Shame and ADHD often go hand in hand.
Shame is a cocktail of emotions including embarrassment, regret, humiliation and feeling less than.
Many adults living with ADHD feel ashamed of themselves and their behaviour – both for what they did and didn’t do.
You might feel shame for not matching society’s ‘norms,’ such as for a failed marriage, exam or job.
You could even feel shame for ‘needing’ to use a tool to help support you – for example, checklists to help you remember things, or a timer to help keep you on task. (Neutralizing this type of shame is something we talk about in Essentially Brilliant.)
Daily life activities can also provoke a huge amount of shame, for example repeatedly losing your keys or struggling to keep a tidy house. If a neighbour pops in for an unexpected visit, you might feel ashamed at your messy house and then relive that shame whenever you see your neighbor.
Diagnosed Later in Adulthood?
The feelings of shame can be particularly strong for people who weren’t diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood.
If you lived with undiagnosed ADHD for many years, then you personalize incidents like losing your keys and blame yourself. You might start repeating things you heard growing up from the adults in your life. Perhaps you tell yourself things like, ‘I am so lazy’, ‘I’m not trying hard enough’, or ‘I am stupid’.
This isn’t true, of course, but you don’t have another explanation.
From this place of shame, it’s very hard to look for practical solutions because you think the problem is you. This is one of the reasons why, when adults get diagnosed with ADHD they feel very liberated because there is a name for their struggles.
In contrast, when you know you have ADHD and you lose your keys, it is annoying, frustrating and might make you late for an appointment. However, you know the reason why finding your keys is hard for you. It’s not a personal failing, and you can look for ADHD friendly solutions to your problem.
Regardless of when you were diagnosed, people with ADHD experience more shame in their life than people who don’t have ADHD.
4 Facts About ADHD and Shame
1) Shame Stops You From Reaching Your Potential
When you feel shame about who you are, you can’t live a happy, full life and reach your potential. Your inner critic keeps you living a smaller life than you are capable of.
2) Shame Makes You Feel Lonely
When you feel shame, you can’t allow people to get close to you because you don’t feel you are worthy, which is one of the reasons why many people with ADHD feel lonely.
3) Shame and Anger
When you feel shame, it can make you very defensive, which can look like anger. Lots of people with ADHD struggle with anger. This can also alienate people in your life.
4) Shame, ADHD and Comorbidity
Brene Brown (see her video below) says that shame highly correlates with addiction, violence, depression and eating disorders. These are also things that ADHDers suffer with more than the average person.
Lifting the Lid on Shame
Dr. Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston and New York Time Bestselling author, has spent over a decade studying shame, vulnerability, courage and worthiness. During this time, she discovered that no one wants to talk about shame.
However, like everything, when a topic is addressed head on it isn’t as bad as you thought.
When you understand what exactly shame is and how it affects you, you can take steps to reduce it. Watch this video, it’s funny, intelligent and lifts the lid on shame.
Shame vs Guilt
At the 14-minute mark Brene Brown makes the distinction between shame and guilt.
Shame is ‘I am bad’ and guilt is ‘I did something bad’.
It’s much easier to say ‘I am sorry I did something bad’ than’ I am sorry I am bad’.
Many ADHD adults believe they are ‘bad’ or ‘flawed’, which was hard for me to write because the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Yet, there is often a big discrepancy between ADHDers’ perspective of themselves and reality.
How does shame show up in your life?