Individuals with ADHD,may find it hard to make friends and establish durable relationships. Building and maintaining good relationships require you to be aware of other people’s thoughts and feelings. But ADHD can make it hard for you to pay attention or react the right way.
For women with ADHD, it can especially difficult to create and hold on to strong friendships.
Why ADHD Can Make Friendships Difficult for Women
- Forgetfulness – Forgetting important events – like a friend’s birthday party – can damage relationships. ADHD often causes people to forget things they’re told.
- Impulsiveness – Impulsive behavior may cause someone with ADHD to come on too strong, overwhelming and alienating others
- Inattention – Inattention involves not listening to someone closely, failure to maintain attentive eye contact, and “spacing out” or letting thoughts and gaze wander rather than tuning into your friend.
- Social miscues – To connect with people, you need to be able to read body signals and social situations. ADHD can make you misunderstand other people’s comments or not notice how they react to your behavior.
- Miscommunication – Someone with ADHD might not catch the emotional meaning behind words. They might easily overlook the nuances in speech – e.g., sarcasm, fear, or other unspoken messages. That can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
Women with ADHD face the additional battle of confronting social expectations they feel they can’t live up to. Peer acceptance – a strong measure of self-worth in women – may be lacking. They may be dealing with anxiety and mood disorders as well. Friendships require a challenging orchestration of executive functions, and women with ADHD often feel thwarted as they try to manage their friendships.
They may strive to hide their social impairments. They want and need friends, but they fear their social shortcomings will be discovered by friends. If they are juggling complex lives, they may not feel they have enough energy to keep close friendships. They need downtime to regroup. Wanting to maintain a level of connection, they can promise too much in their efforts to be accepted.
Over time, painful memories of friendships that didn’t work out, and fears of reproach and rejection increase and lead to their avoidance.
Strategies for Strengthening Friendships
Apply technology – Technology can make certain social interaction easier. Friends want acknowledgment, but it doesn’t have to arrive in the mail.A short text (“Thinking of you”) breaks the silence and is appreciated.Reminders and alarms can help you remember important dates or events. On your calendar, build in an alarm to indicate the time when you need to leave for lunch, rather than the time of the lunch itself. Give yourself plenty of travel time to avoid arriving in a frantic state.
Don’t hide your ADHD symptoms – Socialize with friends who are flexible and accepting of your ways. Let them know you may not always respond as quickly as they might expect, but it’s not a reflection of the value you put on your friendship. If maintaining a particular friendship creates more anxiety, guilt, and self-doubt than pleasure, you might want to re-evaluate it.
Anticipate your ADHD triggers – Understand that the ADHD brain keeps looking for stimulation. It may trigger some women to interrupt conversations, change the subject, lose eye contact, or tune out. If you’re gathered around a table at a restaurant, sit near the center. With people on both sides, you can choose the speaker who engages you, and switch conversations when you lose interest. When you start to fidget, stifle a yawn, or check the time, respect your brain’s need to move on. Visit the restroom—to rest and renew yourself. Walk around, check your phone, maybe come back with a reason to leave early.
Incorporate movement into your plans – Substitute a walk or a lunch date for a shopping date. Many women enjoy shopping together, but women with ADHD usually don’t. They need to go at their own pace in a multi-sensory environment. Attending to another person’s needs in this setting is usually fraught, and leaves women with ADHD feeling trapped and frustrated. Many say yes to a casual invitation to go shopping, but when the date comes, they want out. Keep these things in mind when you’re making plans.
Self acceptance and self compassion are the keys to being able to balance your own needs with the expectations of others. You can’t change how your brain is wired or the social demands of others,but you can re-frame your perspective to eliminate the fear, guilt and shame and create stronger friendships.