Today’s blog post will focus on the SHAME & ADHD (the “S” of S.P.I.N”) Tomorrow’s blog will focus on P – Pessimism and Negativity.
SHAME: The older you get, the more shame you are apt to feel if your ADHD is undiagnosed. You feel ashamed of what a mess your pocketbook always is in. You feel ashamed of how late you usually are, no matter how hard you try not to be. You feel ashamed that you haven’t made more of the abilities you were born with.
The shame may penetrate to deeper levels. You may feel ashamed of your thoughts, desires, and predilections. You may feel the only way you can be accepted is by putting on a mask, and that the real you is fundamentally flawed.
Such shame is toxic. It is also traumatic. It raises your stress hormone levels and eventually corrodes your memory and executive functions. While your fifth grade school teacher may have planted the roots of that shame, you are now the one who intensifies it. You imagine harsh judges everywhere, as if the world were swarming with strict fifth grade school teachers. You project the harsh judgments you are making of yourself out onto everyone you meet. Soon the world becomes like a huge set of judgmental eyes, looming down on you, and your only option is to hide.
With a therapist, with a friend, with a spouse—with someone, because it is all but impossible to do this alone—you need to talk through or “confess” what you take to be your sins. As you do this, you will discover that they are not nearly as bad in the eyes of others as they are in your eyes. It is all right that you have messes. People enjoy your unpredictable remarks, and those who don’t can look elsewhere for friends. It is all right that you are late. Sure, it would be good to try to be on time, but as long as people know you are not just blowing them off, they can forgive lateness. If they can’t, you don’t need them as friends, either. How boring it would be if everyone were “normal.” Where would Monty Python or Mel Brooks have come from? Remember, what is strange today becomes truth or art tomorrow.
Not only does shame hurt, it also is the chief cause of a huge problem in adults who have ADHD, namely, the inability to feel good about their achievements. It is common for ADHD adults to be all but impervious to positive remarks. Whatever they have legitimately achieved they feel must have been done by someone else, or by accident.
One of the main reasons adults with ADHD can’t take pleasure in their own successes and creations is, simply, shame. They feel too ashamed to feel good. They feel too defective to feel nourished. They feel it is practically immoral to feel proud of themselves. Healthy pride is such an alien emotion that they have to look back into the dim recesses of their childhoods to find the last time they felt proud of themselves, if they can find an instance even then.
Shame prevents you from allowing your best self to emerge. Shame gets in the way of every forward step you try to take. You call a business and instead of asking to speak to the president or person in charge, you figure you’re too small potatoes for them, so you speak to an underling who can do nothing for you. You apply for a job, but instead of making a strong case for what you can do for the company, you present a self-effacing persona that is charming, but uninspiring. You go shopping for clothes and pick outfits that allow you to recede into the background as much as possible. You shake hands, but have trouble making strong eye contact. You want to ask a question at a lecture, but you fear that your question is a stupid one. You have a bright idea, but you don’t do anything with it because you figure it must not be that good if you thought of it. You do all the work on a project, then don’t speak up when someone else gets credit for what you’ve done. When someone doesn’t call you back, you assume it was because they found you lacking in some way. And on, and on.
Try as best you can to override your feelings of shame. When you shake hands, make eye contact and give a strong handshake, even if you feel second-rate. When someone doesn’t call you back, assume they’re simply too busy and give them a call. If, indeed, they do find you lacking and reject you, don’t internalize their judgment. Look elsewhere. You don’t want someone who rejects you, anyway. And remember, rejection in one place is just the first step on the way to acceptance somewhere else, unless you let that first rejection stop you.
It is heartbreaking to watch an adult contribute wonderfully to the world, only to feel every day as if she hadn’t. It is painful to watch an adult work hard and do much good, only to feel as if someone else had done it.
To allow the adult who has ADHD to take deserved pleasure and pride in what he has done, he needs to detoxify the shame that has plagued him for years.
To detoxify his shame, he needs to engage in a deliberate, prolonged process. It will take some time. But it can and should be done. As long as he feels intense shame, he will never feel the kind of joy in life that he has every right to feel. He will stay stuck in a painful place. Instead, with someone else’s help, he can work toward accepting and enjoying his true self.
If you struggle with this issue, you should try to get rid of the people in your life who disapprove of you or don’t like or love you for who you are. Get rid of or avoid the people who are overly critical of you rather than accepting of you. Get rid of the harsh fifth grade school teachers in your life—and within yourself.
Getting rid of that witch within you will be a lot easier if you get rid of the ones who surround you. Your shame has allowed them to stay. You have felt that’s what you need—daily reprimands, daily belittlements, daily control. But that’s the opposite of what you need. It’s your shame that’s let those people into your life. Your determination not to be ruled by shame any longer will send them away.
You need acceptance. You need people who see the best in you and want to help you develop that. As you surround yourself more and more with people who see more good in you than you see in yourself, the frightened, ashamed you will start to feel less afraid, less ashamed, and you will dare to feel proud, a little bit at a time.
Check back tomorrow to learn about Pessimism and Negativity.