“What Happens When My Excitement Blinds Me to Your Discomfort.”
“If you feel uncomfortable, please don’t tell me, ‘I’d rather we didn’t’ or ‘Maybe we could try it later.’ That makes it sound like you have jitters and just need more assurance. This very small misunderstanding can ruin relationships. It can destroy trust. It can go very bad — and it has on serious and far-reaching occasions in my life.”
At roughly age 7, I read a motto on a hat that sticks with me to this day: “Face your fears, live your dreams.” I think of it when I’m about to take a plunge, like approaching a girl at a bar or jumping out of a plane. It’s the tickle in my tummy — that propensity to take risks in the pursuit of an awesome outcome or adrenaline rush. Sometimes, this ADHD trait serves me well, and sometimes I forget that it is neither universal — nor universally appreciated.
I recently tried to teach my best mate how to drive. She’s super smart and she’s got more ability than she thinks she does. We drove a month back and she did amazingly. It was scary, but I chose a safe, quiet area. We had a roll around a parking lot the week before and her vehicle control is tip top, so I felt it was time to get her racking up the gears and navigating junctions. I pushed her out on the road to face her fears, underestimating how scared and actually really distressed, nervous, and scared she was by the experience. She later told me that she doesn’t want to drive with me “pushing her” again.
It got me thinking about my behaviors, such as my impulsivity and my occasional insensitivity to the feelings or reactions of others — especially when I become fixated on doing something that I think will push my limits and yield something amazing. In this case, I could see, I was pushing my friend not only out of her comfort zone, but also potentially into harm’s way by neglecting to appreciate that her boundaries are stricter than mine and to anticipate that her reactions might be less positive and more negative.
At the end of the day, and in similar daring circumstances, I have confidence in myself, my skills, and the mission. I want my friends to experience something special with me, so I take them by the hand and we jump together.
At no point have I ever intentionally manipulated anyone, but I have made people feel manipulated into doing something they didn’t want to do. Unintentionally, I can come across as quite forceful, intense, and intimidating — almost trapping them with an “I don’t see why we can’t just try it.” I see the risk (whatever it may be) as a means to an end and I go for it because I trust my own ability and assessment of the situation, and assume that feeling is universal.
But one of the huge issues with ADHD is that we really struggle to instinctively read and comprehend other people’s perspectives. In a rush of excitement, we sometimes assume that everyone is equally excited, especially when they say they are. But when it comes down to it, they aren’t — and we often don’t see that until it’s too late. We also struggle to see long-term rewards. We think in terms of “now or never,” so pushing pause to better prepare and build confidence does not occur to us because it’s go time.
This doesn’t make ADHD folks outright dangerous because we know we can adapt quickly on the fly, but it does mean that we need other people to tell us firmly and emphatically, “No. I’m not doing this.” Please don’t tell us “I’d rather we didn’t” or “Maybe we could try it later.” That makes it sound like you have jitters and just need more assurance. This very small misunderstanding can ruin relationships. It can destroy trust. It can go very bad — and it has on serious and far-reaching occasions in my life.
For that reason, I have developed unmistakable safety signals for any passenger on my motorcycle, for example. I brief them and get them kitted up, and I tell them that if they get frightened they should headbutt my helmet. At that point, I drop the throttle and check in with them on the mic that I’ve now fitted to both helmets. There’s no confusion between a wind-muffled “WEEEEEE! This is great” and “AAAAAAH, I don’t feel so great!” anymore because I’ve made sure of it.
My mate said she would learn to drive with me again now that we have discussed it and established firm rules and boundaries. She sets the agenda and her target for what she wants me to teach her and I just walk her through it and take care of the details and logistics like planning the right spot and getting us there.
Little things can shatter but also rebuild trust so long as the other person is willing and able to give you a second chance. Fear is powerful, but the clear, blunt communication between us means that I will be the most efficient teacher possible and make sure she passes her test this year instead of scaring her off of driving by pushing her to do something outside her comfort zone. I believe in my friend. She’s going to do great.
Risk Tolerance and ADHD: Next Steps
- Understand: How Perceived Benefit Motivates Adults with ADHD
- Download: Manage ADHD’s Impact on Your Relationship
- Read: For Men With ADHD — and Those Who Love Them
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