Late-Diagnosed ADHD and Shame

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

One of the most disruptive consequences of late-diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has got to be shame.

*Spoiler Alert* 

Whether it’s perceived or not, we have all felt the red-hot coil of public humiliation.

​The silence in the room after we’ve said the wrong thing, the realization that we’ve been talking too long or too loudly, hearing the words “relax” or “calm down” and my favourite, the endless self-reflection (or, worry spirals) that follows. 

As a child of the 90’s I recall teachers dealing with my inability to focus by moving my chair to the back of the class, outside in the hall or calling me out publicly, believing in their old school ways that shame would motivate me into compliance (it didn’t).  

​No matter what era you grew up in, each of us can recall a moment where our symptoms lead to a feeling of social rejection, we were unable to let go of,  no matter how much time had passed.  These moments can lead to anxiety or isolation, with many people with ADHD believing it better not to participate at all, than run the risk of shame.

Maybe we use substances in order to relax at a party, only for it to backfire and cause humiliation or dependency.

​Maybe we grew up so hyper-aware of criticism that we developed depressive symptoms, negative appraisals of self, or lashed out at loved ones.​For many, shame from a lifetime of these experiences – that weight in our bellies and minds –  carries us into the therapists’ office often exacerbated, overwhelmed and defeated

What can we do?

First, let’s start with accurate information.

It is with great disappointment that I inform you shame is a normal – as in expected – human emotion. In factsome researchers believe it’s atypical not to feel it at all. 

Like all emotion, it carries a function, one that discourages violations of social norms and promotes social functioning.

​If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that we are social beings who find ways to connect even when we are separated. It also taught us how powerful the expectation of following social norms is, and how we feel when we are in circles we don’t fit into.

​Unfortunately, shame can also act like a human appendix. Maybe there was a time when we needed it, maybe in some spaces it even works, but for most of us it brings a lot of pain and removing it would be a welcomed relief. 

Secondly, let’s talkself-compassion.

Researcher Brené Brown has made an academic study of shame her life’s work. From her perspective it’s empathy that is the antidote to shame and hiding it, staying quiet about it or being judged for it, only serves to strengthen it.

If you can speak about these experiences and find empathy from an external voice, like a trusted friend or a family member, shame subsides.  There is a lot of merit to giving empathy to yourself. 

Holding Brené Browns words in mind, empathy is an important tool and giving it to ourselves in the form of self-compassion could be just the medicine we need.  

Doing so is a lot easier said than done (as all things ADHD go). Maybe because many of us were raised to believe we should feel badly, that shame motivates change (now we know that isn’t true), and pressure equals glory.

In fact, research shows that for ADHD’ers behavioural change and positive reinforcement go together like peanut butter and jelly. This makes shame not only counter-intuitive, but detrimental to our growth, and adds a little extra spice to the importance of self-compassion. 

How Can We Do It?

There are a multitude of ways you can begin using self-compassion, and I encourage you to take a look at Kristen Neffs work for more. 

My own personal mantra is find what works for you. Maybe it’s a mindfulness practice, journaling, taking ten minutes in the mirror and saying hey hot stuff, I know we aren’t at our best right now, but I love you anyway.”  

Maybe it’s a nature walk while examining the words your inner bully has said that day, and asking yourself how true they actually are.  

Maybe you need to examine your environment and ask yourself if it’s working against you.

​Whatever the vehicle, if you can find yourself in a place of empathy,  use that everyday, and twice on Sundays. 

And if it gets a little tough, or its really hard to stick to something that has worked for you in the past (as it goes with ADHD), reaching out to a mental health professional for support can be transformational. 

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References

Brown, B. (2013, July 19). Listening to shame – brené brown . TedTalks. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jtZdSRst94 
Neff, K. (2013, February 6). The space between self-esteem and self compassion. Tedtalks. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4 
Okura, L. (2013, August 27). Watch: Dr. Brené Brown on why shame is ‘lethal’. HuffPost. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/brene-brown-
shame_n_3807115 
Stiles, L. (2018, December 17). Children with ADHD may adapt more poorly to changes in positive reinforcement patterns. Psychiatry Advisor. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from 
https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/adhd/children-with-adhd-may-adapt-more-poorly-to-changes-in-positive-reinforcement-patterns/#:~:text=Researchers%20found%20that%20children%20with,difficulty%20in%20recognizing%20unannounced%20changes 
​Terrizzi Jr., J. A., & Shook, N. J. (2020). On the origin of shame: Does shame emerge from an evolved disease-avoidance architecture? Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience14https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2020.00019

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Picture of Connie Marasco, H.BA, MACP

Connie Marasco, H.BA, MACP

Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) Connie is a Registered Psychotherapist (qualifying) and Certified Trauma Professional (CTP), providing virtual services to all of Ontario, and in-person in Bolton, ON. Connie is a firm believer in not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, especially in her work with ADHD clients. Contact Connie for more ADHD individual, or couples treatment.

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