One of the biggest challenges facing people with ADHD is maintaining a positive self-view. We adults are usually hyper-critical of ourselves. We magnify our sins and shortcomings, and minimize our virtues and achievements. We believe that the positives we do were created by smoke and mirrors, while the things we have failed to do represent the true measure of who we are.
People with ADHD are poor at self-assessment. We distort ourselves more than a funhouse mirror. Were they not so painful, these distortions would be funny.
I have wrestled with this problem for 66 years, and I have learned a few tricks that have helped me and might help you.
1. Know that you are lousy at self-assessment, that you distort your view of yourself all the time, almost always in a negative way. I know very few adults with ADHD who over-value themselves.
2. When you start beating up on yourself, remember that this is just a bad habit you have, not an accurate assessment.
3. Never worry alone. This is my favorite piece of advice, taught to me by Thomas G. Gutheil, M.D., legendary professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
4. Spend time with people who like you and value you.
5. Distance yourself from people who criticize you and bring you down.
6. Keep a gratitude list in your mind at all times. What do you have in your life that you’re grateful for? As a rabbi once wrote, “Happiness is not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have.”
7. Laugh at life, laugh at others, and laugh at yourself. A wise man once said. “Life is tragic in its fate, lyric in its essence, and comic in its existence.” Self-hatred dissolves in laughter.
8. Understand that the state of your brain — your neurochemistry — sometimes creates the content of your thoughts, although we usually think of it the other way around. If we are in a bleak spot, our minds search for a hook to hang the bleakness on.
For example, if I feel down, for no apparent reason, my mind hunts some plausible cause for the blues: I’m too fat; I spent too much money on a foolish purchase; so-and-so doesn’t like me.
The fact is, my blues did not originate in any of those causes, but in a neurochemical state I happened into by chance, for no good reason, other than the quirks and whimsies of my brain’s chemistry. This is good news, because it is easier to change brain chemistry than it is to change that long list of causes I seem to have at my disposal.
9. Know how to change your brain chemistry. Some easy and reliable ways are: a quick burst of physical exercise; a conversation with a friend; a human embrace; thumbing through photos of people or places you love.
10. Get a dog. Your dog will do what our dog, Ziggy, does every day: love you to pieces, with love that is contagious.