence can also change depending on your circumstances, such as feeling more self-confident after building up a specific skill. [3] People with high self-confidence tend to feel like they are in control, even when things don’t necessarily go their way.  

    How can ADHD affect my self-esteem and self-confidence?

    If you have ADHD, it's likely to have had an impact on your current self-esteem and self-perception. Many people misunderstand ADHD and assume it’s a character flaw, which can lead others to blame you for your symptoms or assume you just need to try harder. Those attitudes, especially when coming from loved ones over a period of time, can have a deep impact in how we perceive ourselves.

    Many people with ADHD grew up with the people in their lives unknowingly making harmful critiques, remarks, and even insults. Harmful phrases like “You could be better if you just worked hard enough,” “It should be easy for you to concentrate or focus,” or “If you just did that, you would succeed,” can negatively affect one’s self-esteem and self-confidence in a few ways.  

    First, they suggest the person with ADHD isn’t doing well and what they’re doing isn’t good enough. Second, they suggest there is an easy fix. Third, and perhaps the most harmful, is that these remarks place the blame and responsibility of these perceived “failings” on the person with ADHD. That only reinforces deep-rooted perceptions of not being good enough, not achieving the results you should be, or the idea that this should be easier for you.

    Of course, that’s not the case – ADHD symptoms aren’t controlled by willpower or through trying harder. You may recognize that it isn’t your fault, but research suggests continuous blame or negative comments from others (especially from those we care about) can lead to lowered self-esteem in those with ADHD. [4]

    One reason you may experience low self-esteem is the stigma, discrimination and lack of education surrounding ADHD as a serious condition. That can often lead people to be dismissive, unaccepting, or annoyed when you need certain accommodations in order to succeed. [5] Constant criticism for common ADHD symptoms beyond your control can also factor into why a person may suffer from low self-esteem. [6]

    Adults who have ADHD symptoms but go undiagnosed are likelier to suffer from low self-esteem than adults who receive an official diagnosis. [7] So if you were diagnosed later on in life – or have yet to receive a diagnosis at all – you’re more likely to have held onto negative self-talk or believed in external criticism more than individuals with ADHD that were diagnosed earlier, because you were never given an official reason for your symptoms.

    Recognize that you are not alone

    If you notice you suffer from low self-esteem, negative self-perception, or a lack of confidence in an area of your life, know that you are not alone. We hear about this often, from many of our patients at Frida. Gaining a better understanding of ADHD, how your brain is wired, and what your natural strengths and struggles are can help you unlock new, more positive ways of viewing yourself and the situations you navigate.

    Another thing we hear from our patients is that receiving an ADHD diagnosis can help a lot. Knowing the experiences you’ve had in the past surrounding particular tasks were legitimately more difficult for them than for neurotypical individuals is validating.

    But most importantly, we know that there are strategies and treatments for ADHD that can help optimize how you want to live, study, and/or work, and ultimately improve your self-confidence and self-esteem.  

    How do I improve my self-confidence and self-esteem?

     If you have ADHD, it’s important to surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are and aren’t going to try and change or “fix” you. Having a strong support system including family, friends, or members of a support group is key. (More on that below.)

    There are also ways you can work on yourself to boost your self-esteem with ADHD [8] [9]:

    • Work with a medical professional on having a solid treatment plan to manage symptoms and behaviors in a reasonable way.

    • Work on recognizing and dismissing negative thoughts that don’t serve you. A journal or meditation may help with that process.

    • Make a list of your accomplishments and celebrate them with your support group.

    • Figure out your strengths and weaknesses, then set reasonable goals based on your findings.

    • Be open with your friends and family about what you’re going through. Or if that’s too overwhelming, pick one person you can trust.

    • Don’t compare yourself or your journey to anyone else.

    • When things become overwhelming, focus on solutions and not the problems.

    • Take care of your body with a proper wellness, exercise, and nutrition plan.

    • Remember that you are not broken, and symptoms are not character defects.

    • Be kind to yourself and remember that you’re doing your best.

    Where can I find support if I want to work on my self-confidence and self-esteem?

    One of the key ways to work on your self-confidence and self-esteem is to find the right support system for you. 

    1. One way to find support can be to talk to a health provider about the experiences you struggle with and the nuances of ADHD.

      Get ADHD diagnosis and care with Frida

      If you don’t currently have a healthcare provider specializing in ADHD – or are looking for a new one – Frida may be able to help. With a team made up of clinicians who are experts in ADHD, Frida provides ADHD diagnosis and treatment services from the comfort of your home. You can learn more about how Frida works here.

    2. Another source of support can come from communities of people who also have ADHD. Through them you can learn from one another and also receive validation that you are not alone. Many communities are good places to share knowledge and strategies, or even to vent.

    3. Finally, sometimes the best support for you is you. Be mindful of how you are speaking about and to yourself. Just as those around you deserve compassion and understanding, so do you. Sometimes, we can take on the same criticisms of ourselves that we have heard from others our whole lives. Be kind and compassionate to yourself because you deserve it. You have achieved great things. You have put in a herculean effort. And you are good enough and worthy of love, self-care, and compassion.

    Frida Care Team

    We are a group of clinicians, continuous care support, writers, and creators who care deeply about patient care and ADHD. Together, we write content that we hope sheds light on ADHD and the health care space at large. You can reach us at if you have any questions!