Emotions & Shame

“ADHD Demands Energy. Lying Conserves My Reserve.”

For some people with ADHD, responding with a quick-and-easy untruth requires less energy than processing your thoughts and organizing an articulate response. For others, lying is far more complicated and involves decades of undiagnosed symptoms, shame, and coping mechanisms. Here are some reflections on lying by ADDitude readers.

A homemade lie detector machine signals that a lie or untruth is present. The box sits on a desk in a blue office. The detector can detect both truth and deceit. RichVintage/Getty Images
RichVintage/Getty Images

Lying is not always a character flaw. Sometimes, it is a useful (though often regrettable) defense mechanism. Sometimes, it is the sympathetic nervous system’s natural response to danger. Sometimes, it is an impulse that the ADHD brain simply can’t control. But almost always, lying leads to feelings of shame and remorse in adults with ADHD.

Here, ADDitude readers tell us when and why they tend to stretch, embellish, or disregard the truth, and how it makes them feel. Share your stories about ADHD and lying in the Comments section below.

ADHD Compulsive Lying: Your Stories

“As someone with ADHD who has been criticized, belittled, invalidated, etc., lying becomes a part of your existence that covers up the ‘bad,’ ‘thick,’ ‘lazy’ person you think you are. Lying is a massive coping strategy to help overcome years of believing negative stuff about yourself. When you’re diagnosed at 60, the lies are so entrenched in your fabric of being, it’s very difficult to put the coping mechanism of lying to bed. I am explaining the reasons for lying, not excusing it.” –Kathleen

“Sometimes lying is — well — easier. Coming up with a quick-and-easy response requires less energy than processing my thoughts about the question, and organizing an articulate response. ADHD demands a lot of energy. Lying conserves my precious energy reserve.” –Diane

“As a kid, I was the oddball. I lied to make people interested in me. I believe it was a way for me to cope, and even if it wasn’t working, I began to believe what I said. As I got older and my lies were caught, I began to see the adverse effect. After therapy, and taking my medication regularly, it became clear that I was not only lying to make people like me, but to like myself more, too.” –Anonymous

[Read This: “A Lifetime of Apologizing — and Lying — to Cover My ADHD Tracks”]

“As an adult with ADHD, I lie when confronted with a potential fault in my character. I know it’s a defense mechanism, deeply rooted in past experiences. I wish I could just agree to disagree with my ‘accuser.’” –Becky

“I tend to ‘stretch the truth’ when I feel backed into a corner, or when I’m aware that my actions (or failure to act) have screwed things up, but the other person hasn’t realized it yet. It’s like a fantasy ‘get out of jail free’ card. It doesn’t keep the axe from falling — it just postpones it for a while.” –Anonymous

“I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until age 55. When you are undiagnosed and unaware of your ADHD, the symptoms are inexplicable. I could only perceive them as a result of my own (self-proclaimed) stupidity.

  • Being late (again)
  • Forgetting something (again)
  • Losing things (again)
  • Not showing up (again)
  • Making mistakes (again)

These constant failings felt like they could only be my own fault.

  • “Sorry, I got distracted.”
  • “I couldn’t find it.”
  • “I forgot it.”
  • “I got lost.”

In a bid to hide my shame, I made up lies. I no longer lie, and I no longer feel stupid. I’m now proud to be ADHD!” –Heather

[Self-Test: Could You Have Oppositional Defiant Disorder?]

“I lied all the time as a youth to get away with things, receive attention, or seem more interesting. Somewhere along my journey, I realized lying is too hard to keep up with, especially when you have ADHD. It is not worth the effort to lie and, more importantly, it feels bad. Now, I never lie. I am sometimes too honest to the point of being impolite. But that’s how I stay true to myself.” –Beth

I embellish because it makes the story more interesting. I lie when I feel trapped or bored. Because my ADHD causes me to look at every angle, it seems normal to move in and out of ‘truths’ just to keep things interesting.” –Anonymous

“More often than not, it’s an impulsive blurt based on doing or saying something wrong or imperfectly. To maintain the lie that I was right all along, I stick with it and say nothing. On some occasions, the impulsive lie slips out for no apparent reason, and I clarify, ‘Wait. I lied. It’s actually X.’ Then I follow with, ‘I don’t know why I said that.’” –Ashley

“I still lie regularly to my husband. Not about important stuff but little stuff that shouldn’t matter. This is my learned solution for avoiding conflict over stuff that could cause more fighting and disagreements. I hold onto conflict way too long.” –Suzy

“It’s more embellishment than lying. For example, if I’m telling a story and something happened three times, I’ll say it happened four times. I don’t know why, but I’ve done this my whole life. Maybe I feel people will take what I’m saying more seriously, maybe because it just sounds more exciting.” –Anonymous

“I sometimes tell a white lie or make up an excuse when I’m late or I’ve missed a deadline or appointment. I get tired of having to apologize to everyone or, worse, being seen as my usual ‘ditzy airhead’ self.” –Anonymous

“Lying is sometimes covering up for a deficit, like did you do ‘xyz?’ I respond ‘yes’ when really, I haven’t. This happens so I don’t get into trouble or look incapable of keeping up.” -Anonymous

Compulsive Lying and ADHD: Next Steps

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