My fellow Distractoids —
Are you down on yourself? Are you constantly telling yourself what an ugly, horrible, no-good person you are? What about rejection? Does rejection (and perhaps perceived rejection) throw you for a loop? Do you stay in your comfort zone to avoid situations where you might be rejected? Do you try to avoid rejection by ingratiating yourself with others, people-pleasing, and sacrificing more than your fair share? If so, you are not alone. ADDers on average are highly sensitive to rejection, overly sensitive, sometimes to the point of Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria. Let’s take a closer look.
Distractoids are full of unexamined negative self-talk, negative self-judgment, and shame. Fear and negativity are like invisible bars that hold them in place. Masters of Distraction, on the other hand, have learned how to practice positive self-regard no matter what, to deploy courage in the presence of fear, and to see the world’s feedback simply as valuable information that points to a next step forward. What’s their secret sauce that makes such a difference in life?
Here’s the good news: the change is your choice. It’s up to me to determine how I see myself — or rather my Self. Behind all the ever-shifting thoughts and emotions that come and go, behind the choices I’ve made and consequences I’ve suffered or rewards I’ve enjoyed, and behind all the things that have happened or been done to me, there is the Self. The Self enters and leaves this world as it is — wise, loving, worthy of love, and free from judgment of any kind. The value and goodness of the Self, which is the Real Me, is not contingent on anything: the value of the Self is inherent, and does not depend on what I have or have not done or won or achieved. It is what It is, and It is good.
How do I know this is true? It doesn’t matter for our purposes today. That’s a different conversation and debate. For now, all I ask you to accept is that we know the value of a thing by its fruits — that what produces good results is good. If I adopt the unshakable belief that, behind the ever-changing surface features of life, that I am fundamentally good, loving, and deserving of love — that my essence is good, loving, and deserving of love — then I will be invulnerable to the poison of negative Self-judgment, shame, and fear of rejection. If I reject no part of myself — my Self, nobody can make me suffer the pain of rejection. It’s all in my hands. How does that affect my behavior? It allows me to live more freely and to become more of the person I am meant to be.
Nobody can make me feel ashamed or rejected without my consent. I remember once when I was just out of film school I wrote a screenplay that I had invested with all the value of my Self-worth. I gave it to someone important to read, hoping they might buy it, and soon heard back they thought it was great. I was elated, to say the least. A huge rush of euphoric emotion flowed through my body like a surge of electricity. But that was a false alarm. A few days later when I heard it wasn’t being bought, I suffered an equally major surge of negativity. Instantly, I was filled with self-loathing and anxiety. I wasn’t myself for weeks and weeks.
But what had really happened? Nothing. I was the same person whether the script was bought or not. That’s not what I told myself, though. And not how I reacted. I told myself I was a superior being and felt on top of the world before I told myself I was worthless and should never write another word of anything ever again. Both things were equally untrue.
This kind of thing happens all the time with clients. If they get the job, or an A on the test, or accepted into the school: elation. If they don’t get the job, or the grade, or the school: despair. The emotions come from attaching one’s Self worth to this or that outcome rather than sticking with who you really are — the fixed, unchanging self or consciousness behind all those results. Instead of looking at a yes or a no as some kind of true judgment of you — validation or rejection — look at yes or no simply as information that says nothing about the real you. Yes you can do this thing or no you will be choosing something different. Information, and that’s it.
But having a big emotional reaction to rejection is not the only flawed way relate to rejection. I’ve had clients who would rarely leave the house because outside those safe confines they might experience the word “no”. I remember many times in my life when I was too afraid to ask for help, take a chance, or put my hat in the ring. I look back and wonder what in the world I was afraid of. I was afraid of activating the harshly negative thoughts in my head, that’s what. I must have seen myself as a fragile, powerless, unworthy — because I was not thinking of the real me, my unchanging, original Self.
Sadly, we take other self-defeating, self-limiting actions to avoid rejection. We become people-pleasers so everyone, we hope, will like us. We sacrifice our needs and desires in relationships in order to please or appease our partners. We cut off parts of ourselves that we judge to be intolerable or unacceptable, rejecting ourselves before we can be rejected. Do any of these behaviors spare us from the pain of rejection? Of course not. They just take us farther away from who we really are.
Okay, you might be thinking that it’s easy to talk about rejection in this way, but not so easy to deal with rejection in real life. I agree, letting go of our ideas and attachments to rejection is often times a process. It’s something we are working on. But even a little shift in the way that we relate to our True Self goes a long way in how we experience “no” when we are hoping for “yes.” The shift allows us to look at and consider what has happened with more perspective and nuance, and that’s a good thing. So good luck in your efforts to consider the words yes and no as information ….
My Fellow Distractoids,
Studies show that coaching is very effective in helping people with ADHD minimize the harmful effects of the condition. For instance, a recent ADDitude Magazine study showed that it was the most effective treatment besides exercise: i.e. more effective than medication, therapy, neural feedback, etc. In fact, I consider anyone who has not at least tried medication and received coaching from a trained professional very likely to be seriously under-treated.
So what are some of the biggest benefits of ADHD Coaching?
- Education: A good ADHD coach can look at your life through “an ADHD lens” and help you understand all the ways ADHD is playing out in your life. It’s hard, maybe even impossible, to make positive change if you don’t understand the nature of the problem.
- Accountability: Whether it’s a weekly coaching session or a quick text, coaching provides structure and a place to be accountable. In essence, it is a form of “external motivation” many of us need to get and stay on track.
- ADHD-Friendly Solutions to Common Problems: A coach can help you identify and implement practical systems, habits, behaviors, methods of support etc. designed to help with various symptoms and impairments of ADD.
- Feedback On Your Diagnosis and Medication: Coaching can help you through the often daunting process of getting a proper diagnosis and deciding how to handle issues of medication.
- Making Plans, Pursuing Goals, and Getting Stuff Done: Making smart goals, motivation, procrastination, prioritizing tasks, following through, getting distracted, wasting time, and on and on: these are all issues for ADDers. Coaching provides a framework to pursue and achieve what otherwise might take more time or even never get done.
- Improve Relationships: All too often ADHD is a relationship killer. Mitigating the harmful effects of ADD on relationships is one of the most beneficial functions a coach can perform.
My Fellow Distractoids,
Do you find that you make agreements that you don’t keep? That you let people down or make them angry when you drop the ball or don’t follow through? That your word is not quite your bond?
It’s important for ADHDers and their friends and partners to understand how people with ADHD struggle with keeping agreements. Let’s take a look.
Agreements are shared designs or plans that help guide and govern our future actions. They require us to act in accordance with their provisions consistently over time, which might be days, weeks, months, or sometimes years. The complex actions that allow us to pursue a course or a goal consistently over time are governed by the Executive Functions of the brain. And that is where the problems arise …
So what about ADHD undermines the ability to make and keep agreements?
MAKING Agreements — some factors of ADHD lead to problems MAKING agreements. Usually, this means agreeing to something without giving it proper thought. Sure, I will take out the trash. Yes, I will go to the PTA meeting. For sure, I will remember that date night this week is Thursday not Friday. Saying “yes” is easy. An easy “yes” does not require us to pause and think. It’s a good way of not having to shift our attention or getting out of an unwanted conversation by putting things off until the agreement again arises in the future.
Here are some reasons why I might make an agreement without thinking. I don’t want to think about it at the time, I agree impulsively, my mind wants to go somewhere else, it’s a boring conversation, I am actually already thinking about something else and I answer on auto-pilot, the agreement seems trivial, the agreement sounds like an attack and I am annoyed and want to make it go away. If I am a verbal processor, I might say yes as a way of “thinking out loud” to figure out how I really feel sometime down the line. In all of these cases, I am giving a very weak, soft yes that in reality means something more like “maybe, maybe not.” That’s not a real agreement.
KEEPING Agreements: There are other factors that help explain a decreased ability to keep agreements over time. As someone with ADHD, I have a compromised sense of time — “time blindness.” I don’t experience events over time the same way non-ADHD people do. I have weakened powers of hindsight and foresight. My perception of cause and effect lacks strength and solidity. To me, life sometimes feels like a dream. Therefore I have a relatively poor sense of how actions have consequences in the future. These weaknesses mean that I might be prone to making the same mistake over and over again, and that life will be like Groundhog’s Day. Well, they also mean that I will struggle to keep agreements. Compared to a person with full Executive Functions, the force of an agreement is simply not the same. How could it be?
In addition to this fundamental issue, ADHD might also in other ways undermine my ability to keep agreements. Distraction, impulsivity, overwhelm, boredom, lack of novelty, and forgetfulness are some examples stemming from typical ADHD symptoms.
And here’s the thing: making and keeping agreements are fundamental to friendships, romantic relationships, professional relationships, and even more casual relationships with other people in the world like service providers and on and on. The ability to make and keep agreements bestows personal integrity. Breaking agreements with other people hurts our integrity in their eyes and leads to judgments that we are unreliable, irresponsible, uncaring, and so on. But we can also break agreements with ourselves, which undermines self-belief, self-trust, self-worth, and even our sense of who we are.
The consequences of broken agreements come in all sizes: small, medium, large, and catastrophic. Sadly, too many of us don’t see the gravity of the consequences until it is too late. It takes losing a friend, a job, or a marriage before we understand.
Therefore, it is critical to see agreements in their proper perspective and to become a Master of Distraction in the keeping agreements department. Here are some steps in that direction:
— Be mindful and careful when making an agreement. Learn to let a proposed agreement be a trigger for you to pause and think and make a conscious choice. Start by practicing never saying “yes” right away to any agreement. Instead, say “let me think about that” or “let me check my calendar and get back to you.” Then take some time to consciously consider whether you really do want to say yes and also how you will insure that you will follow through.
— Recognize that you almost certainly drastically underestimate the consequences of broken agreements and drastically underestimate how others emotionally experience your broken agreements, such as their level of irritation, annoyance, anger, upset, and even despair and hopelessness.
— Make it a priority and an imperative to keep your agreements. Do whatever it takes to put systems in place where you need support. Communicate if you are having a hard time with an agreement to see if it might be improved.
— When you make a mistake, as we all do, clean up the mess as soon as possible. Take responsibility without excuses, make a heartfelt apology, and make right anything that you can as fast as you can. Do this without self-judgment and without beating yourself up. You made a mistake. We all make mistakes. How you deal with it is a great opportunity to show your true character and to regain the integrity that you have lost.
One major frustration of ADHD is knowing that world is apt to judge me not on my good intentions or my true feelings, but in the ways my inner self fails to manifest in the outside world. To become thoughtful about making agreements and determined in keeping agreements help close the gap between who I am and how that translates in my actions. By keeping agreements, I say to the world, “See me, not my ADHD.”
My Fellow Distractoids —
The series on communication continues this week with the crucial topic of expectations and agreements. Understanding expectations and agreements is fundamental to anyone who wants to maintain loving and harmonious relationships.
It’s even more crucial to get if you are one of my fellow Distractoids, because when it comes to agreements and expectations, ADHD is very much in play. (I will have more to say about this in my next post.)
If there is chronic anger, bitterness, disappointment, and grievance in your relationship, there’s a good chance the problems can be traced back to expectations.
Expectations are toxic and even cowardly. Let’s take a closer look.
— When I expect someone to do something, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Yes, it is possible that the person might exceed my expectations, in which case presumably I would be impressed. But more likely the person will meet my expectations, about which I will feel neutral or blah. Or, they will not meet my expectations in which case I will be disappointed and angry.
— When I expect someone to do something, I am being cowardly and not taking responsibility. Why, because I am making my happiness contingent on someone else’s actions. Therefore, I am making that person responsible for my happiness. That conveniently allows me to blame the other person for my disappointment and unhappiness when it occurs. I’m saying to the other person that it’s your fault you didn’t do what I expected you to do and that’s why I don’t feel the feelings I expect to feel. (The truth: I am responsible for my own happiness and feelings, one hundred per cent.)
— When I expect someone to do something, I am making it much less likely that they will do it and almost impossible for them to happily comply. When someone tells you that they “expect” you to do this or that, how does it feel? Do you want to submit or rebel? Those are the choices, because implicit in expectation is a subtle power play: “You do what I say (expect) or there will be consequences for you to pay.” It’s human nature to resist expectations, especially if you have ADHD. Who the hell are you to put your expectations on me???
In summary, expectations are cowardly, coercive, blame-shifting, and controlling. They lead to disappointment, anger, blame and negative judgment. They are one-sided. They are counter-productive.
What makes expectations even more destructive is that they often times are unspoken or poorly communicated so that it’s not even clear how the disappointment and anger arose.
So what do we do?
Replace expectations (spoken and unspoken) with agreements. Let’s look at how agreements differ from expectations.
— Agreements are collaborative. By definition both parties buy in. That means both parties have a say in what happens.
— Agreements involve focused communication and mutual understanding. Therefore they tend to be clearer and better constructed.
— People generally like to keep their word if they have given it freely. They like to keep their agreements. Agreements feel good and are productive.
— Agreements are creative.
Do agreements solve all problems? Of course not. But the practice of negotiating and re-negotiating agreements makes for better relationships and better communication.
If an agreement proves hard to keep, or if it is broken, all is not lost. In fact, problems with agreements are great opportunities to learn about ourselves and our relationship. We can examine what values, beliefs, and assumptions went into the agreement and figure out how and where we got off course. Then, make a new and better agreement.
One huge caveat:
ADHD can present serious problems when it comes to agreements, and that’s a very big deal.
In my next post I’ll address how ADHDers struggle with agreements and how this plays out through miscommunication at the ADHD/non-ADHD interface, also know as the DMZ (Distractoid-Muggle Zone).
Until then, best of luck to one and all!
My Fellow Distractoids,
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is considered by many to be a good definition of insanity. If that’s the case, many a Distractoid is insane. Two aspects of ADHD “time blindness” have to do with “hindsight” and “foresight.” We lack those things (compared to the Muggles), which makes repeating mistakes much more likely. But are we doomed to Groundhog Day relationships that never change?
Masters of Distraction know the answer is “No!”. In fact we are not doomed to stay in negative patterns and deep ruts because we have the power to choose how we act, and we can make a conscious choice to do things differently.
Here are some ideas on how you might break limiting, dysfunctional patterns in your relationship.
Important Note: These actions in themselves are not designed to bring about long-term change. Probably no single action can change the course of behavior that may have been going on for years. Instead, these actions are designed to signal to your significant other — and yourself — that you realize that the status quo is not working and that you are making a different kind of effort to reach out, shake things up, create good will, and express determination.
But first, listen carefully to your significant other so that you understand their fundamental issues. How are they not being heard? Do they lament a lack of connection? Do they feel you are bored of them? Are they feeling unloved? Do they have needs that are not being met? Do they have areas of disappointment?
Then, make sure your actions address your partner’s need in a dramatically new way.
And one final thing, let these efforts come from the heart. In fact, make sure these efforts come from the heart. Many a Distractoid is living up in their head, which let’s face it can be a funky place to hang out. Masters of Distraction know that’s not where the magic is going to happen. The good stuff comes from the heart. (I’m reminded of the story of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but you get the point …)
— Write a heartfelt letter telling your loved one how wonderful they are.
— Plan a special event or trip that appeals to your partner’s unique spirit.
— Take care of a piece of unfinished business that will make a difference in your loved one’s life.
— Declare a spouse appreciation day and make it a great one.
— Buy or make a special gift that your partner will have a unique appreciation of.
— Come up with your own better idea to make a heartfelt statement. Creativity — that’s one of the things ADHD was made for! — now’s a great time to break it out.
Again, it would be pretending to think that these kinds of actions — in themselves — are sufficient to alter longstanding patterns of behavior and feelings. But as part of a larger strategy, making a statement or statements from the heart can be a real benefit.
As always, to all good luck!
My Fellow Distractoids,
When it comes to communicating with loved ones, Distractoids can struggle mightily as they allow deep ruts of dysfunctional behavior to form and persist. Unless there is change, those relationships will either fail or continue indefinitely to be filled with stress, anger, and unhappiness.
Masters of Distraction know positive change is possible, even when things feel hopeless. Why? Because it’s likely that up until now, you and your partner have not really been in control of the relationship: ADHD — more specifically the miscommunication it causes — is the hidden culprit below the radar. MODS know that what’s needed is a fundamental change — a paradigm shift — not just a gradual or superficial evolution.
The downward spiralling pattern of Dysfunctional Communication is like this: Action (or non-Action – Reaction (Negative Judgment) – Reaction (Negative Judgment) – Reaction (Negative Judgment), etc.
The paradigm shift to Useful Communication is something more like: Mutual Issue – Neutral Non-Judgmental Mutual Inquiry/Evaluation – Mutual Agreement (as an experiment). In other words, there is an issue that merits discussion, both partners work towards a full understanding of the others position, and some sort of tentative agreement is struck about how to move forward.
Okay, what are the components of Useful Communication after you’ve Wiped the Slate Clean?
Step One, ADHD Partner: Recognize that in the past, your behavior has been far more stressful to your partner and damaging to the relationship than you realize. You wouldn’t be in this situation if that weren’t the case. If you want a better relationship, you’re likely going to want to step up to the plate in a way you haven’t in the past!
Step One, non-ADHD Partner: Recognize that your partner has a condition that is far more difficult for them to live with than you realize, and that your partner’s ADHD will sometimes cause him or her to make mistakes, no matter hard they try not to. Learn all about ADHD, and see how many ways the condition plays out in your partner’s behavior. If you see their actions in this light it is much easier to be compassionate and to come up with better strategies for behavior modification.If you must blame something, blame the ADHD rather than your partner.
Also recognize that turning up the volume — raising your voice or raising the consequences of ADHD-behaviors — will not work and is in fact counterproductive to what you want. If you attack and/or shame your partner, they will likely become totally defensive, either shutting down and clamming up or fighting back. Know that this is a physiological response that is outside their control.
Understand that your actions — however understandable and logical — have significantly contributed to the overall dysfunction. Yes, living with your ADHD partner has been a freaking nightmare at times, and anybody in their right mind would be angry and upset. But unintentionally, you have likely thrown gas on the fire, and it will behoove you to take responsibility for that.
You might need to grieve the relationship you imagined you would have but now know will be different than planned.
Step Two: Both Partners, set regular appointments for Conscious Communication, making sure that you both are neutral and not going in triggered, angry, and upset. Resolve not to work on issues when triggered, which leads nowhere while reinforcing bad habits.
Conscious Communication — What do I mean by Conscious Communication?
— See the Whole Person: One element is consciously seeing the whole person, especially their virtues. Locked in a reactive negative spiral, partners polarize and devalue one another, recognizing only negative traits. My teachers in Spiritual Psychology talked a lot about “Seeing the Loving Essence.” That means looking into the eyes of your partner and allowing yourself to experience the loving soul that is always present.
— Conscious, Active Listening: Active listening is listening with the whole being. In conversation, especially arguments, most of the time when our partner is talking we are not really listening. Instead, we are formulating what we are going to say next so we can get our point across. If you catch yourself talking and not listening or pre-thinking what you are going to say, remember the acronym WAIT, which stands for “Why Am I Talking?”
— Speak and Receive From the Heart: If your relationship has been deficient in honesty, openness, and intimacy, take the opportunity to bring your communication to a new level of intention and meaning. Soften your heart. Be brave in making yourself vulnerable. And be generous in how you hear your partner. Evaluate rather than judge. Give the benefit of the doubt. Treat your partner the way you want to be treated.
— Be On the Same Team: You will succeed or fail together. You are on the same team. Let your communication reflect that.
— Acknowledgment and Positive Reinforcement: Replace negative judgments and self judgments with acknowledgment of effort, good intentions, and success. ADHDers are often overly sensitive to criticism/rejection and prone to shame. A little positivity can go a long way. Positive recognition of even very small successes builds a foundation of bigger wins in the future.
— Making Agreements: When both parties feel that they have been fully heard and understood on a given issue, make an agreement about how to handle the issue in the future. Make it like an experiment. ADHDers struggle with agreements, which require staying a course over time and shifting circumstances — factors that challenge a combination of executive functions, where ADHDers are weak. So, for ADHDers it is important to be very careful when entering into agreements and strategizing about how agreements will be kept. Non-ADHDers will at times likely require patience, understanding that for the ADHD partner agreements pose much greater difficulties. If an agreement is broken, try and treat it as a learning experience and an occasion to examine what happened. Determine if the agreement needs to be adjusted, rather than casting blame.
Step 3: Let Shift Happen/Taking Responsibility
Okay, first I apologize for the pun. Second, this step is crucial. It’s the crux of all I am saying here. If you want to change your relationship, don’t count on changing your partner. That’s actually outside of your control. Take responsibility and control over how you see your partner and how you see your role in the relationship. Inner shifts in consciousness precede outer change.
Let me give a couple of examples of what I am talking about. Once I had a client who was depressed and sullen and resentful of his wife’s frequent criticism until he got a sense of humor about times when his ADHD symptoms would get the better of him. The lighter way he carried himself made it easier to see how some of his habits were hurting his relationship and to change his behavior. And for his wife to find humor in the situation, too. Another example is a man who came to the understanding that the things he loved the most about his wife — her creativity and magnetic personality — were closely connected to her struggles with organization and homemaking. After the epiphany he was much more accepting and forgiving of what he previously had judged as flaws.
As I said above, the same thinking that got you into the situation will not get you out. There must be a change of perception and belief. Recognizing how past miscommunication has lead to flawed conclusions and destructive behaviors is the first step. Practicing Useful Communication can serve to facilitate a deeper, permanent shift.
Factoid — facts and information relevant to Distractoids
Distractoid — a person living with untreated or undertreated ADHD
Master of Distraction (MOD) — a person who has learned to live in tune with, not against, ADHD