Win Over Adult ADHD Critics and Cynics

Tired of criticism from people who misunderstand adult ADD/ADHD? Turn your harshest judges into your biggest supporters -- and show the world you can get organized, succeed at work, and have healthy relationships.


Strategies for Handling Toxic ADD/ADHD Critics

The best way to deal with unsolicited advice is to stay away from the people who give it. When this is not possible -- and usually it isn’t -- take this approach:

Are you overreacting? Does the person criticize everyone, or just you?

If it’s just you, have a conversation with the critic, starting off on a positive note.

Tell him that you’re doing your best to cope with ADD/ADHD.

Explain that jokes and criticisms are unwarranted, hurtful, and unproductive.

Answer questions about ADD/ADHD without anger or attitude.


Managing our adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) symptoms is hard work. We do the best we can, and we feel good about the progress we make -- even if it is measured in inches. But we often fall short of other peoples’ expectations. When we do, the “toxic people” never hesitate to let us know.

If you are tired of feeling wounded or worn down by people who criticize you or can’t stop giving you advice, read how three of my clients turned their critics into solid supporters.

“There’s a Reason for the Mess”

Problem: Cynthia suspected that her fiancé’s mother was judging her. Her suspicions were confirmed at the engagement party, when her mother-in-law jokingly commented that the stock price of The Container Store would skyrocket once the lovebirds decided to organize their new apartment. Cynthia had a good excuse for the mess: She was planning the wedding while organizing the couple’s home-to-be.

What Cynthia Did: We decided that Cynthia should tell her future mother-in-law how hurtful the joke was. She started the conversation in a positive way, saying that she felt lucky to be marrying her son. Then she added, “I want our relationship to be the best it can be. I have to let you know, though, that I was hurt by your joke the other day. I struggle with organization, because of my ADD/ADHD. It is a sensitive issue with me.”

Cynthia told me that a productive discussion followed, and she answered a lot of her mother-in-law’s questions about ADD/ADHD. Cynthia was relieved to find that she cared enough to want to learn more. Instead of criticizing Cynthia, her mother-in-law pitched in to help organize the house.

“Thanks for the Advice, but...”

Problem: Gregg started a video production company with his friend, Tom. At the end of each work day, they had a meeting to determine how to prepare for the next day’s shoot. The meeting frequently started with fault-finding, mostly by Tom. They often concluded with Tom saying that Gregg’s ADD/ADHD would cause their company to go out of business.

What Gregg Did: Gregg confronted Tom about his doomsday scenarios by reminding him of how far they had come in a short time. “I know a lot of things go wrong each day, and I admit that I am sometimes forgetful and late,” said Gregg, “but I am working very hard, and the creative results show. I am bothered by your comments about my ADD/ADHD. From now on, let’s start each meeting by reviewing what we did well that day, and learn from our mistakes by listing how we will do things differently next time.”

Tom became sensitive to the effect his criticism had on his friend, and the fault-finding diminished.

“I Know How to Raise My Son”

Problem: After her divorce, Sheila went back to school, graduated, and found a full-time job as an X-ray technician -- all while raising two children, one of whom has ADD/ADHD. It wasn’t smooth sailing, but she did a good job of juggling responsibilities. She was tired of her relatives berating her son’s behavior and telling her how to raise him.

What Sheila Did: Sheila and I decided she should talk with one especially critical aunt at the next family gathering. “Aunt Jeanne, I know you love me and I know you love my kids, but you don’t understand ADD/ADHD,” explained Sheila. “I’m doing the best I can as a single mom. I get good advice from professionals about how to parent my children, and I try to follow through on what they tell me. I love this family and all the support I’m given, but I want you to just be my aunt, who makes the best lemon meringue pie in the world, and leave the parenting advice to the professionals.”

The next time Sheila visited with her aunt, there was little criticism. In fact, Aunt Jeanne complimented her son’s behavior. Even better, she started watching the boy when Sheila wanted to get out for an evening. Sheila was glad she had stepped up to the plate to deal with her aunt.

More About Combating ADHD Criticism

Handling Criticism: Techniques for ADD/ADHD Adults

Anger Management Tools for ADD/ADHD Adults

Tired of Hearing 'You Just Need to Try Harder'? Adult ADD/ADHD Comebacks

When Family and Friends Think ADD/ADHD Is a Joke

This article appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of ADDitude. SUBSCRIBE TODAY to ensure you don't miss a single issue.

TAGS: ADHD Social Skills, Adult ADD: Late Diagnosis, ADHD Communication Skills, Myths About ADHD

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