It’s not just ADHD awareness month; it’s also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Let’s talk about how people use verbal abuse to weaponize our ADHD symptoms.
Verbal abuse can play a part in many of our journeys; you’ve heard that people with ADHD receive much more negative messages than the average person.
For some of us, that negative messaging comes in the form of emotional or verbal abuse. I myself experienced that during my childhood, and it followed into my relationships as an adult.
I often dreamed that one day I’d get out of the house and be away from the meanness. That I’d escape the impatience and find myself in a place surrounded by love and compassion.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. Those abusive patterns that were formed in childhood found their way into some of my adult relationships.
It was difficult. The screaming, fighting, breaking my things. The continual degradation felt impossible to escape.
I think the hardest part of those relationships was how hard I fought to be understood. For me, so much of being understood includes understanding my ADHD.
So I would explain patiently all the ways ADHD affected my life. Little did I know, this was a case of arming my enemies.
That’s right: people who are abusive frequently use the information we give them against us. It started to become abundantly clear as these relationships went on that my ADHD symptoms were being used against me.
Are your ADHD symptoms being used to verbally or emotionally abuse you?
I can’t tell anybody that on an individual basis. Verbal and emotional abuse is insidious in the sense that it can be difficult to put your finger on what is happening.
You know you feel bad. That you feel incompetent and guilty at the time.
You may feel like you’re making everyone angry but you don’t exactly know why. Or that you can’t get it right no matter how hard you try.
This is why it is really important to learn exactly what verbal and emotional abuse is so you know what to look for to be sure you’re safe.
All abuse tactics are painful, but the contempt abusers express towards you is a starting point. Oftentimes, for an abuser to gain power over you, they have to convince you to believe on some level that they are better than you.
Are they smarter?
Do you want their approval?
That’s where it begins so often. Once they’ve sold you, that’s when the abuse often begins:
“You can’t even hear/see/remember that?”
“That’s funny coming from someone like you”
“You aren’t that great yourself, who cares what you think?”
Those types of statements can help to reinforce the idea that the abuser is the authority. Everything has to meet their approval and standards or things get messy. It only goes downhill from there.
Even though I think it can be overused, gaslighting is another strategy of abusers. If convincing you of their superiority fails, there’s always making you doubt what you said or did.
Gaslighting is done intentionally to make you feel as though you can’t trust your own perception. Are you always the one apologizing? Are you always accused over overreacting?
Have you repeatedly been assigned emotions, feelings, or thoughts despite you saying that those things aren’t true? It very well could be gaslighting that you’re experiencing.
I frequently found myself saying “I’m forgetful, but I would remember that.” Or being told I agreed to something I hadn’t agreed to.
My words were frequently taken out of context, but the best part? Any time I tried to protest, the challenges with memory, focus, and concentration that ADHD can bring?
Those would be used to indicate there’s NO WAY I’d remembered it perfectly. If I couldn’t remember it perfectly? Well then it never happened; even though it had happened.
My words would be repeatedly taken out of context to suit the abuser’s ends. By the end of one of my relationships, I rarely had a conversation in person: I would text so that I would have evidence of what was said.
An important symptom to be aware of with ADHD is distractibility. When you’re trying to pay attention to something and someone repeatedly distracts you, it could be an abusive strategy.
Now remember what I said at the beginning: abuse is a pattern, not the occasional issue. Somebody who interrupts you a few times isn’t necessarily being abusive – though it could be annoying.
Some people intentionally interrupt us so they can keep us from completing things, reaching our goals, making our voices heard, or reaching an understanding. That kind of power is not something an abuser wants us to have access to.
Some examples could be:
- starting a conversation or a fight when you’re trying to concentrate
- constantly cutting you off, never allowing you to make your points in hopes you’ll forget
- “surprising you” with something that requires your immediate attention when they know you’re busy
- assigning you some chore, errand or task that would take you away from what you’re trying to finish
I’ve written about this one before. The household is often seen as being the responsibility of the ADHD woman in heteronormative relationships.
Therefore, if you’re a woman who is fighting to keep a clean home and avoid that scrutiny, what better way to keep you busy at home than to continually trash it?
Many weekends I spent in the house trying to complete what I believed to be my duty until it became clear: this person was intentionally trashing the place then complained about it being a mess. So I would never feel comfortable leaving the house when there was still work to be done.
People with ADHD often struggle with housekeeping; no relationship I’m in should require me to be the main person cleaning. I was too busy trying to keep the peace with him by getting the house in order.
An order he was intentionally undoing.
Here’s some of the accusations that would get thrown at me:
“Why don’t you ever pick up around here?”
“I work hard, why do I always have to look at this mess?”
“Other people don’t live like this, why don’t you do something about it”
“I don’t ask for much except a clean house” – except they’re always making demands
Watch out for those who constantly need to degrade you for things you’re not so great at. If cleaning is one of those things you struggle at, you don’t have to feel ashamed of that struggle.
One of the most clear examples of being sabotaged I will never forget. I was heading off to a college class and I could not find my keys. I spent a half hour tearing my house apart trying to figure out where I’d put them so I could get going.
I ran up and down the stairs trying to find out where they’d gone. “They have to be somewhere”, I thought, being increasingly panicked. Then suddenly, my stepfather appeared.
“You left these on the table when they should have been on top of the cabinet. I moved then so maybe you’ll learn.” He was continually attempting these cruel experiments so I’d “learn”, except that learning in his opinion was doing things the “right” way – aka his way.
People who intentionally move your things, mess with your timers or alarms, and rearranging your life could be displaying abusive behaviors.
Take a look at some of these quotes and see if this is sabotage in your opinion:
- “This place was a mess so I organized it for you” – when you asked for it not to be touched
- “Maybe if you don’t have what you need you’ll learn to appreciate what you do have”
- “Since you’re so distracted by this video game, I threw it out, maybe you’ll pay attention now”
Again, abuse is about patterns, power, and dynamics. People can exhibit an abusive behavior without being an abuser. Keep an eye on the general tone of the relationship.
What direction does the relationship seem to be heading in? Is it greater communication, understanding, and working together? Then it likely isn’t abuse.
If you feel like you’re always being lectured, if you’re always in the wrong, if you feel like you’re always caught in an argument you can’t win, that could signal an abusive relationship.
We are most used to thinking of abusive relationships/domestic violence as an issue between romantic partners, but remember: friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors can also be abusive.
Remember your ADHD symptoms are not character flaws. They’re not meant to be used as evidence to “prove your incompetence”, or for you to be looked down on. You deserve all of the respect.
Until next time,