How shame with ADHD begins
A life with untreated ADHD is a life with many inconsistencies. With those inconsistencies in mind, shame with ADHD soon follows. We are more likely to have bad credit, wrecked marriages, messy houses, and ruined careers. We have difficulty showing up on time, following through when we say we will, and being prepared. This is a burden not just on ourselves but on the people we love too. A few of these failures is embarrassing and frustrating. A lifetime of them leads to many of us struggling: we fail out of schools, find ourselves in divorce courts, battle addictions and stand in the unemployment line.
A lifetime of learning slowly that you can’t trust yourself or allow anyone else to depend on you leads to an overwhelming, life stagnating sense of shame. There were so many things to feel shame about that I didn’t know where to begin.
Read: ADHD Symptoms In Adults Aren’t Character Flaws
ADHD shame and I are old frenemies
I’ve dealt with shame myself. I have had my share of issues: I dropped out of college in my junior year because I just couldn’t stand the struggle anymore. The constant endless fight every semester to meet the deadlines exhausted me. Failing to get things done properly depressed me. My grades never seemed to reflect my intelligence and I was so tired of never feeling like I was good enough, so I walked away. Then I felt ashamed for not “having what it took” to finish school.
I broke promises to people who I loved; I failed them in many ways. With my depression, I drank too much and spent money as soon as it went into my pocket. Once, I had so many overdraft fees against my checking account that I only had $50 dollars left of a $500 paycheck. I found new words to describe myself. Loser. Failure.
Telling Myself Bad Stories
I had great success in high school as a writer; now out of college with no prospects, I told myself new stories:
You’ll never amount to anything.
You’ll never become who you want to become.
You are all you will ever be.
People like you die alone.
Remember, you are worthless.
Having swallowed these stories down, I allowed my life to conform to the life of one who was worthless. I stopped caring what I looked like, I stopped cleaning my house, I stopped talking to people and stayed in my house on my couch waiting, hoping to die. Fear and shame were the only things that felt familiar. Feeling ashamed was as natural as breathing at this point.
Read: 10 Steps to Flourish With ADHD
I Haven’t Been Alone
Here is where I’ve got to say, even though I have had a rough time learning to manage adult ADHD, I have been so fortunate in this life. I have never been alone in this fight.
- My family, even if they didn’t understand has always been a phone call away.
- I have friends who have provided me with support and encouraging words.
- People have stepped in at the nick of time with the right word and completely saved me from disaster.
- A stranger in London grabbed my hand in Trafalgar Square to tell me I am beautiful and to hold on.
- Information falls into my lap within hours of me needing it. It’s just how it works.
Hiding shame left me wanting and wishing for my life to end. Depression is a parasite that can absorb every good thought, emotion or dream in your body and convert it into physical pain, mental anguish and apathy. It sometimes can seize you so quickly that before you realize it, a bad day turns into a month and you’re caught in a funk you can’t shake.
Read:5 Ways ADHD Relationships are Remarkable
A new perspective on shame with ADHD
What does this have to do with ADHD? Well after a lot of false starts, I think I’ve kind of got it down. It started when I came across this wonderful Podcast called “Overcoming ADHD and Shame: Why we feel it and how to manage it” You can listen to it here. Here’s what I learned:
Dr. Ned Hallowell, an expert on the subject gives the distinction that shame is caused by us passing moral judgments on ourselves. Like this for instance: I can’t believe I didn’t get to work on time. I am totally irresponsible. If I lose my job, it’s because I deserved it. I just lack the discipline to get places on time. He further states:
[ ADHD is] not a failure of the will, it’s not a failure of discipline, it’s a neurological difference.
He encourages his patients to get over their shame in order to deal with the disease head-on. He even goes as far as to suggest as long as we “wallow” in shame so to speak, we cannot put things in place in order to help us get to places on time, for instance. If you aren’t wasting your energy on shame, you can spend it on coming up with new skills. Hallowell indicates that shame is “maybe the most painful of all the symptoms and conditions associated with ADHD.”
He went on to tell the story of one of his friends who dealt with shame and it’s toxic effects:
“I have one friend who has actually won three Pulitzer Prizes who will not invite people into her office because of the piles of clutter. Despite her amazing achievements, she’s so ashamed of her inability to pick up.”
The doctor is onto something
I couldn’t agree with Dr. Hallowell more. As long as we are under the control of shame, we could conquer the world and never feel that we have done enough. Here I was managing this disorder, I fought my way through to the diagnosis and ADHD test on my own. Having ADHD gave me a reason for my behavior, but no explanation for how to fix my past mistakes. I began treatment yet my past imperfections were all I could think about. Shame kept me a prisoner.
I encourage you; no, I urge you: don’t let shame control your life a second longer. Do whatever it takes to forgive yourself. If people hold you responsible for things you have forgiven yourself for, make your apologies where you can, make it right if you are able and move on. Life is a fleeting moment in the passing of eternity. Don’t let it pass you by because you cannot recognize you are worthy.
How to deal with shame with ADHD:
- Stop holding yourself to impossible standards: ADHD adults struggle with perfectionism. We want everything to go just right, and when it doesn’t, we get overwhelmed and shut down. Learn to make peace with good enough.
- Understand that you cannot change the past: If you made mistakes in your past, you can only apologize for them and move forward. There is no time machine, and you are allowed to grow just like everyone else. If someone cannot forgive you for past actions, that is not your responsibility.
- You are a work in progress: Everyone, whether or not they have ADHD, has some growing to do. That means you have to give yourself space to learn, and yes make mistakes. Learn to see these experiences as opportunities to grow, and keep moving forward. With treatment, ADHD improves over time. If you want to know how to stop feeling shame and guilt, treatment is the best way to get there.
You have your ADHD diagnosis, you’re joining support groups and learning all you can. ADHD treatment can begin us on the path away from shame. Get ready to live your life well. You can grow free of the symptoms, and get rid of the shame with ADHD once and for all. Others will forgive you. Now it is time to forgive yourself.
Until next time,
21 thoughts on “What You Need To Overcome Shame with ADHD”
I am NOT alone! You just described my life… except the college part, but that was because I learn by sight and touch. So I became a paramedic… I ROCKED college and LOVED my job.
Now I’m unmedicated due to permanent injuries from an accident in the back of the ambulance. So I’m all those things all over again. I have hidden away from the world for over a decade, wanting everything to be what it was before my accident. Love your blog, glad I asked you for it…. looking forward to more posts!
Kimberlee I cant wait for you to see part II, you will love it. Thank GOD somebody got through college with their wits about them. It is so difficult when life throws these changes at us and we have no choice but to accept them and try to get through. You are absolutely NOT ALONE!
I understand the struggles you’ve described, and I am encouraged by the victory you’ve attained in those areas of your life. ADHD and major depressive disorder are some of the things I’ve struggled with all my life. They crippled me throughout school and life in general.. I still struggle with these things today, but God found me and reminds me His hand is on my life, despite my faults and flaws. Out of the ashes, He makes all things beautiful.
I am looking forward to part 2! This is testimony! Thank you!
Without Him, I would be nothing. People say that a lot to sound really Christian, but I mean it literally. God stopped me from killing myself and told me to tell the story of why. You saying this touched you is confirmation to me that I am on the right path. Part 2 is coming soon! I am overjoyed to hear that you are enjoying what you hear
The teachers claimed in elementary school I had ADD. Maybe I did maybe I didn’t. I know I had different classes then most and got made fun of because of it. I never got prescribed medication. Just needed help in certain areas in school.
And I have no clue where this is going… Yay! Ha ha! Is rambling a form of ADD or ADHD?
The only thing that I do know is now everyone has to be on medication for ADD or ADHD. No one is willing to look at other options. Everyone is looking for a pill to fix their problems (which is fine in some cases because if it is really needed then yes). But I wasn’t on medication and I struggled with a lot of the things you mentioned (I lose my car keys twice a day) and I think it’s all in how you yourself handle and take care of the issue. Like because I always run late I set all the clocks ahead 15 minutes.
My point is I know you can manage ADHD or ADD without medication (in some cases maybe not all cases).
It’s all about finding what works
sometimes its harder. My old boss sworn I had ADHD and said when my insurance kicked in I needed to have him give me one of those tests.She wasn’t saying it to be mean, but more for my well being. I think about doing it from time to time. But am I doing it because I want too and NEED to verses because someone told me I should? You know? If I’m going to make that type of decision it should be because I NEED to – not because someone told me to. I have NO idea if that makes any sense. Ps – go to sleep 😉
Rene, I’ve been reading your articles and they are SPOT ON!! Thank you so much for sharing so transparently and authentically. I too am a believer and am sooo grateful for God’s love and grace. I still struggle with shame a lot. I hope I can have victory over it one day. I fell into an abusive “therapy” relationship with a priest for 4 years while I was in college. I was desperate to find help for myself and deal with my depression. Unfortunately the preist was a pretty sick man and misled me terribly. I lost about 10 years of my life to severe depression, suicide attempts and PTSD. Praise God, I have survived the abuse and working hard to put my life back together. Finding supportive people who have ADHD has really helped b/c I feel safe and not judged by them. Thank you for this positive, courageous work you are doing, Rene!! To God be the glory!!!
Nancy, I am so touched that you have been reading, and I?m glad they have been helpful to you. So many of us have been misled by people who we have trusted. I?m so sorry to hear you were as well.
You are so lovely, thank you so much for sharing! I am glad God brings those people into your life who have encouraged you in times when you have needed it!
A stranger in Trafalgar Square in London… how amazing is that… you are worth so much to God that he sent that person to encourage you! Incredible.
I identify with so, so, so much of what you are saying. I struggle A LOT with shame about the way I “should be” or how I imagined my life “would be” and have trouble letting go of the past! Your advice is so insightful and helpful and yet not preachy, if you know what I mean!
I watched a video of Dr. Hallowell’s and he said he tells kids “you have an awesome, amazing ferrari brain but you only have bicycle breaks… I’m going to teach you how to work around that” or something to that effect, not an exact quote.
It helps me a bit to think about slowing myself down, I mean it doesn’t always work but it’s helpful to me.
Thank you so much! We all have to put our brakes on from time to time. Thank goodness we have people to help.
Thank you for this blog. I broke down crying reading this because it tapped into something deep in me..I never understood why everyone else seems to have it all figured out so much easily than I could.. I might not have a solution yet but atleast now I know why my jobs and marriage failed.. Thank you for this.
I’m so grateful that you came across it. Sometimes an answer is all we need to start again.
Rene, I have read so much from neuro-typlical parents whose child has ADHD but never an adult form your community. My son is six and the diagnosis is in the works and all anyone can talk about is his academic success or how his behavior it trying. But I can’t find many voices from Adult with ADHD. I want him to love himself, his life and not hold himself up to everyone yardstick. How can I be his ally as I can never be a part of this community. Talking to other parents, like me, is not the same. Do you consult with parents?
Hey Molly! Thank you for understanding how important it is for him to see himself as a person, not a problem to be solved. That narrative is harmful to children and parents alike. I definitely would be open to consulting with you, feel free to schedule up at http://bit.ly/consultwithrene to schedule an initial consultation so we can learn more about what we need to explore. Thank you for reaching out!
Your writing always hits home, & to be brutally honest, I found this one after sobbing for an hour & a half at 1am while telling myself that I’m a piece of trash that just makes everything more difficult for everyone else. Let’s just say that after reading it, I think I’ll be able to sleep now. Thx for all you do for the neurodiverse community.
I apologize for the late reply, but I am overjoyed that the post was helpful to you and you were able to get to sleep. We’re all in this together.
You are describing my High School Senior daughter. Can you give some advice to parents of kids who struggle like this? I feel like I’ve made so very many mistakes over the years out of ignorance, frustration, worry and love. She has a diagnosis, a therapist and psychiatrist and the school has worked with us really well, but the struggle is still there, and looming larger as college approaches.
I apologize that my reply comes late. Parenting doesn’t come with a manual, which is trite, but true. You are doing what you can to help your daughter. I think it can be helpful for us to remember that when someone’s ADHD gets the better of them, there is nobody who is so frustrated by those symptoms as they are. Sometimes that can help us to be a little more gentle
I am still struggling trying to get my diagnosis after years of research, self diagnosis recognition and medical bias for being a black female-bodied person. But for so much of life I have struggled with the shame of everything you described — the perfectionism, the dwelling on mistakes and negative perceptions of me. I have been so deeply buried by its weight that it feels smothering.
I have broken up with a dear friend after nearly a decade, and I am forced to take a medical leave for four months because I have had such bad laryngitis and constantly sick, I haven’t been able to speak which impede my job.
Because of these ”roadblocks” I have perceived as failures, I feel so much shame for trying to process these taxing losses and how to possibly move forward. But this is very helpful right now, things hurt but it’s nice to know I’m not alone and that I can recover from this.
Thank you a million times over for speaking my life, you’re doing such vital work with you’re writing, it’s truly appreciated.