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Q. I am in my mid-20s and doing well in my career by outside measures, but I feel inadequate at work and in my personal life. It is like severe impostor syndrome — I constantly feel like I don’t have my act together even though my friends and family always tell me they’re impressed with where I am in life. I don’t trust myself to make proper decisions, and I don’t put myself out there in the dating world because I feel like any given guy would easily skip over me to look elsewhere. It sounds horrible when I type it out. —Feeling Not Up To Snuff
These types of feelings are not uncommon (but what do I know, besides an alarming amount about smoked gouda?). Yours do sound like they are getting in your way quite a bit, though. It’s one thing to be nervous about decisions, but quite another to refuse ever to trust your judgment during them. And most people will experience some first-date jitters, but for you to avoid dating altogether because you really believe there are so many options better than you — that’s a more significant and entrenched problem.
There are many ways this could have grown over time. It probably has to do with the way you developed self-worth; maybe it was always about someone else’s (a parent’s?) yardstick. Maybe it was a perfectionistic environment, or an undue focus on status or appearances, or maybe “failure” was conceptualized as such a scary concept that it paralyzed you from letting yourself be an autonomous person, for fear of screwing up. Maybe you are genetically prone toward anxiety and were targeted with harsh social judgment early on, triggering you to be hypervigilant to what other people think and whether you measure up. Whatever it is, therapy can help you untangle this and, most important, work on it.
So, um, can we talk about ADD?
Q. I want to gently suggest to my husband that he get screened for ADD. But he has a history of taking things very personally — he is a perfectionist who can’t stand to fall short — and so I don’t want this to seem like I am finding fault with him. Please advise. —Don’t Want a Fight
It’s kind to be mindful of this, but beating around the bush will only get you so far. If he’ll be offended by your perception that he needs to be screened, you can’t completely avoid that. But to soften it, you can try the fake-breezily-spontaneous approach (“I saw an article about ADD today — I guess it’s more prevalent than I realized. A few symptoms were surprising, some things you struggle with. Have you ever wondered about it?”).
You could also reflect back specific things that he has expressed: If he’s frustrated that he can’t keep things organized, or has forgotten his fifth appointment, or is called out during meetings for zoning out, then it’s not criticizing him, but rather empathizing with his difficulties. It won’t seem so much like finding fault if you emphasize that the whole purpose of a screening — which doesn’t even mean he surely has ADD — is to glean information that could lead to helpful changes.
Send your questions for Baggage Check to Dr. Andrea Bonior at email@example.com. She may answer them in an upcoming column in Express or in a live chat on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com.
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