Emotions & Shame

Neutralize Chronic Shame by Understanding Its Source

Few adults with ADHD are strangers to chronic shame – whether stemming from the decision
to take medication, ruthless personal comparisons and unhealthy self-talk, or doubt regarding the
legitimacy of your own diagnosis. Understanding the seeds of ADHD shame is the first step toward
rendering it powerless.

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The Seeds of Chronic ADHD Shame

Shame isn’t specific to individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), but it is certainly intensified by ADHD. Shame is more than embarrassment; it’s a sinking, sickening feeling. As one ADDitude reader said, “A lifetime of missed chances, bad first impressions, poor social skills, plus being too loud, too annoying, too honest, and just too much has left me with broken hope, broken dreams, and a broken heart.” Where does this chronic shame originate? Understanding the sources of shame can help adults with ADHD overcome these self-loathing and self-sabotaging narratives.

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Chronic Shame Source #1: Stigma of ADHD

Problem: ADHD is a neurobiological disorder well documented by the scientific community. Still, too many people harbor the misperception that there is something dark and insidious – almost evil – about an issue with your brain. Society’s relentless stigma, bigotry, and ignorance leads many to believe that there’s something inherently wrong with them. There is not.

Solution: Educate yourself about the neuroscience of ADHD. ADHD is a complex brain disorder that impacts approximately 11% of children and almost 5% of adults in the U.S. What you don’t know can hurt you – and it probably already has.

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Chronic Shame Source #2: Doubting the Legitimacy of ADHD

Problem: Skepticism about the validity of ADHD (especially in adults) originates from strangers but also friends and family. Some people hear it so often that they begin to doubt their own diagnosis; individuals with ADHD are harder on themselves than is anyone else. Almost all adults with ADHD feel a constant pressure to “get your act together” so their symptoms remain hidden.

Solution: Familiarize yourself with the most common ADHD myths and the facts to dispel them. Confronting hostility toward and ignorance of ADHD with wit and authenticity can educate naysayers and change minds.

[Get This Free Download: How to Respond to ADHD Doubters]

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Chronic Shame Source #3: The Decision to Medicate

Problem: It feels as if you are damned if you do take ADHD medication – “You’ll turn into a druggie!”– and shamed if you don’t – “Oh, you think you can just deal with your ADHD on your own? Look how that’s worked out so far.” The benefits of ADHD medication are enough to supersede the shame for many people, but not everyone.

Solution: Listen to your doctor. A trusted healthcare professional is the only opinion, aside from your own, that should matter when it comes to medication. You know your body best, and an ongoing conversation with an ADHD specialist (such as a psychiatrist, developmental pediatrician, or neurologist) will help determine the best ADHD treatment for you.

People hands holding money. Business concept. Vector illustration.
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Chronic Shame Source #5: Impulsive Spending and Money Woes

Problem: Adults with ADHD can go overboard on spending. The shame of ADHD crops up in monthly credit card statements (which you hide from partners or spouses). This problem is compounded by the fact that you often don’t make as much money as you “should” or “could.” Hiding these money woes feels like the only option, but it ends up perpetuating secret shame.

Solution: Take advantage of money-management tools. There are plenty of free apps and sites that can help you pay bills on time, stick to a budget, and shop smarter.

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Chronic Shame Source #6: ADHD and Lying

Problem: The conversation around ADHD and lying typically focuses on children, but adults with ADHD also have a tendency to lie – and hate themselves for it:”I lie about situations that are too difficult to face. I lie about mistakes and then people don’t trust me.”

Solution: Let in the light. Shame grows in isolation and secrecy – the first step is to step into the light and share your secret with someone else. This does require vulnerability, but it’s better to come forth with your lie sooner rather than later, especially in the context of work. If you can, choose to tell someone who you feel won’t judge you.

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Chronic Shame Source #7: Being “Too Much”

Problems: Adults with ADHD live in fear of being “too much” – of overacting and being too emotional or talking too much and embarrassing themselves.

Solution: Reframe your negative self-talk. ADHD makes you a criticism magnet – if there is any floating around, you grab it because you think you deserve it! Instead of taking on that free-floating criticism, reframe the moment and notice when the words from the other person are not critical, but instructive.

[Click to Read: How to Silence Your Harshest Critic - Yourself]

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Chronic Shame Source #8: ADHD Self-Hate

Problem: Living with ADHD means embracing that you will screw up, and that sometimes it will feel like you screw up a lot more than other people. Self-loathing inevitably arises from repeating the same mistakes over and over again, losing things over and over again, and feeling hopelessly incapable of succeeding at even the simplest of tasks.

Solution: Know your triggers: Is it someone raising their eyebrows because you are late? Is it someone laughing (and you’re sure they are laughing at you)? Is it having your ADHD dismissed and discounted by someone you like or love? Above all else, forgive yourself for missteps made with good intentions – you did the best you could given the information and ability you had at the time!

The content for this slideshow came from Linda Roggli's webinar, "The Adult Guide To Shedding ADHD Shame.You can watch the replay here

Chronic Shame and ADHD: Next Steps


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