Updated: Apr 17, 2022
Adults with ADHD are often surprisingly resistant to getting support or making positive changes. Life has been challenging for so long that ease seems impossible even to imagine. Shame is toxic, makes us feel undeserving, and therefore keeps us stuck.
Read on to see how shame is keeping you from asking for the help you need. Discover how to overcome your limiting beliefs, accept, craft, and ask for help, accommodations, and workarounds. Because more ease is possible, even for people with ADHD. More ease means more capacity to be your best self. And the world needs your creative, curious, spunky, and kind energy more than ever.
Why do we stay stuck in the status quo?
It is mind-boggling what adults with ADHD will tolerate, me included. We struggle to get help. We don't even attempt to make positive changes. We accept that our life is a mess, or our apartment, or our car, or our relationships.
We let others judge us, belittle us, make fun of our challenges. Who of us hasn't heard a comment like "Yeah, nobody likes doing .... (insert random mundane task), that's just part of being an adult, no reason to make a fuss!"? Or what about this charming nugget: "You can't possibly have forgotten this again? This just shows that you don't care!"?
From toxic ADHD shame to learned helplessness
ADHD takes its toll on our feelings of self-efficacy. We set out to do something and forget. We manage to do something once, even a few times, and then it slips back off our radar.
Sure, we're often really good at tasks that interest us. But our never-ending struggles with the mundane, with tasks that neurotypicals consider no big deal, gradually erode our feelings of agency.
We don't even need the negative feedback from those around us to feel deep shame. We already beat up on ourselves for not meeting our own standards. So we lower those. And accept the snarky comments, feeling we deserve them.
At some point, we lose hope that we deserve any better, that we can do better. We stop trying. We settle for exhausting, messy, chaotic. Shame. So much shame.
Self-acceptance will set you free - you do deserve more ease
But wait, please don't despair. There is another way. It all starts with self-acceptance. Learning about ADHD in general and how it affects you. Impairs you even. Gives you superpowers, too, of course. But makes supposedly "easy" things? So. Hard.
Despite what others may have told you all your life - clueless friends and loved ones, uninformed teachers, medical professionals not up to date on mental health research, yet feeling no shame about the gaping hole in their knowledge - your ADHD is not a character flaw. It's not enough to "try harder" - in fact, "trying harder" sets you on the path to burning out.
Your brain is just wired differently. That's not an excuse. It's just a biological fact. Like being too short to reach the top shelf at work despite being all grown-up. Like still requiring contacts, just as you've needed glasses since first grade.
Ponder that for a second, please. Let it sink in.
Asking for and accepting help
Self-acceptance enables us to ask for and accept help. What is your footstool to reach the top shelf, your contacts or glasses to be able to see?
Start a list of the things that are difficult for you. No judging. No shoulding. Just objectively track what takes inordinate amounts of your energy or time.
Now figure out what help is available for these things. You may want to accept the help of a non-judgemental peer or coach for this task of finding your team of helpers.
One word of caution: you do not want to overburden the (neurotypical) loved ones in your life who may already be carrying too much. This is a great time for them to take stock as well. Many tasks are better outsourced to professionals. It may even be worth taking on extra work to pay for outside help.
Less guilt means more ease means more energy and more quality of life.
Crafting workarounds for your ADHD
For those issues or tasks where no help is available, craft ADHD-friendly support structures and workarounds. Again, a caring peer or coach can help immensely.
Use your creativity superpowers. Make boring things fun by adding silly rewards, racing against the clock, turning things into games. Don't try harder; try smarter.
Self-advocacy and asking for accommodations
Now we're left with a subject many of us would like to avoid, even once we're far along on our path to self-acceptance: setting boundaries, standing up for ourselves, and asking for the accommodations we need.
We may find that we've allowed others to treat us like incompetent children. Possibly even our partners, close friends, or people at work. This dynamic can be changed but may require the help of a coach, counselor, or even a therapist. Get the help you need here. Take it slow and trust that your life can be better.
Living your strengths
So what to do with the ease and energy you gain by letting go of your shame, accepting yourself, and finally asking for and getting the help, support, and accommodations you need to thrive?
Use your strengths. Live your ADHD superpowers. Let your creative side shine. This may not only change your life but your loved ones' lives too. How much nicer to go out on an adventure you devised than to bicker about housework?
More posts you may find useful:
How to speak to yourself more kindly and stop toxic self-talk - it may keep you stuck in unhealthy relationships or situations
And it helps to remember that with ADHD, we're consistently inconsistent and that's ok
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 Link to publication showing shame in adults with ADHD