Emotions & Shame

It’s Not as Bad as You Think

People with ADHD tend to “accentuate the negative,” says one expert. Pull yourself out of the muck and into the sunlight again by weeding out counter-productive thoughts. Here’s how.

A woman suffering from her own negative thinking.
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Negative Thinking, Negative Outcome

Everyone has negative thoughts from time to time, but most children, teens, and adults with ADHD engage in negative thinking more frequently. These thoughts come from other people’s mistaken judgments (“Why are you so lazy?”) and from themselves (“I can’t do anything right!”). Many children with ADHD carry these negative thought patterns into adulthood, which can lead to problems with mood, behavior, or anxiety.

Those with ADHD need to challenge their negative thinking.
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Challenge Your Brain

Negative thoughts are mostly automatic. They just happen. Whenever you notice these automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) you need to crush them or they will ruin your day. If you think, “My coworkers will probably think my presentation is terrible,” write it down, then write a positive response — something like, “My coworkers will like my speech and find it interesting.” When you talk back to your negative thoughts, you take away their power and help yourself feel better.

Woman watching the sunset, consumed by negative thoughts she should challenge.
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Nine Ways Our Thoughts Lie to Us

Our thoughts and feelings don’t always tell the truth. They often lie to us to make situations out to be worse than they really are. Identify the nine ways your thoughts lie to you to take away the power they have over you. My best advice is: Notice and exterminate negative thoughts whenever possible.

Man with ADHD struggles with negative thinking and all-or-nothing thoughts.
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All-or-Nothing Thoughts

This is when you may think something is all good or all bad. Examples include, “If I get an A on this test, I’m a great student. If I do poorly, then I’m no good at all.” When a child with ADHD says, “There’s nothing to do,” he feels down and upset, bored, and unmotivated to change the situation. But it isn’t rational. Even if it’s raining outside, he can probably list 20 things to do. If he doesn’t challenge the thought, he spends the day feeling crummy.

Man suffering from "always thinking" but it's not as bad as he thinks.
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“Always” Thinking

This type of thought is when you think something that happened will “always” repeat itself. Whenever you think in words like “always,” “never,” “no one,” “everyone,” or “every time,” you are engaging in “always” thinking. If your wife is irritable and gets upset, you might think to yourself, “She’s always yelling at me,” even though she yells only once in a while. But the thought is so negative that it makes you feel sad and upset. This is very common. Watch out for it.

Sad woman is focusing on the negative.
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Focusing on the Negative

This occurs when you see only the bad in a situation and ignore the good that might happen. If you have to move and you’re sad to leave your friends, you don’t think of the new places you’ll see and the new friends you’ll make. If you want to keep your mind healthy, focus on the good parts of your life a lot more than the bad parts.

Always predicting the worst possible outcome is common with ADHD, but destructive.
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Misreading the Future

This is where you predict the worst possible outcome to a situation. For example, before you have to give a speech in front of a class or work meeting, you might say to yourself, “Other people will laugh at me or think I’m stupid.” Just having this thought will make you feel nervous and upset. This type of thinking can do real damage to your chances for feeling good.

Man is being comforted due to negative thinking.
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Misreading Other People’s Minds

This happens when you believe you know what another person is thinking when they haven’t even told you. Many people assume they know what others are thinking, and more often than not it gets them into trouble. It is the major reason why people have trouble in relationships. I tell people, “Please don’t read my mind; I have enough trouble reading it myself!”

Woman's negative thinking needs to be questioned.
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Thinking with Your Feelings

This occurs when you believe your negative feelings without questioning them. Feelings are complex, and they sometimes lie to you. These types of thoughts usually start with the words “I feel….” For example, “I feel like you don’t love me,” “I feel stupid,” “I feel like a failure.” Whenever you have a strong negative feeling, check it out. Look for the evidence behind the feeling. Ask yourself, "Do I have real reasons to feel that way?"

Girl talks with upset friend about her guilt and negative thoughts.
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Guilty Thoughts

Guilt often causes you to do things you don’t want to do. These thoughts typically include words like “should,” “must,” “ought to,” or “have to.” For example, you might say to yourself, “I should be nice to my younger brother” or " I have to mow the lawn." Whenever we think that we "must" do something, it is human nature to not want to do it. It’s better to replace guilty thoughts with incentivizing ones, such as  “I want to do this” or “It would be helpful to do this.”

Stay away from labeling others negatively.
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Labeling Yourself and Others

When you attach a negative label to yourself or someone else, you sabotage your ability to take a clear look at that person or a situation. Negative labels are harmful. Whenever you call someone a spoiled brat, jerk, or idiot, you lump that person with all the other idiots you've ever known and don’t deal with them in a reasonable way. You begin to expect the worst of them or yourself. Stay away from negative labels.

Woman pointing her finger, blaming others.
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Blaming Thoughts

Negative thinkers have a strong tendency to blame other people when things go wrong. They take little responsibility for their problems. Typically you’ll hear statements from them like “It wasn’t my fault” or “That wouldn’t have happened if you had...” Whenever you blame someone else for the problems in your life, you become powerless to change anything. Stay away from blaming thoughts and take personal responsibility to change the problems you have.