When meeting with prospective clients I often begin with, “Why don’t we start by you telling me what is going on for you now that prompted you to reach out for help.” It’s an invitation, an invitation to tell me their story. The storyline often follows a familiar path, including how their ADHD has affected their education, work, and family.
But, while they are talking, I’m listening carefully for something more than just the plotline of their life. I’m also trying to get a sense of how they feel about the impact of their ADHD and their ability to work with it. Because how they feel colors their story about themselves.
And we know the stories we tell ourselves can either help us move forward or hold us back. So, their feelings about their ADHD matter as much as, if not more than, the content of their story.
I also know the narrative about their difficulties is only part of their story, though. If we end up working together, I know over time we will need to excavate the storylines related to their strengths, what brings them joy and their many successes. Because acknowledging this part of their story is critical for their progress.
What is your current story? How do you think it is impacting your ability to make the changes you want, including how to manage your ADHD?
What Role Does Your ADHD Play In Your Story About Yourself
Whether you’ve known about your ADHD since childhood or were diagnosed as an adult you’ve likely gone through various stages of feelings in response to your challenges. And now that you are trying to work effectively with your ADHD it is important to understand these feelings — your story.
Murphy and LeVert’s (1995) Six Stages of Coping model is one framework you can use to identify how you feel about your ADHD.
Stage 1: Relief and Optimism
“I’m not lazy, crazy or stupid. There is a reason I have all these challenges!”
Stage 2: Denial
“I’m fine. I don’t want to read about it. I don’t want to hear about it. They’re just going to tell me to take drugs. Besides, it’s a kids’ thing!”
Stage 3: Anger and Resentment
“Why do I have ADHD? Why can’t I be like everyone else? And, if I would have been diagnosed earlier, life would have been so much easier.”
Stage 4: Grief
“I can’t do anything right. I’ll never get what I want. How will I ever get through this?”
Stage 5. Acceptance
“I’m ok. It is part of who I am, but I am not my ADHD. I have the resources and the capacity to figure out how to work with my ADHD. If I need help, I can get the support I need.”
Remember acceptance is not about complacency. It is not about saying, “Oh well, I have ADHD. I can’t do…” Rather, it is about understanding, appreciating and working with who you are with all your strengths and challenges.
And once you can demonstrate this self-compassion, you’ll be in a better place to take advantage of the resources that will help you work better with your ADHD. The thinking that goes along with acceptance might look like the following example.
I have never been able to get anywhere on time. My friends and family are always mad at me. I hate it! It will never change.
I’ve never been able to get to places on time. I know my sense of time and ability to transition is a bit wonky because of my ADHD. Hmm… I wonder what I can do to get to places on time more often?
Where are you in your journey in relationship to your ADHD?
Do You Tell Yourself, “I Need to Prove Myself”?
Acceptance of your ADHD is the beginning of your journey. The other key ingredient in creating the change you envision is the story you tell yourself about what learning to work with your ADHD “should” look like.
One part of your story might be, “I shouldn’t need help!” Asking for and accepting help can be hard for many adults with ADHD. Over the years I have speculated that, perhaps, this is due to feelings of inadequacy. That is, you may feel you have failed on many fronts, perhaps because of your ADHD.
And so now you might want to prove to yourself and others you can “go it on your own.”
If shame is one of the reasons you are not asking for help, addressing this should be your first step. And, as you explore how to become shame resilient when you have ADHD, you will hopefully be more willing to reach out for help. Because being a Lone Ranger rarely works for anyone, right?
A possible by-product of this shift in perspective might be more of a focus on doing what is essential to you. As you will be more willing to ask for help. This may come in the form of delegating by means of hiring, bartering or assigning tasks to others.
And, remember, delegating isn’t about shirking responsibilities. Delegating is about making sure everyone is carrying their weight and, hopefully, doing more of what they do best. In the process, you may find, like many ADHD adults, you can do better by doing less.
And then you can focus more on the areas you are strong in. Nice, right? As Drs Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, authors of Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction point out:
The best way to change a life of frustration into a life of mastery is by developing talents and strengths not just shoring up weaknesses.
What can you do today to stop trying to prove you are enough.
Is Part of Your Story, “This Shouldn’t Be So Hard”?
Part of the challenge of your ADHD is being able to plan, focus your attention, remember information and manage multiple tasks. This, of course, can make it hard for you to set and achieve both short-term and long-term goals. Okay, I know you know this. All too well.
But what you may not have given a lot of thought to, yet, is how your perspective about your challenges may make it harder for you to reach your goals. In part, because your perspective may be getting in the way of your ability to persist when learning how to manage your ADHD is difficult.
Think about it. While trying to learn new strategies and skills, do you ever think, “This shouldn’t be so hard”? Then maybe you follow that with, “I should be able to do ‘this’ already.” This perspective may be keeping you stuck. Because, when you want it to be other than the way it is — think it should be easier — you may resent your challenges.
And maybe inadvertently have a hard time persisting when the going gets tough. The antidote is accepting that the path to learning how to manage your ADHD better might be difficult. It just is. And then getting the support you need to be able to persist in creatively addressing your challenges.
What do you think?
Are You Telling Yourself, “I’m Not Making Any Progress”?
Change is messy, can take a long time and, yes, is sometimes hard. Right. No news there.
You also know that change often happens incrementally. Yet, sometimes it may seem as if you aren’t really moving toward your goal. Especially if, despite your understanding of change, you really want the process to be more like turning on a light switch. One day you’re in the dark. And the next day, voila! There is light — the change you want. Wouldn’t that be nice? 🙂
The antidote for this thinking is to remind yourself you need to plant seeds, water and prune before the change can take root and grow slowly over time. Another way to appreciate this perspective is to look at psychologist, Noel Burch’s Four Stages of Learning model.
You can also remedy this thinking by acknowledging the progress you are making. And one way to do this is to ask yourself, “What am I most proud of this week?” Acknowledging your progress can help you persist, especially when it feels hard. Because often you may be making progress. But, if you don’t think you are, you may give up too soon, thinking you just can’t do it.
If you’re not able to ascertain whether you are making progress, check in with a close family member, friend or colleague. They may be in a better position than you are to see whether you are making progress or not.
Don’t Believe Everything You Think
What story are you telling yourself right now about your ADHD and/or your ability to create the kind of change you want? Is your story helping you to move forward are holding you back? Not sure?
Check it out by asking yourself these questions:
- What is the story I’m telling myself about my ADHD and my ability to work with it?
- Can I be sure this story is true?
- How is my story impacting my ability to create the change I want?
- Are there alternatives storylines that would be more helpful in creating the change I want?
- How do I feel and think about my ADHD when I reframe my story to match this alternative narrative?
The story you believe about yourself matters. So, you want to make sure you’re not stuck in the wrong storyline — one that could be holding you back.
Over the course of the next week pay attention to the stories you’re telling yourself. And see if you can reframe them to be more helpful.
Always happy to hear what you discover! So, please share, if you would like.