Getting Off the ADHD Shame Train

Where Self-Criticism Becomes Self-Identity

Many individuals with ADHD struggle with a poor self image fueled by negative self-talk. They harbor feelings of inadequacy, guilt or shame which can make work, home life and relationships more challenging.

This process typically begins in childhood. Children with ADHD can be influenced by people such as teachers and parents who may use hurtful words as a way to control their behavior. Negative comments can be experienced in adulthood too, made by family members or people in the work environment. In Addition, feeling stigmatized by being labeled as “ADHD” or “disabled” can fuel the negative self-talk. Eventually, these external negative comments are internalized and become part of your own self-talk. Over time, these self-criticisms can harden into beliefs about yourself.

What you say defines you. Not just to others, but to yourself. When guilt, embarrassment, or feelings of somehow being ‘not enough’ because of your ADHD slip into your conversations, you end up sending signals of insecurity and shame to others. Worse, though, you reinforce those messages to yourself. Internalized shame causes you to question and second-guess ourselves at every turn.

Beliefs create part of one’s identity and according to many experts, these beliefs can be very resistant to change. Thus, paradoxically, an individual with a strong belief of shame may inadvertently perpetuate this belief by many mechanisms such as minimizing praise, ruminating about past and current failures, or spending time with critical people, either in professional or personal relationships.

Having this belief, this experience of shame can create strong feelings of anxiety and fear. Beliefs are very powerful. Beliefs influence how we see ourselves, how we see our potential in the world.

How to Eliminate Internalized Shame

So how can you reverse this process? Here are some recommendations from experts.

  • Believe in YourselfRepeated negative experiences and failures affect your self-esteem and can lead you to doubts about your abilities and talents. To break this cycle and start improving your self-esteem, learn to trust your strengths and talents, it is a great first step to improving your self-esteem. Research has found that people with ADHD can be highly resilient, so no matter what your history is, change is possible.
  • Focus on Your StrengthsEveryone has unique talents and strengths. if you aren’t sure what yours are, take the time to notice what tasks and activities are easy for you. Which ones do you enjoy doing, and which ones do you get compliments on? These provide clues. Rather than trying to get good at tasks that are hard for you, spend the majority of your time doing things you are good at. Apply this rule to all areas of your life.
  • Develop Your Executive Function SkillsIn addition to focusing on your strengths, there are some executive function skills you need to succeed in life and feel good about yourself. These include organization, planning, prioritizing and managing tasks. These skills might not come naturally to you because of how your ADHD brain works. However, it is possible to get good at them with time. Don’t e afraid to ask for help if you are struggling with them.
  • Give Yourself Positive FeedbackWhen you are being self-critical, think of how you’d share your thoughts with a good friend or what you’d like a good friend to say to you. This is a great way to shift your self-talk in general. Reformulate a negative thought into something encouraging (but accurate). This can help blunt the impacBt of repetitive negative thoughts.
  • Avoid Comparing Yourself to OthersGrowing up, you may have been in the habit of comparing yourself to others. When you measure yourself unfavorably with others, it lowers your self-esteem, as we rarely make comparisons where we fare better.
  • Get to Know Your Inner Critic -Give your inner critic a name.  This Research has found that people with ADHD can be highly resilient and may be able to adapt constantly, so no matter what your history is, change is possible. Practice noticing when your inner critic is active. Then remember that those thoughts about yourself don’t necessarily represent reality. And when your inner critic is going at it, do something physical – like snapping your fingers – or visualizing a stop sign.

Overcoming years of self-criticism and internalized shame isn’t easy. But it can be done and will yield the confidence to realize the quality of life you want and deserve.



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