Brain Health

Has ADHD Made Me Too Thin-Skinned for Social Media?

I’m hurt by Facebook, demoralized by Twitter, and envious on Instagram. Is social media making me feel bad about myself — or is a lifetime of ADHD-related hypersensitivity to blame for these daily blows to my self-esteem?

Neon thumbs up and thumbs down sign, similar to social media "like" buttons; social media can make people feel bad
Vector realistic isolated neon signs of thumbs up and down on the wall background. Concept of rating, network and social media.

I once thought that the biggest problem with losing myself online is that I’m wasting time and procrastinating my life away. I now know that there is deeper harm lurking on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media: the negative emotional effects and myriad of bad feelings brought on by a lifetime of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), hypersensitivity, and interpersonal slip-ups.

Every time I log in to Facebook and there’s no personal message, I die a little. If my thoughtful post isn’t noticed, it’s a letdown. If other people hijack a comment stream, I feel steamrollered. There’s also worry about privacy, even if it’s not me doing the worrying. Who can avoid noticing the anxious words of others?

As a child, before I was diagnosed with ADHD, I was humiliated by one social gaffe after another. My pre-diagnosis years might have been called 50 Shades of Red. Losing friends without knowing why, feeling like the family pariah — I thought that was behind me.

[Self-Test: Could You Have Emotional Hyperarousal?]

Not really. Facebook gives me a glut of opportunities to again live through those social disasters. Who will flame me? Who will call me out? Who will prove me wrong? Who will misinterpret my message? Whom will I offend? The countless complaints about updates, being unfriended by real friends, and the wonderful photos of everyone else leading charmed lives are all demoralizing to my self-esteem.

I have been logging in with not just a password, but with memories from a hypersensitive past. I need a psychological firewall to keep me from going down in flames.

I have ADHD and I am a highly sensitive person, so I need to rethink my relationship with social media, or any place online where I feel judged and measured. I have to tell myself that the only approval that counts is my own.

[It’s OK to Cry — and Other Lessons from a Sensitive Mom with ADHD]

Updated on May 6, 2019

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  1. This has been a really hard one for me, and I’ve gotten to a point where I’m pretty careful about commenting or even getting into a discussion that’s already heated or controversial. However, sometimes it happens, and I’m amazed at how easily some people are at striking out. They saw awful things without giving it a second thought.

    The one place I enjoy on FB is my ADHD group. People are supportive, kind and thoughtful. Whew!

  2. I don’t have adhd but am speaking to a counsellor for the umpteenth time here in the Uk next week.
    Isocial media is lpoison for me, as I am highly sensitive and feel only negative emotions including jelousy, I can actually be quite vicious and leave negative comments or just emojis under people’s pictures and videos, the vultures are quick to respond and tear me to pieces for daring to criticise their idol, I then delete my comments. I tend to be obsessive too, if I am jealous of someone I will keep looking at their account.
    I log in and out all day long and spend hours on it every day. I don’t have anyone from my past jobs/ education on my media. When I’m on a downer I can be very destructive and delete people, I then try to add them back, many don’t accept my invitation again. I keep following and unfollowing people, I delete my business and hobby page and then start over again, I should have thousands of followers by now. Because of my mood and procrastination I am not active on my media in a productive way, I am a freelance makeup artist and need to be updating pictures/ videos etc constantly by doing product reviews and networking with others but I just cant, I’m way behind others who started out in the industry after me.
    I get sick of all the women on there who flaunt themselves on there and are put on a pedestal, they are normal girls who are photogenic, wear tonnes of makeup and use photoshop, why do people still follow them? People are actually making a living out of social media. I don’t have a photogenic face or the confidence to do all of that. It burns me up to be quite honest.
    One girl is on holiday in the Maldives at the moment and she is literally updating her media every few minutes, I mean what kind of holiday is that ?
    I seriously need to get a website and delete my media or just leave a few photos on there and delete the apps from my phone. Why do I struggle with this so much, other people are not like this.

    1. I’m not sure why you are so obsessed with social media, but I think you are smart to see a therapist. Caring that much about people you don’t know is not good for you, but you obviously know that. I truly hope you can get some help! And thanks for being so honest.

  3. Hi Zoë,

    So brave of you to write about this. It is an important issue. I cannot fully appreciate how you feel or know how accurate my interpretation is but I hope this will help. I have ADHD and am a psychologist…

    First, it’s important to understand that problems such as procrastination and low self-esteem are often a. responses to past or current events and b. perpetuate the anxiety and feelings of guilt, regret and shame are associated with those.

    Two aspects you mentioned, sensitivity to past events and seeking approval. Adult experiences of ADHD are almost trauma-like in nature. Intense childhood emotional experiences, particularly negative ones persist because the visual and emotional aspects are ingrained in our thinking system.

    Because these past experiences have not been resolved, they live in the present, the ‘now’.

    Ironically, we can use coping strategies that keep us ‘stuck in a time loop’, reliving and reinforcing the problem.

    (It’s not surprising that my own clinical psychologist assessed me for PTSD after my ADHD diagnosis).

    I cannot be sure, but it seems you might be describing using social media, perhaps subconsciously, as your coping strategy to try to resolve the issues (approval seeking). Of course, the approval never comes and the subsequent negative feelings and behaviours are possibly the consequence which emotionally compels you to repeat the process over and over again. In other words, you need to seek that resolution (approval) elsewhere.

    To add, this can be a dangerous realisation.

    I do not wish to be alarmist, but is people seeking alternative coping strategies without guidance, can quickly progress to more serious forms such as alcohol, drugs, sex, food, and over-exercising.

    If this all seems sensible to you, I do suggest seeking the help of a professional. It seems you might need to work through the post events first and then learn new coping skills for the present.

    Talking to someone that works both in psychodynamic and cognitive behavioural therapy would be a start.

    I hope this helps. In any case, big hug!

    Kind regards,

    Gary Bradley, PhD.

    1. Thanks, Zoe for this article and thanks also Gary for your reply! This definitely speaks to me in SO many ways! Even though i am not extremely impulsive in my (outward)reactions on social media i do feel that a lot of difficult feelings get triggered (so lots of inward reactions instead). I have lately been thinking of returning to a new therapeutic process and that would definitively be one of the topics that i’d like to bring up there. The advice to look for therapy from an angle of a) psychodynamic work and b) cbt sounds very interesting, although i fear it is not really easy to find someone. If you have any hints on how to structure my search i’d be very happy (writing from germany here, by the way – which probably makes it rather difficult to say anything helpful). I do have a lot of therapeutic experience already (two or three good ones and some very bad ones…) – which doesn’t make the search for a fit easier, unfortunately… nevertheless. i might just try and ask. And if it’s not possible to give any hints, at least i want to say it feels encouraging to sense a resonance with others, that face similar challenges… !

  4. You may feel differently if you join interest related groups within social media, instead of friend-to-friend socializing. For example, I share some of your challenges, and have found that groups that support my interests are real opportunities to share information, not adulation. For example, I love mini-dachshunds (from a childhood pet), so naturally I’ve been drawn to a bunch of dachshund related groups (try Hoagie and Friends); gardening is a hobby for me, and I have discovered a group for people who like to grow tomatoes from seed, another for people who want to swap seeds; I’m also enthusiastic about presidential politics, so I’ve joined groups for supporters of my favorite candidate. To find groups that may appeal to you, simply use the search field and plug in any interest you can think of! Similarly, if you read the online news, and come across an article that you find important or particularly interesting, this presents an excellent opportunity for sharing, as well as for feedback and discussion. Find your niche, and I think you will begin to enjoy a different angle on social media. When you find yourself reacting with anxiety, pause and ask yourself “what am I really feeling, what might this feeling be linked to, and then later consider today is a worthy time for a new positive experience, perhaps there, or elsewhere on social media/in person. Growth comes from self-reflection about our feelings, and from forging new experiences! Remember, online, you always have the power to “not respond,” to unplug, and perhaps to explore again later for something positive and rewarding!

  5. I can relate to this. For whatever reason, i always let the opinions of strangers get to me, including those on social media. I end up feeling personally attacked by very little things and social media is not healthy for that at all. Thanks for posting,its really reassuring to see people putting themselves out there, even writing this comment is making me feel doubtful of myself lol.

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