Women with ADHD: Turning Shame into Acceptance and Self-Compassion

Women with ADHD
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If you’re struggling with the symptoms of ADHD, do you relentlessly compare yourself to other women? Do you feel like you can’t come close to what they accomplish or, even worse, blame yourself because things seem so much easier for everyone else?

I think that all of us, ADHD or not, have a tendency to get down on ourselves if we feel we aren’t meeting the expectations of our family and community. And when ADHD is in the picture, this tendency is even stronger. We worry about so many things – disappointing a loved one, forgetting appointments and commitments, someone seeing our clutter, saying the wrong thing, burning the dinner. . .

After coaching hundreds of women through the years, almost all of my clients have told me about the shame they feel. Most also worry about being judged and criticized, especially if they weren’t diagnosed until adulthood.

If you were like the majority of girls with ADHD, you probably experienced your symptoms internally by being distracted, scattered, forgetful, and disorganized. You may have been able to hide your symptoms for years because a quiet girl lost in her own thoughts will not be noticed as much as a hyperactive and acting out boy.

When you got a little older and ADHD started to negatively impact your life at home and school, the people around you may have been more inclined to blame you or look at your difficulties as a character flaw or defect. It’s common for even well-meaning parents and teachers to say things like, “You just need to pay attention!” Or, “You need to buckle down and try harder!”

This wasn’t really their fault because the diagnosis of ADHD in girls and women was a relatively recent phenomenon. But, after all those years of internalizing other people’s ideas of what was going on with you, those feelings of shame and self-blame may have become a part of your sense of self. They can be persistent and don’t just leave because we want them to.

If you feel like you can relate to the above, here are five ideas that could help you on the path of turning your shame into acceptance and self-compassion.

  • Learn as much as you can about the brain wiring of ADHD. You’ll have some Aha! moments when you understand why certain things are harder for you and you may even come to finally realize that none of it is your fault. And it is real.
  • You are unique and being unique is not bad. Our society does not like “different” in any way, shape, or form. We’ve been programmed to believe that being different means there is something wrong with us. Know that it’s the programming that is wrong, not you! Once you learn to better manage your life with ADHD, it will be easier to accept and even embrace the parts of you that are unique and wonderful, allowing the good stuff to shine through.
  • Find ways to connect with other women who have ADHD. It’s an amazing feeling to talk with others who have similar challenges. You may find yourself laughing at things that had you in tears before because you won’t feel alone. You’ll find other women who are frequently late because they keep running back into the house to get things they forgot. (And then forget what they forgot) You’ll find other women who can relate to almost everything you’re going through and that connection can help you feel less isolated and even better about yourself.
  • Self-compassion means treating yourself as you would a good friend or someone you love. It also means realizing that none of us are perfect and we aren’t supposed to be. Life is a journey of becoming the best person we can be and wherever we are in that journey is OK. We are all doing the best we can. It’s not easy, but see if you can develop a new relationship with yourself where your self-talk is kind and understanding instead of critical and mean.
  • Try to pay attention every day to the things that go right and the good things you do. These can range from completing an assignment to remembering what you needed at the store to going for a walk to planting a flower to calling a friend or family member. Maybe even write them down at the end of the day. It’s human nature to only remember our mistakes or what we didn’t get done. Make a special effort to pat yourself on the back with this gift of acknowledgement. You deserve it!
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