ADHD and Shame

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?



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  1. I don’t think it is shame as much as feeling like you have not reached your full potential according to others’ perception when in reality we with adhd should be celebrating that we are incredibly creative, funny, never shut up and make friends easily because we yearn for interesting experiences and; because we care.
    Recently, I was going around saying I am a failure. Everyone I met that day fell off their chair and howled. They all said, that is a natural state of mind for almost everyone juggling jobs and a life.
    That smartened me up. Because I am apt to pick up so much from not hearing well, I am able to discern what bothers others… they all say it is nice to talk frankly and to learn from each other.
    Yes, my house is a mess but it is welcoming to my friends with good food and excellent conversation towards supporting each other in our dreams.
    My friends admire how I can get so much done, I tell them I am happy to have adhd but I struture things daily and get plenty of rest after my swim sets as a Masters swimmer along with doing my art and supporting other artists.
    Thank you for posting Brene Brown!

  2. I was introduced to Brene’s talks and writing just a couple months ago and I love what she’s doing with her researching and what she’s teaching us.

    I was diagnosed a year ago and I’ve been on Ritalin for about three months now. One of the greatest benefits I get from the medication is that I’m much more care-free about what others think about me. I wasn’t expecting that at all though and I didn’t read others sharing about that effect. I’m much more open and less fearful in my relationships, and I’m much more creative because I don’t care quite so much what others think about what I write and create. Without the medication my mind was often focused on other’s perceptions of me and my work.

    • Britta says:

      Me too. I feel exactly the same. I care a lot less about what people think.

    • Kendrick says:

      Thats awesome Ricky, glad to hear your medicine is working so well. I struggle with how other percive me and it hinders my ability to socialize and work with others. Its like im scared they wont like me. So it would be nice to be care free. I can think back to a few experiences where i felt that and wow, was that a great day. Right now I am trying Stratera, but lately Ive been feeling axious and deppressed which is a far cry from my normal perma smile I usually have. I have been thinking about try another medication but am a bit thrown off by all the warning those types of drugs carry with them.

      • TR says:

        Keep trying–my medication protocol is now right for me. I feel more like the person I really am …And, this carries with it the ‘divine ambiguity’ of this temperament and wiring.

        I am also taking a Mindfulness and DBT class has helped thru Kaiser.

  3. Jacqueline Sinfield says:

    Hi Michel, sorry you are having problems viewing the video. I double checked and it is embedded at the end of the article. However here is the link so you can watch it on Youtube. Hope that helps!! it is a really great video!!

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