An Inward Spiral: Emotional Withdrawal in Women with ADHD

Adult women with ADHD may exhibit more subtle symptoms than her male counterparts.  As Keath Low, MA points out, this includes being disorganized, scattered, forgetful, introverted, withdrawn and socially isolated. She may have great difficulty keeping her focus on tasks, becoming side-tracked and easily distracted by things around her or even by her own thoughts. She may require more time to process information, and come across as “slow” when she may be very intelligent. She may also have a low tolerance for stress, feel extremely sensitive to criticism, and work hard to gain approval from others. One reaction to this may be emotional withdrawal.

This symptoms usually show up long before adulthood. Girls with ADHD often learn emotional withdrawal as a defense mechanism at a young age. Since they don’t always pick up on the social cues that come easily to other girls, they can become social pariahs and even become a target for bullying. And there might not always be much emotional support from parents or teachers. All of this can lead to the start of an inward retreat that lasts into adulthood.

Emotional withdrawal involves suppressing emotions and can cause women to pull back from the people closest to them because of a greater sense of vulnerability and an anticipation of rejection. If not recognized and addressed, emotional withdrawal can lead to anxiety, depression and even suicide in more extreme cases.

Elizabeth Broadbent, writing for ADDitude magazine, advises women with ADHD who are experiencing emotional withdrawal to recognize that it is a coping mechanism, become aware of it as it is happening, and develop new copping skills that don’t have the negative consequences.

If you have ADHD and are suffering from emotional withdrawal, one of the most important steps you can take is to seek the help of a professional therapist. They can help you understand the why of your withdrawal, validate your feelings and develop better coping strategies.


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5 Responses

  1. Christine Roy

    I’ve been trying to cope with this for the last 50 years (I ‘m 55). Unfortunately to seek professional help is out. Financially I gave been struggling since I divorced in 2000. Do you know if any coaching is given fir very low income? I’m in Québec, Canada.

    • Tom Masters

      Hi Christine –
      Please contact Denise von Pressentin (Edge Foundation) at 1-206-632-9497. She should be able to help you find someone to work with.
      All the best,
      – Tom

      • Donna

        I empathize with your letter. I AM walking in your shoes(sort of) , only I just turned 60. I so hope you have found some help/coaching that you wanted. Good luck.

  2. Donna

    Do you have any suggestions for the Upstate of South Carolina, who is an undiagnosed (by a professional) ADHD 60 year old adult? Ive struggled for years to find a coach , but never had any luck. Im not working now, so I cant financially afford much, but can offer to tutor/educational services as I am a certified teacher.

    • Tom Masters

      Hi Donna –
      I would connect with Denise von Pressentin at the Edge Foundation:, 206-632-9497. She may e able to help withfinding a coach.
      – Tom