Do adults with ADHD need more self-confidence and self-esteem or self-compassion? In a previous post I claimed that ADHD adults need more self-compassion. I still stand by that. But having a good sense of self is also important to be able to feel good, as well as “do good.”
And I know from the questions I receive, such as the ones below, you might be interested in strategies for improving your sense of self, too.
- How can I salvage self-esteem by leveraging personal strengths (both related and non-related to ADD)?
- What are methods of confidence boosting and self-image improvement?
These are definitely important questions to answer. Because, as Dr. David Burns, author of Feeling Good, noted, “a poor self-image is the magnifying glass that can transform a trivial mistake or imperfection into an overwhelming symbol of personal defeat.”
Let’s start by defining the terms. Because, while these terms — self-confidence and self-esteem — are often used interchangeably, they are different concepts. And may necessitate different strategies to make improvements in either of these areas.
Ready to explore?
Self-Esteem and ADHD Adults
You can think of self-esteem in terms of how much you appreciate or like yourself. That is, it describes your overall sense of self-worth. And one way you can determine this is to answer the question, “How happy am I with who I see when I look in the mirror?”
If you’re like most people, your answer is probably, “Some parts I like and then some parts not so much.” While many factors contribute to who you see in this reflection, you can certainly point to your experiences as greatly influencing your self-esteem. Of course, this includes your experience with ADHD.
Like other adults with ADHD, you have had your fair share of challenges and may have been subject to criticism because of your ADHD symptoms. Obviously, negative feedback, current or past, will contribute to any struggles you have with self-esteem. In addition, your perceived limitations related to your ADHD may impact your feelings of self-worth.
Because of your diminished self-esteem, you might:
- focus more on your weaknesses than your strengths.
- lack confidence you can adopt workarounds for your weaknesses.
- feel shame about your ADHD symptoms.
- believe that neurotypical people are better than you because they think differently, “better.”
- fear that failure is more likely than success.
- generally have a negative outlook.
If you find yourself defaulting to the above, it’s time to work on building your self-esteem, for sure.
Self-Confidence and ADHD Adults
On the other hand, self-confidence is about your estimation of your ability to accomplish what is important to you in your various roles. Obviously, your feelings of self-worth contribute to your self-confidence. That is, the better you feel about yourself, the more self-confidence you may have. Makes sense, of course.
So, what are the origins of your self-confidence?
In part, your confidence comes from memories of being masterful in different areas of your life. I know you’ve had your share of successes! And, if you can remember these successes, you will feel more confident you can apply the skills and strategies you used in the past to achieve your current goals.
Unfortunately, like many adults with ADHD, when thinking about your current capacity to accomplish what you want, you may not think about your past achievements. Rather, you may tend to think of how hard it is going to be to reach your goals and how much you will struggle along the way.
This can be a consequence of your tendency to be ahistorical because you are so focused on the here and now. And this tendency is in part due to your working memory challenges that make it hard to juggle multiple perspectives at once. So, you may end up mainly focusing on your struggles, rather than balancing that with thoughts of your past accomplishments.
And this can lead you to lack the self-confidence you need to achieve your goals and address challenges along the way.
How ADHD Adults Can Build Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
If your ADHD is getting in your way now, building your self-esteem and self-confidence is part of the solution to getting unstuck and moving forward. The first step is recognizing this as a piece of the puzzle in your efforts to manage your ADHD. Choosing the right strategies and support is the second step.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to doing this. And it is definitely not a linear process. But there are steps you can take to improve your self-confidence and self-esteem. And the steps below introduce you to some of your options.
If you’re interested in doing more work on your own, check out Feeling Good by Dr. Burns’ and Mind over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky. And, if doing work on your own doesn’t cut it, you may decide to seek out the help of a therapist or coach.
Ready to get started?
1. Talk Back to Your Inner Critic
One of the first steps you can take to boost your self-esteem and self-confidence is to change your self-critical talk. For example, when you are late, you may say:
“I’m sure Bob hates me now. I’m never reliable. People won’t want to get together with me anymore!”
Sound familiar? Sure, maybe you’d like to work on being on time more often. But this critical inner dialogue will diminish your self-esteem and increase your despair you can ever change.
So, addressing your negative self-talk is necessary, if you want to feel better and/or change your behavior.
To do this the 1st step is to acknowledge the existence of these inner critics and note their insidious messages. And then to recognize that these thoughts do not reflect reality by becoming familiar with your cognitive distortions and negative thinking traps, such as the examples below:
- Jumping to conclusions; mind-reading – You have no way of knowing that Bob hates you for being late
- All or nothing thinking – While you may sometimes not be reliable, I’m sure there are many instances you can point to when you are.
- Catastrophizing – While people may not like that your late, it is unlikely that everyone will stop making plans with you.
The 2nd step is practice self-talk that reflects a more accurate self-evaluation, such as “Maybe Bob’s not thrilled I’m late, but he doesn’t hate me. After all, we still get together. And there are plenty of times when I’m on time!”
Last, give your inner critics a one-way ticket to a nice, warm, comfortable place they will not want to come back from. Once you send them on their way, hopefully, you will be more compassionate with yourself.
2. Do Nothing!
I know this may sound like a counterintuitive suggestion. But there are times when the best solution is to recognize your faulty thinking for what it is. Just thoughts. Not reality. And then step away from whatever is worrying you, rather than trying to address it in the moment.
This is definitely the best approach when you are in a low/bad mood, according to Richard Carlson, PhD, author of You Can Be Happy. Think about it. When you are in a low mood how do you feel about yourself and your capabilities? Not very good, right? And, also, you’re not in a great place to come up with good solutions.
Yet, you may feel compelled to try to figure “it” out. What you likely end up doing is revisiting the same thoughts again and again — ruminating. But, as Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
So, turning over the same thoughts in your head is not going to get you very far. The better option, when you are in a low mood, is to give your worries a rest. And, if you need to come up with a solution, circle back when you’re feeling better.
3. Practice Gratitude
While you may decide to take a step back from actively working on addressing your worries, you can still work on building your self-esteem and self-confidence. And one way to do this is to engage in building a practice of gratitude.
When you compare yourself to others who you perceive to have a better life than you — more money, better jobs etc. — it reduces your self-esteem. On the other hand, if you can appreciate what other people have, but also be grateful for what you have, you will build your self-esteem.
Being able to identify reasons you are thankful can also help you build confidence in your abilities to reach your goals and address the challenges you will encounter along the way, including your ADHD. Because, when you build your confidence in this way, your problems will not seem as insurmountable.
Of course, along with better self-confidence and self-esteem, gratitude will bring you more happiness. All good reasons to get started now. Ready? If you need ideas on how to start, check out these 31 gratitude exercises.
4. Do something!
Sometimes, when you are feeling bad about yourself and your abilities, the best strategy is to just start, even when it feels messy. Do something. Because you know the more you stay stuck the worse you feel about yourself and your ability to eventually get unstuck.
For example, when you focus on your need to finish something or do it perfectly, unwittingly, you may be causing yourself to procrastinate. Because, as you focus on needing to reach your goal, it may become more and more daunting. And you may become more stressed and overwhelmed.
But, when you focus on persistent starting and see you are making progress, you will build your self-esteem and self-confidence. So, even when you’re feeling low and unsure about your ability to tackle a hard task, you could:
- Work on the task for ½ hr each day until it is finished.
- Do as much as you can in an hour or whatever amount of time you decide. And then, when you stop working, decide when you will work on it again.
- Spend just 15 minutes reviewing the task. It’s a start! Then decide what you need to do next and when you will start again.
The key sometimes is to just keep on starting. Because you know you feel worse about yourself when you continue to put something off, right?
5. Come Up with a Solution
It’s true your self-evaluation may not be an accurate depiction of reality. But you may still decide you want to make improvements to address areas in your life you find problematic. Coming up with solutions can help improve how you feel about yourself and your abilities.
For example, if you are prone to being late, as in the above example, you’ll want to address your negative thinking, for sure. And you may also decide to work on being on time more often. Check out this article, ADHD and Time: 4 Steps to Getting Places on Time, for strategies on how to address this common challenge for ADHD adults.
Coming up with solutions when necessary, rather than just ruminating, can help you see you’re really in the driver’s seat when it comes to managing your life, including your ADHD. And this will help you build your self-esteem and self-confidence.
What can you try today to start building your self-esteem and self-confidence? And, if you need support, who can you reach out to for help?