The Emotional Side

All You Need Is Self-Love

You’re hard on yourself, we know. But harsh self-criticism never helped anyone. Instead, learn to focus on the positive aspects of your life. Dr. Hallowell outlines 10 strategies to repair your self-esteem, and ADDitude readers weigh in with their stories of self-acceptance.

A man looking in a mirror at a distorted image contemplates self-criticism and ADHD

One of the biggest challenges facing people with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) 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 stop being so self critical, 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.

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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.

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8. Understand that the state of your ADHD 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.

[Get This Free Download: 25 Things to Love About ADHD]

Edward Hallowell, M.D., is a member of ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel.

ADDitude Readers on Self-Criticism

Here, how adults with ADHD responded to the prompt: “I stopped judging myself so harshly when…

“I realized everyone has something imperfect about them.”
Sara, Wisconsin

“I realized I would never get the recognition I hoped for. I knew I had strengths that no one could see. I’m OK with that now. It probably has to do with the fact that I just retired, at 62.”
Kathy, Arizona

“I stopped trying to fit in and embraced my unique self.”
Julie, Illinois

“I haven’t stopped judging myself, but I am working on it through therapy and coaching.”
Rachel, Washington

“I struggle with this sometimes, so I can’t say I have stopped. However, I have been able to overcome certain challenges by God’s grace. Reflecting on those victories has helped.”
Mary, Illinois

“I realized and accepted that ADHD is a neurological disorder, not a moral failing.”
Elizabeth, Texas

“I became mindful and loved myself. l learned to accept myself — warts and all.”
M., Alabama

“I finally understood that my brain is different, and there are gifts that come with that.”
Jen, Oregon

“When I said to the psychiatrist who diagnosed me this year (at age 61) that I feel like I have failed in life, and he responded, ‘But you successfully managed an organization for 11 years. For someone with your problems, that’s big.‘ I started to feel proud of myself. Then the floodgates opened, and I began to see more things I had achieved in the last 50 years, even if many felt like ‘seat of the pants’ operations at the time. I have come to appreciate myself as I’ve gotten older.”
Kerry, United Kingdom

“I stopped hiding my ADD from my coworkers.”
Keith, Maine

“I took stock of the many goals I have accomplished and the many accolades I have received. I knew that I had succeeded by working twice as hard as everyone else. And I was proud of that.”
Rita, Tennessee

“I talked things over with my family members, and I appreciated the love and support they send my way every day.”
An ADDitude Reader

“I created a support system for myself that gives me a more balanced view of the world and me. I accept now that goals and tasks must be achieved in small steps.”
Brent, Minnesota

“I realized that others aren’t judging me as harshly as I judge myself.”
An ADDitude Reader

“I started educating myself about ADHD and realized I wasn’t a complete screwup.”
Jessica, California

“I realized that ADHD gave me my creativity and ability to see things differently. I don’t have to be like everyone else.”
Theresa, Canada

“I became a mother of three children and realized total chaos was normal in every family with young children. If we are all fed, showered, and clothed, it is a successful day!”
Beth, California

“I never judged myself harshly. If I don’t love me, how can I expect anyone else to?”
Richard, Washington

[Get This Free Download: Rein in Intense ADHD Emotions]