Why it’s Hard to Say “No” – For Women with ADHD

Mimi Handlin, MSW - ADHD Coach for Women
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When we are trying so hard to keep it together, sometimes taking on one more thing can lead to total stress and overwhelm. So why is it so hard to say no? Here are five reasons to think about that are especially relevant for women with ADHD:

Overcompensating for what you perceive as your failures. If you brought your kids to school late more times than not last week and have a pattern of forgetting to sign permission slips, you may unconsciously think something like: “If I volunteer to chaperone the field trip and bring homemade cookies to the planning meeting, maybe nobody will remember what I did wrong last week. (And this is even if you hate baking cookies and the thought of chaperoning all those kids gives you a migraine.)

You have a big heart and friends always call you first when they need a favor. It feels good to be able to help out and caring for other people is something you’re good at. Unfortunately, this can often lead to not having enough time to care for yourself!

Difficulty with planning and prioritizing. If time management is kind of a blur, it’s hard to know if you have time to take your friend to the airport or if you can handle a group of kids coming to your house after school.

Being constantly rushed. If your life is always hurried and harried, you probably don’t take time to think things through before you respond to a request or take on one more responsibility.

Worry that saying “No” will have negative consequences.  This is a common fear for women, ADD/ADHD or not. Most of us are raised to take care of other people and take on as much as we can to prove our worth. Will people still like us if we say no? Will we cause hurt to someone else by saying no even if saying yes will cause hurt to us?

There are a number of strategies we can use to help change this pattern, but one thing we can do right away is give ourselves permission to slow down and think it over. The next time someone asks for a favor, try saying, “It’s probably fine, but I’m not sure. Can I think about it and get back to you?” Then put it in your calendar to respond to their request by a certain time.  Remember that it’s OK to think about it. If you can, try to push that guilt away.

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