One of the topics that comes up frequently in my work with Adults with ADHD, especially those diagnosed later in life, is shame.
Well, no, not usually by name. But rather in the form of
- “I should be able to…”
- “I shouldn’t have…”
- “I am so ?#@*&%!…”
You get it.
While, of course, the origins of shame are different for everyone, there are ways in which ADHD inevitably contributes in some way to each person’s feelings of shame.
And, if not addressed directly, these feelings hinder their ability to effectively learn to manage their ADHD.
What is your experience dealing with shame related to your ADHD?
What Is Shame?
One way some have come to understand shame is to distinguish it from guilt.
Shame is a feeling of disappointment about our basic nature, “who we are.” It is a particularly insidious emotion, as a solution is often not readily apparent to those who are experiencing it.
Some may try to rid themselves of the feeling by trying to change their basic nature. If you have tried this, I’m sure you’ve found it is not an easy solution.
But there are better solutions! More on that below.
Whereas guilt is feeling ashamed about something we did. So, when we do something wrong, we may feel ashamed about it, even appropriately guilty. That is not a bad thing. And, if we choose to make amends, there are often constructive ways to do this.
What do you do when you feel shame, though?
Shame and ADHD
When it comes to ADHD related shame, there are a few triggers I regularly see.
One common source of shame for adults with ADHD is their ADHD symptoms, such as:
- inattention – including challenges with attention to detail, sustaining attention to a task and distractibility
- challenges with organizing thoughts, tasks, space and belongings
- poor time sense, resulting in difficulty estimating time and getting to places on time
No surprise to you, I bet.
If you also experience this, your feelings of shame due to your ADHD symptoms may be heightened by past or present external criticism from parents, colleagues, friends or partners.
Another source of shame for adults with ADHD is past perceived failures in their work or personal life, often due in part to untreated ADHD.
Unfortunately, this history leads some to experience shame triggers from every day missteps and mistakes. While everyday mishaps are unavoidable because… well, we are human, some feel these are indications they can’t do anything right.
So, they conclude, yes, that their very nature is flawed. At least it feels that way to them.
Have you felt this way?
Impact of Shame
And, if you experience these feelings of shame, you may respond in a variety of ways.
You may often engage in negative self-talk, such as
- “I can’t believe I did that! I am so stupid!”
- “This is so simple. Everyone else can do this. I can’t believe I can’t…!
- “I’ll never be as good as…”
You may also try to be perfect in an attempt to prove to yourself and others that you are worthy. But you can’t be perfect, of course. Who can? So, when you inevitably end up falling short, your feelings of shame are further reinforced.
Alternatively, so you don’t feel shame, you may avoid situations where you predict, based on past experiences, you will fall short. So, you end up losing out on opportunities.
In some cases, in order to avoid shame, you may blame others when you make a mistake, rather than owning up to it.
You may also respond to shame by overcommitting, saying yes to everything, in order to try to please everyone and prove you are ok. But it does not work because you can’t please everyone, right?
What are other ways you respond to shame?
“What You Feel, You Can Heal”
The first step in addressing your shame, especially as it relates to your ADHD, is to ask yourself:
- In what situations do I commonly feel shame? What are the triggers in those situations?
- How are these situations related to my ADHD symptoms. For example, losing the thread of a conversation in a meeting because of challenges attending.
Developing your awareness in this way will help you to take the next step, which is to consider your options for addressing your shame.
Dr. Edward Hallowell’s adaptation of the Serenity Prayer is good place to start, as you think about what you are willing to accept and what you want to change.
‘G-d’ grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The insight to prioritize wisely what I want to change;
The patience to resist trying to control everything I could, had I the energy and time;
The courage and skill to change the things I have chosen to change;
And the wisdom to know the differences among all these.
As you ponder this, also consider where you are on your journey of accepting your ADHD.
Addressing Your Shame
Once you understand how shame operates in your life, you can start making informed decisions to deal with it.
Here are few options to help you get started:
- Be courageous and be yourself.
- Stop doing it. Really, if there is something that is challenging because of your ADHD and causing you shame, consider whether you want to give up doing it or delegate it. We all have our strengths and challenges.
- Make sure you have supportive people in your life, who can bring out the best in you!
- Laugh when you can. Humor is really one of the best antidotes. Putting the cereal in the fridge instead of the pantry because you were not paying attention is not such a big deal, right? No harm, no foul. So, why not laugh instead of beating yourself up?
- Acknowledge your strengths and celebrate your successes. Don’t let your ADHD challenges define you. You really are ok!
- Decide where you want to improve your skills and make changes to manage some of your ADHD symptoms.
- Work on reframing your automatic negative thoughts that can fuel your shame.
- Get support. Need help accomplishing the above? Depending on your needs, you may want to work with an ADHD Coach and / or a therapist.
Question For You
How will you start to address the shame you experience in your life, particularly as it relates to your ADHD?