Are people with ADHD more self-centered than the rest of the population? Probably not. However, some of the characteristics of ADHD can give the appearance of being self-centered. As annoying as these characteristics might be to your loved ones and friends, they don’t stem from a mean or selfish place.
- Don’t Follow Traditional Rules
A very attractive quality ADHDers have, is seeing things differently from the rest of the world. You see things with fresh. inquisitive eyes. This is how ADHD entrepreneurs become wildly successful. When people spend time with you, it feels exciting, empowering and that anything is possible.
The downside of this characteristic when someone wants you to follow a conventional rule and you don’t want to, is that it can appear self-centered. For example, your wife might want you to wear a suit to a wedding that you are attending.
Conventional thought is:
a.) It’s standard dress code for a wedding,
b.) Everyone else will be wearing one, and
c.) It shows the couple respect and that you care.
You on the other hand time think:
1.) Suits are itchy and that makes me grumpy,
2.) I don’t feel myself in a suit; it makes me feel restrained and changes my personality,
3.) Why would I want to look like everyone else, and
4.) Of course they know I care; I wouldn’t be going to the wedding if I didn’t.
- Extreme Self-Care
An ADHD friendly diet, daily exercise, meditation and 8 hours of sleep, all help reduce the negative aspects of ADHD. However, those things take time, every day; time you can’t be with and do things for people in your life. Rigidly following these things are as important as taking medicine. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it from this point of view. They might say, ‘one day doesn’t matter,’ but it does! In our society, we place high value on doing things for others; doing things for yourself is seen as selfish.
- Advanced Planning
Sometimes ADHDers are impulsive but sometimes, you need to mentally prepare yourself before starting something. This is particularly true for the tasks that aren’t fun. Suppose you and your partner have a plan to go grocery shopping at 10am on Saturday morning. But they are ready earlier, it seems plausible for them to say ‘Hey, let’s go now’.
However, for you, it’s not such an easy request. You had mentally prepared to leave at 10am, and had primed your brain to transition from what you are doing to the new activity at 10am. If you are forced to change your plans, you can’t help but be grumpy and annoyed. To your partner, it looks strange that you can’t move away from Facebook to accommodate them.
Some ADHDers really struggle with communication skills. Here are some common things that people perceive as being self-centered:
– Interrupting a person to share a thought that popped into your mind. You wanted to share it straight away; otherwise, you would have forgotten it by the time they had finished talking.
– If a conversation is boring you, abruptly changing it to a topic that is interesting.
– When you are talking, you look at the other person. However, when they are talking you, you find it hard to look at them, so you look away, out of the window, etc.; all signs that indicate that they are boring you.
– If there is a gap in the conversation, you fill it. Often, you don’t want to be talking about what you are talking about, but you can’t seem to stop.
- Protecting Yourself
Growing up with ADHD diagnosed or not, is hard. You get more rejections, put-downs and disappointments than your non-ADHD peers. As an adult, this can result in a high wall of emotional protection. When you are trying to protect yourself from getting hurt and rejected, you behave in ways that look distant: unhelpful, uncaring, and well, self-centered.
- Time Management
ADHDers aren’t naturally good at time management. A classic ADHDer behaviour is arriving late, unprepared, and unable to plan into the future. These are all things that people interpret as not caring and being self-absorbed.
- Poor memory
Like time management, memory is also one of the executive functions that causes problems in ADHDers’ lives. Remembering birthdays, personal details, etc. are things people attribute to you caring about them. When you don’t remember, the conclusion is that you don’t care because you’re too busy thinking about yourself! What people don’t know is: you have to work very hard to do ‘simple’ daily things that they do without thinking.
Have you ever been called ‘Self-Centered?’ Leave a note for me in the comment section below.
This is a great, really accurate article. When dealing with other people, I often feel like I’m on a tightrope, concentrating so hard not to fall off, ie make ADHDer ‘mistakes’, that I’m exhausted. Which makes me withdraw more and the tightrope snaps completely.
I’ve been called selfish before and sometimes I haven’t even understood what it is I’m ‘supposed’ to do. I’m 51, diagnosed last year, and over the years I’ve become a real people-pleaser to ward off these suggestions. I can’t say no, take on too much work, always cheerful and don’t complain about problems. I think of things in terms of ‘what should I do?’ rather than ‘what do I want to do?’ This means I’m constantly trying to juggle two thought processes at once – being present and working out what to do – and it probably makes me seem fake to others.
If I knew someone is having ADHD and they also show all of these qualities, I would completely understand their position. How would I do that? By reading and getting to know about the basics of ADHD. I have had close family members suffer from ADHD and I would agree, at first when I didn’t know what makes them behave that way, I found them rude and cold. But they are not rude and cold, they just have a lot going on in their mind.
They plan a lot because while everyone else finds it easy peasy to juggle between different tasks and do them well without feeling exhausted. While the same tasks are difficult to complete for ADHDers.
If ADHDer become lazy and give up their extreme self-care routine, their mental health starts to go down and they don’t feel good about themself. It is important for their sanity. I really hope people read about all the myths circulating about ADHD and know everything about it so they don’t hurt someone with ADHD unintentionally. you can read something like this to make yourself aware https://ezcareclinic.com/debunking-9-myths-about-adhd/. They need a lot of love, care and affection to feel better so do so generously.
For a couple years as a teenager, my previously loving and nice father started to lecture me about how I was self-absorbed and that I was taking advantage of him. The main conflict we had is that he would offer to give me a ride somewhere and then I would be late getting ready. He would wait around for me and obviously his anger was simmering. It never occurred to him to talk to me about strategies for getting ready on time, perhaps because it wasn’t an issue for him. He never set any time limit either, like if you’re not ready within 15 minutes then I won’t drive you. He didn’t set a boundary and just got angry and held on to that anger until he finally started lecturing me. That was the first time I ever felt suicidal. I even told my mom that his lectures were making me feel suicidal, and he may have stopped, I can’t recall exactly. And once I moved out of the house for college, he went back to being nice, I guess because I was no longer living with him and getting on his nerves. Now as an adult who is understanding my lifelong ADHD, I can see how he was avoiding his role as the parent to help guide me. It was bad timing for him to suddenly withdraw his emotional support at the same time that I was struggling with being a social outcast in school. He has apologized for “being hard on me” during that time.
All of my life, I’ve been misdiagnosed with almost every mental disorder out there. At age 56, found out that I’ve had ADHD all my life. Now at age 58, I’ve finally accepted my diagnosis. Yes, I live the life described in the opening comment. My brother called me a lot of harsh words this past week, can’t mention all of the nasty words he said, but he did yell and, call me a spoiled, selfish little b—h, even though he knows I have an ADHD brain, and his own son has it as well. It really hurt me for a few days, and I catch myself hearing those words. Sure hope my marinating over this will stop soon? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated?
Thank you kindly for letting me share my thoughts.
Perhaps send him some things that will educate him on ADHD. The more we learned about ADHD the more we understand people especially the ones we love.
My daughter & I have difficulties getting along. Whether she means to be or not, she can say extremely mean things in a “mean” voice or with “mean” body language. On one of our last unpleasant encounters………..she told me I was just too self-centered…….I only cared about myself. BTW…….I am 76 years old, and was only diagnosed with ADD within the last couple of years. Since her oldest son has been diagnosed with ADD….she has been learning. Another things she mentioned that for a long time, she thought I was a narcissist……but maybe I was just ADD. That hasn’t really stopped her from saying mean things, but I do think she is doing better. She acknowledged that she might be a bit ADD also. I think the reason I was never diagnosed before Is that I did extremely well academically……….plus was never physcially super active. I do hyper focus…..and have a very difficult time “changing gears.”
I’ve definitely felt the poor memory part of ADD/ ADHD . I once sent a friend a birthday card that the age was wrong. She’s a good sport and said I’ll just already have my card for next year. I’m also bad about remembering other stuff I can’t tell you how many things I’ve done at midnight than I can count. I’ve also used a timer to make sure I did my laundry and not forgotten to put it away.
I have ADHD and I was hoping there was a more positive explanation for why I can seem self centered. This is perfect and so relatable. Especially number 5, I think the frequent daily failures that come with having ADHD tends to make me hyperfocus on what I’m doing and what others think of what I’m doing in a desperate attempt to prevent myself from making more mistakes. This requires a lot of self focused attention; and can really interfere with my productivity and my relationships. Because if you think about it in relationships with other people you share your experiences with life and they share theirs. When there’s commonality, a connection is made. So what happens if the only experience you have to share is your experience of protecting yourself from your pain? You probably will find it hard to make a connection that will lead to fulfilling relationships (unless you meet someone who does the exact same thing I guess).
For example let’s say the person who spends hours hyperfocused on planning their workday the night before sits down at lunch with a coworker. Their coworker tells the person about a cool concert they went to the night before and their love of indie rock. This person could say they also happen to like indie rock but they can’t say they remember the last time he/she actually had a positive life experience by going out and exploring their love of indie rock. He/she is too busy focusing on protecting himself/herself from failure. There was a potential connection here but because this person has limited their life to protecting themselves from mistakes they are limited in how much they can connect in that moment.
You may have a lot of passions and interests but very limited experience in actually going out and enjoying them because let’s face it if you are spending all your time protecting yourself you don’t have time to go out and enjoy your life. If this is frequent and pervades a lot of aspects of your life it’s almost like you have missed out on a huge chunk of your life and you need to learn how to rebuild a more positive and fulfilling repertoire of life experiences. So that you can properly connect with the people in your life.
So while I think it’s important to understand why we people with ADHD tend to seem self centered (so we aren’t too hard on ourselves for it), I think it’s just as important to learn to manage the behavior that makes us seem this way. There is a time for self focused attention and sticking to our routines that helps us thrive but there also needs to be more flexibility so that we can share ourselves with others and not miss out on fun experiences.
I think this would be a very interesting topic to explore in another article on this website (hint hint untapped brilliance)
Thanks Mary, I relate to your description, and found it to be incredibly insightful and accurate. You have helped to validate my experience and daily frustrations, and for that I am grateful =)
For me it is birthday presents. I know the birthday is coming, I feel incredibly anxious because I love them and want to get them something they’ll like. I procrastinate while trying to think of a present that would be perfect for them. I end up either getting them their present late or getting them a mediocre present because I ran out of time and I then feel like complete shit because to them it looks like I half-assed their birthday. My parents, one of whom is a child psychiatrist with ADHD herself, actually sat me down several years ago and told me I sucked at giving presents and I makes it seem like I don’t care. That was a hard pill to swallow. I’m getting better at it though 🙂
Hey man, forget it. I try very hrd to give gifts and I always feel like they’re run-of-the-mill lame, but, in my experience I have been fortunate enough to have the other person understand what I went though to come to the conclusion of their gift. I was always told that money is a lame gift, but people usuallu seem to like it more, especially when they knoe youve put thought into it.
Keep up the good work.
I don’t recall being called selfish or self-centered, however, I often feel as though I am selfish and feel badly about it. Thank you for all that you do to help us!