Updated: Apr 17, 2022
Have you felt like a failure recently? Were you late for an important appointment, disappointed someone you care about, did you not meet your own expectations, messed up once again? Welcome to the club.
Are you adding insult to injury, though? Is your inner ADHD critic raging at you? And do you think this shaming is necessary, or else you'll do even worse? That somehow, your inner critic can motivate you to "do better next time" through shame? Read on for a kinder and more promising way to treat yourself.
To really stay motivated, retire your shaming inner critic and learn to cultivate an inner encourager instead. Because shame kills motivation.
stop shaming yourself
As you notice your most recent failure, pay attention to your harsh self-talk, your inner critic. Are you using self-shaming to try to motivate yourself? Do you feel that if you stop cracking the whip in your head, you'll become even more of a chaotic, unreliable, lazy slob or whatever you've been labeled since childhood?
When has that ever worked to motivate you? Has it made you any more consistent? Would you talk to anyone else the way you speak to yourself? To your unruly puppy? I didn't think so. Do you realize how much energy that nasty shamer in your mind takes?
Without going all psychobabble on you: that shaming inner voice developed in response to the negative feedback you got about your ADHD behavior. It tried to protect you from being shamed by others by berating yourself first. And in some perverse way, if we shame ourselves, it hurts a bit less than being shamed by our loved ones or other people we respect. At least then, it's under our own control. And the inner shamer has become a habit.
Instead, cultivate your Kind inner encourager
Thank your inner drill sergeant for its good intention and retire it. I know it's not that easy. The shamer has had free reign for decades and has built a highway in your brain. Neuroscience says that it's super hard, if not impossible, to get rid of such a hard-wired thinking habit. What works well, though, is replacing it with a new habit. It takes time, but it works.
So start kindly encouraging yourself in your head. Talk to yourself like you would to a frightened kitten that you're trying to get to come to you. I'm not kidding. Imagine the most patient, encouraging, positive, caring, and compassionate voice and use it on yourself. It may feel super weird, and you will forget and slip back into drill sergeant mode. Remember, you're building a footpath that will slowly become a road and, at some point, a highway in your brain.
Surround yourself with reminders to support your fledgling encourager
As it's super hard for us to build new habits, make it as easy for yourself as possible to remember to speak kindly to yourself. If you're visual, print out a few pictures, maybe of a kindly grandma, and stick them all over the place. Try post-it notes. Or link it to a scent. Or wear a piece of jewelry or a hairband around your wrist. Use your ADHD creativity.
Don't let the inner drill sergeant shame you for forgetting about your inner encourager. Just retire it again and start over. And over. And over. And over. And before you know it, you'll have a new habit of being much kinder to yourself.
What has helped you be kinder to yourself? To let go of your shame? To retire your inner critic? To allow your inner encourager to motivate you?
You may also want to read these posts about how our shame can keep us from asking for the help we need and toxic self-talk can keep us stuck in unhealthy situations and relationships.
Early maladaptive schemas in adult patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Philipsen A, Lam AP, Breit S, Lücke C, Müller HH, Matthies S. Atten Defic Hyperact Disord. 2017 doi:10.1007/s12402-016-0211-8 Link to publication mentioning shame in adults with ADHD