ADHD and Assertiveness

In order to be a happy, healthy adult living with ADHD, an important skill to develop is assertiveness. When you are assertive, you are able to express your needs and feelings in a firm and polite way without hurting others. Common feedback I hear when I suggest learning to be assertive is, ‘Oh, but I don’t want to be too assertive’. The good news, it’s not possible to become ‘too assertive’, because then, you become aggressive, which isn’t our aim.

If we think of a scale from 1 to 10; 1 is passive and self-sacrificing, 5 is healthy and assertive, and 10 is inconsiderate, arrogant and self-centred. This gives a nice visual to show that you can’t be too assertive because then, you move away from being assertive and into the arrogant and demanding terrain.

Wikipedia describes assertiveness as:

‘Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive.’

One of the reasons why learning to be assertive is important when you have ADHD is to reduce angry outbursts. Anger is a common problem with ADDers. Clients often come and see me because their anger outbursts are getting them in trouble at work, at home and in traffic.

Many ADDers feel bad about themselves, feel that they are disappointing the people in their lives and have low-confidence. So they suppress their feelings and needs, and their general default mode is self-sacrificing (1 on the scale). However, this is dangerous, because resentment grows under the surface and then something happens and ‘all of sudden’, they fly into an angry rage. Some people don’t get angry; instead, they are depressed, anxious and feel stuck. If you are practicing assertiveness and are communicating your needs in a timely manner, then you will neither have rage or depression.

Benefits of being assertive are:

1) Feeling empowered. You know you can take care of yourself in all situations
2) Feel connected to others; instead of resentful or fearful
3) Less stressed
4) Increased physical health
5) Increased mental health Ex. Less depression
6) Improved relations with everyone in your life
7) Less conflicts
8) Less anger outbursts
9) Feel ok if someone has a different opinion to you (you don’t take it personally)
10) Reduced feelings of being walked over or taken for granted

Becoming assertive is a learnable skill, involving communication skills, personal boundaries and knowing that your feelings count.

Here are 6 steps for assertive communication:

1) Get clear on how you feel before you start communicating. If being assertive is new to you, you might need to take time beforehand, to get clear on this before you communicate.
This can be hard for ADDers because they don’t know if it’s ‘ok’ to feel like this or if it’s acceptable.

Part of becoming assertive also means developing confidence in your feelings. If you feel it, it’s real. You don’t have to back up your feelings with stats, you just have to know that if you feel happy, sad, frustrated, etc. it’s real and you are honoring those feelings by being assertive.

2) Use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’. You aren’t trying to blame others; rather, you are expressing how you feel. For example, don’t say ‘you make me feel…’ instead, say ‘I feel…’

3) Use non-verbal communication as well as verbal. Maintain eye contact and an open body posture.

4) Talk calmly in a clear voice. Don’t shout , get angry or whisper.

5) Listen to the other person, even if you don’t like what they are saying.

6) Throughout the communication, remember one of the key goals of assertiveness is to stand up for your needs so that you aren’t being taken for granted or bullied by others.

When you start to practice assertive skills, you are shaking up what is normal for you. It can feel scary. However, the benefits are definitely worth it in the long run.

Here is another article about ADHD and assertiveness.

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  1. Kumara says:

    I’m working on this. Eye-contact while being assertive is still hard to do. Any tips? Any mid-way goal to that?

  2. Steve says:

    Having been married to an extremely assertive and dominant woman for almost 20 years I found that I had lost who I was.
    In the few years since my divorce I have found myself being extremely dominant, overbearing and angry in many situations, as well as not being able to hear what the other person is saying. So right now I think I must be lying at around a 10 on your scale. I just don’t recognise myself as the person I used to be. But I’m not sure how to explain this behaviour to other people, especially if they don’t buy into the possibility that I may be ADHD.
    I am so grateful that I have discovered your site Jacqueline.

  3. Ken May says:

    As usual great article. This was for me very timely and helpful. Thanks so very much for all of your tips. You’re a super wordsmith.

  4. stephanie says:

    This is great advice! I just recently found that I’ve been able to be more assertive at my job, and the payoff is great… I feel more confident and have more overall job satisfaction. Confidence at work has long been a huge issue of mine, but in switching jobs, I decided it was time to try a new approach. This whole assertiveness thing is awesome and has been a career-saver for me! I am okay with differing opinions because I now know my opinion has been heard. Before this, I often felt my opinions were overlooked, and thus felt pretty useless on the job.

    • Hi Stephanie
      I was thrilled to hear that being more assertive at work is helping! Having more confidence is a wonderful thing! its not pleasant to feel unheard and usually when that happens all sorts of other pleasant feelings can occur such as feeling unappreciated, that you don’t matter…which can then effect your self esteem. So brilliant news you have changed all that. High fives Stephanie!!!

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