A blog reader asked me about a trait that many ADHDers have… an “unusual sense of fairness”. As I was replying to that email question, I realized it made a great article topic.
People with ADHD have a very strong moral compass:
They hate discrimination, dishonesty, fake people and unfair situations.
They love justice, fairness, honesty, sincerity, equality and the truth.
Most people say that they value those things. However, someone with ADHD will take action and do something about an unfair situation.
3 Reasons why a sense of fairness is more visible when you have ADHD:
1. Low Tolerance
ADDers have a low tolerance for things that aren’t in alignment with who they are. This is why they quit jobs that are boring. A non–ADHDer might be able to put their head down and work in a job they hate for 20 years. Yet, someone with ADHD can’t make themselves do that.
Similarly, if a person with ADHD witnesses an event (big or small) that is seen as unfair, they will take action. Someone without ADHD might need to see or experience the same thing many times before they respond.
2. Social Norms
People with ADHD aren’t restricted by social norms in the way other people are. For example, they wouldn’t feel obliged to stay at a dinner party (even if the host spent hours cooking), if they weren’t compatible with the other guests. This means they will do things to seek fairness that other people wouldn’t; such as standing up for someone in class, even though it might cause them problems later with their friends.
3. Arbitrary Rules
ADHDers don’t follow arbitrary rules; just rules that make sense to them. If there is a rule that prevents fairness, then a person with ADHD is more than happy to break it.
At an airport, imagine there are long lines at the check–in counter for coach class. Yet the business class line could be empty. Many people with ADHD would take their coach ticket and try to check–in in the business line, because it makes no logical sense to stand and wait in line. This same principle is applied to all situations that don’t seem fair.
Sometimes, ADHD characteristics help with this quest for fairness. For example: impulsively jumping into action when they see or hear something that doesn’t feel right. ADHDers don’t stop to think and wait until later when their energy or sense of urgency has dispersed.
Yet, even people with ADHD characteristics that would appear to work against seeking fairness (social anxiety or debilitating procrastination) will rise to the occasion, and do what is needed in order to right an unfair situation.
The need for fairness can be reflected in career choices and it can influence how people spend their free time. One client spent a lot of his spare time one year helping his neighbor’s child. The child had learning disabilities and needed help to get the right support from the school. There were meetings, long forms to be filled out and a lot of research to understand what rights the child had.
It can also show up in small pockets of time too. For example: counting out the number of carrots everyone has on their dinner plates or reaching for a calculator at a restaurant to make sure everyone leaves the right tip for the waitress.
The Flip Side
There are downsides to fairness.
ADHDers can end up feeling completely discouraged and depressed about the world and its problems, the environment, the legal system, etc. They feel powerless to make a difference as they are only one person.
Standing up for other people, means there is less time for their own family, and this can cause hurt feelings because ‘you put everyone else before us’.
Or, they might be considered a troublemaker, too rigid or perhaps the butt of jokes.
Despite the negatives, most people find it very refreshing to be around people with ADHD and their desire for fairness.
Thank you for this article. As someone who was diagnosed as an adult, it’s just another thing I’ve always struggled with that FINALLY makes sense.
I find myself obsessing over fairness and injustice in the lives of people I love. I worry constantly about the person my sister is dating because he’s so manipulative. I want to change the way my step kids mother treats treats the kids. I think my dad is dating someone who’s using him and draining him. I’m so worried for everyone around me I cannot focus on myself sometimes.
I know these people are harming those that I love, and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I just keep obsessing.
Thank you ! Another piece of the puzzle was found .
You bring value to people . And your posts are on cue , short enough to keep attention.
I’m wondering if always correcting people comes into play here also. I do it all the time without thinking and it has embarrassed people I am with. Example. We go someplace that my friend has never been to, and I haven’t been in quite a while (was a regular spot back in high school). He goes to order and says he hasn’t been there in 50 years. (He’s never been there). I corrected him saying you’ve never been here, but it has been quite a while for me. As a kid, I was always correcting people, saying “Well actually…” or “Technically…” Its like if someone says something that is not 100% correct, I have to correct them. It’s not something I can stop. I MUST be done.
OMG, I’m sitting here feeling completely stunned after reading everyones comments. I’m 65. I’m female, and was a patrol officer for a large city. You all just described me! I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago, but had no idea that my dedication to honesty & fairness could have anything to do with anything but my upbringing. I thought coming up with obvious solutions without much thought, was simply common sense , because I never felt my mind moved fast enough to suit me. I was always grateful for common sense, because I was sure I wasn’t smart. It makes so much more sense now, as I’m trying to remember my whole life. I hope feeling this overwhelmed turns to relief eventually. Like you Kathleen I no longer feel obliged to allow myself to be mistreated. Bullies take kindness for weakness and don’t deserve your patience or understanding, they know what they’re doing. Lot to think about now. Gale.
My mom has been bragging for years about my supposed “absolute sense of justice” (especially when there’s an argument and I happen to be on her side… heh), so it surprised me quite a bit when I found out this could be an ADHD symptom. Just like it surprised me when I found out that in women, being excessively talkative and talking too loudly can be a manifestation of ADHD hyperactivity… a lot of the things I for years just considered to be weird quirks of personality I had seem to actually go back to this larger pattern. It’s eerie.
I’m definitely the “take action despite social anxiety” type, and boy is the combination of those two not fun. On multiple occasions when there was one person disturbing everyone else (a person talking loudly in a quiet study hall, a person starting to smoke on a public train during transit in a crowded wagon, someone blithely carrying on a phone call on a plane after the devices were supposed to be switched off, etc.), yet everyone else was just shooting each other disapproving looks and staying silent, I was the one that actually said something. And I did not necessarily rush to do it. Which just goes to show how much non-action is ingrained in normal behaviour for “normal” people…
The part about feeling discouraged with the world and all its problems? Yeah, definitely feeling that too.
. I’ve been the person to actually speak up and challenge the offender
Haha, I just went through Macdonalds and ordered a macangus medium meal, with no lettuce or cheese, but instead added an egg. They did not deduct the money for the lettuce or cheese, but charged me for the egg. So I said no thanks and got a customer feedback form instead.
I found this extremely applicable in my life – and as many times seems to be the case, had NO idea this could be related to my ADD
Wow! I am ADD as well and this is definitely true.
This is such a great article amd describes both me amd my brother perfectly. I find people do find us “refreshing” and “tenacious”, yet we can most certainly be seen as “trouble makers”. This in itself is an injustice, is it not?
I have always felt this way and jumped to solve an injustice while others stand around and later say they ‘could never do something (or say) something like that’ …. My friends, who are rational and linear thinkers – and accomplish much in their lives – tell me the same thing ‘you are so bold’ when I could not imagine letting the unfairness go unchallenged. Of course over the years I have learned to phrase things in a much nicer way!
I choose my battles. I’m not allowing people to use me as their emotional punching bag anymore. It’s important to probe and understand the big picture too. Don’t take things at face value . Seek to understand before you seek to be understand . Then establish your limits and boundaries.
This is very interesting. People with ADHD see the world in a unique refreshing way. Sometimes a fresh outlook, a thought outside the box is what is needed to change the world. 🙂