The Thoughts in Your Head

My Fellow Distractoids,

What do you notice about the content of the thoughts in your head? Are they nice, serene, calming, compassionate, balanced, good-natured, kind, forgiving, wise, and full of gratitude? Didn’t think so!

Distractoids don’t see the thoughts in their heads for what they are — repetitive, judgmental, ego-driven noise that lead to anxiety and icky emotions. Masters of Distraction have learned to see their thoughts in proper perspective — mental stuff that has no real “meaning.”

What do you notice about the thoughts in your head? One thing many people find is that they are incessant and repetitive and mostly seem to serve no purpose. But there’s something deeper and darker going on…

Notice how frequently the thoughts in your head are negative judgments and self-judgments. Notice how the voice always wants to make itself right and others wrong. Does the voice in your head win every argument and vanquish every enemy? Mine does.

Why? Because the voice in my head is my ego talking. Unchecked, the ego is very, well, egotistical. It wants to be adored. It wants to win and everyone else to lose. It makes itself right and others wrong. It’s desperate for power and terribly afraid of being diminished or extinguished. The ego wants us to identify with it, which it does by hooking into our emotions, desires, and fears. The ego would like us to act impulsively and emotionally. The ego loves drama.The ego wants to stay in control by keeping us unconscious.

Mindfulness is our way of self-regulating our attachment to and identification with the ego voice. It’s our way of disrupting the connection to the voice in our head. It’s also our way of observing and learning about our judgments of other people and negative judgments about ourselves …

What are your negative self-judgments? What stories do you tell yourself about you? Are these judgments and stories true and accurate or are they false? Do you ever observe the ego voice saying positive things about yourself or others?

What does this have to do with ADHD? Many of us have internalized judgments heard from others that we have turned into harsh judgments of ourselves. A lot of times these unexamined judgments keep us feeling depressed and anxious even though they are not true.

A lot of us have deep shame, which is a particular kind of negative judgment — the belief that there is something wrong with me. Not something I did, but rather who and what I am. If there is something fundamentally wrong with me, that does not leave much hope for positive change. Conversely, a lot of times we totally lose sight of all the good things about us. And we don’t give ourselves credit for the things we achieve.

Observing and recognizing what the voice is saying is the first step in letting go of negative self judgments and shame. It’s like taking a huge weight off your back. Take the weight off, and forward movement becomes a whole lot easier.

-Coach Drew

ADHD and Mindfulness

My Fellow Distractoids,

Are you scattered, overwhelmed, prone to losing things, forgetful, frequently late, and impulsive? Are the voices in your head a confusing jumble of intrusive thoughts that drive you nuts?

Distractoids are plagued by by all of these ADHD symptoms. They sometimes feel like they are going to have a mental meltdown or their head is going to explode.

Masters of Distraction, on the other hand, enjoy a calmer, more peaceful existence. They’ve learned to modulate their impulsive thoughts and emotions by cultivating mindfulness in their daily lives.

But what does being mindful really mean, and how does it relate to ADHD?

Some people find the idea of mindfulness a little daunting, as if it’s only for spiritual masters to practice. Don’t be intimidated. You don’t have to be an ascetic camped in the wilderness to live mindfully. In fact, it’s pretty simple.

Mindfulness is being aware of your own consciousness, observing your thoughts, mental images, and feelings in a neutral, non-judgmental way. It’s paying attention to what your mind is paying attention to. When you pay attention to your mind, you are being mindful.

So what’s the difference between you and your mind? That’s the crucial insight of mindfulness. If you stop and pay attention to your mind, you will see that your mind produces an endless stream of thoughts and images that seem to never end. The thoughts come in the form of words and images that are like mental movies.

But you — and I mean the essence of you — are not your thoughts. You are the Consciousness that is witnessing and observing what the mind produces — all those thoughts that come and go.

Practice what it feels like to “watch” your thoughts objectively and without judgment. Let them come and go and simply observe. If you have the intention of letting the stream of thoughts go quiet, you are practicing a form of mindful meditation.

You might also let your consciousness be aware of the sensations of your body. The physical sensations and emotions. The inner “space” of the body. What does your consciousness detect: pleasure, restlessness, anxiety, calm, etc.? Mindfully taking an inventory of the “space” in your body is another kind of meditation.

Being “lost in our thoughts” or daydreaming mental movies is being distracted and lacking conscious awareness. Being identified with the content of our thoughts, in other words thinking that you are the voice in your head, is to lack conscious awareness. It is to be unconscious.

So mindfulness is awakening to our consciousness. Awakening to who we really are. Not the voice in our head, but the awareness that observes the mind — sometimes called the Self or the Higher Self.

So what’s the point of mindfulness? We will be looking at the many benefits of mindfulness in the next topics. For now, let’s say that one benefit of mindfulness is improving the ability to pause — to stop and consciously think what we are doing. Improving our ability to stop long enough to self-regulate. That matters when you consider that all the symptoms of ADHD — impulsive actions, not being able to focus or hyper-focusing attention on unimportant things, and moving our bodies in a non-controlled way — are deficits in self-regulation.

On an even more basic level, being mindful tunes us into who we really are and how we happen to be feeling. With an awakened consciousness, we will make — I hope! — more enlightened choices on things big and small. We will exercise our free will in making decisions, instead of ADHD deciding for us.

-Coach Drew

Getting A Big Picture Of Life

My Fellow Distractoids,

Do you have a “Big Picture” of life?

Distractoids live almost solely in the moment, their chaotic, disjointed lives shaped by passivity, reactivity, and impulsivity. Masters of Distraction have learned to see what they want the Big Picture of their future to look like, which they proactively pursue and create through conscious decisions.

Remember when you were a kid and some adult would ask you some version of, “So, where do you see yourself in ten years?” or “What do you want to do with your life.” When confronted with such a query, I would stammer some kind of made-up BS answer. But my “thought bubble” was more like, “What the hell are you talking about? That question does not compute.” Sound familiar?

The ADHD brain is great at locking onto areas of immediate interest and making connections between seemingly unrelated things. It seems to “see” or consider everything all at once, without hierarchy or categorization. These attributes help explain why the ADHD brain is supremely creative and why ADDers are unique individualists. But there is a cost.

“I don’t even know who I am. I can’t figure out what to do with my life. How do I know where to start? Why does nothing I do ever add up? I’ve wasted so much time. I’ve wasted my potential.” These laments testify to the monumentally frustrating condition of living life without workable and consistent guiding principles, direction, and purpose: being at a loss to explain how I got where I am today, and having no insight into where I am going tomorrow.

By contrast, non-ADHD brains range over past and future with stronger powers of hindsight and foresight and a more natural ability to learn from past mistakes, develop a life-plan, and prioritize actions by importance in the pursuit of future goals. The ability to pursue goals and priorities over time is one of the hallmarks of a brain with solid Executive Function.

But here’s the good news. ADDers are not doomed to flounder around or sink in the quicksand of existence. We can consciously do what the brains of others seem to do with much less effort or intention. Here are some techniques for discovering a Big Picture and exercising your free will to decide more consciously who you would like to become and what you want your life to be.

I understand that doing these exercises thoughtfully and fully is no small task. For now, just read through to get a broad sense of what I am talking about. I will address some of these in more detail in subsequent posts …

— Examine your life to come to the best current understanding possible of your most intense interests and greatest strengths and talents. Ask family and friends what they think.

— Look at the environments you thrive in and the kind of people you most like to live and work with. How would you describe your “tribe?”

— Make a list of things that you find are the most fun to do.

— Make a list of times in the past when you did something — large or small — that gave you a sense of personal fulfillment and satisfaction. If you won the National Spelling Bee but hated every second of it, that does not go on the list. Inner fulfillment is the focus, not outward achievement, though many fulfilling events have both attributes.

— Look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, or something similar. Which of your needs are being fulfilled? Which are not? How will they be in the future?

— Make a list of the standards of behavior you believe in and that you would like to embrace to help guide you in life. An example: to treat others as I want to be treated.

— Ask your Future Self what you need to know now in order to create your ideal life.

— Imagine you are dying or dead. How do you want to be remembered?  What would you want people to say about you as a family member, friend, member of the community, and citizen?

— Write out what you would do if you had the power to change the world any way you desired.

—  Use all this information to write a personal mission statement or statement of purpose.

— Finally, pick a point in the future and write about your ideal life in the present tense — as if you are already living it. Visualize it in detail. If you like, make it ideal in the extreme. Be bold. Go ahead and exaggerate. Now, working back to the present, consider what it will take to “live into” or live towards your ideal reality in the future. What are the milestones along the way, and where do they fall in time? What’s the most important step you can make today and tomorrow?

One of the hardest things about ADHD is the way it interferes with how our best intentions translate into sustained actions that add up to a coherent life. Having a vision of an ideal life to shoot for helps us out of the trap — the quicksand — of incoherent, easily frustrated actions.

-Coach Drew

ADHD and the Challenge of Agreements

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.”

-Coach Drew

ADHD Treatment Poll: Popularity and What Works

My Fellow Distractoids, 

This is a little different post than usual. ADDitude Online Magazine polled 4,000 of its readers on ways they cope with ADHD and what they find most effective. There are a lot of interesting findings. Most effective: exercise and coaching followed by mindfulness/meditation, Cognitve Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and neurofeedback training.

Only 21% of those polled used Coaching/Counseling. Almost 50% found it extremely or very effective. Only exercise was deemed more effective at 56%. My question is how many of the respondents had coaches or counselors with solid training in ADHD coaching? My guess would be only a fraction. So, if I am correct, ADHD Coaching with a trained coach would likely be significantly higher than the 50%, but admittedly this is conjecture on my part.

I also thought it was interesting that a little more than 40% found neurofeedback to be very or extremely effective. Maybe I will try that and see what the experience is all about.

One other surprise in the data … Though medication was the most frequent method of dealing with ADHD in adults, at a rate of 70% of respondents, it was deemed effective by only 40% of adults.

Another stat that caught my eye: only 15% of adults deemed supplements, vitamins, minerals effective. That’s a low score.

-Coach Drew

Agreements versus Expectations

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!

-Coach Drew

Breaking the Pattern: A Statement from the Heart

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!

-Coach Drew

Communication: Listening (and Talking)

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.

-Coach Drew


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

ADHD Relationship Dysfunction: Wiping the Slate Clean

My Fellow Distractoids,

Let’s say you are in relationship that is unhappy and that’s maybe been unhappy for a long time. You and your significant other know you need to do something major to repair the damage and reset the course, but you don’t know how to break the grip of negative patterns resulting from untreated and under-treated ADHD. When you try to talk, you just wind up in the same old bad place.

Distractoids keep banging their heads against the wall doing the same old thing. But Masters of Distraction know they must do something different: It’s time to Wipe the Slate Clean. To get a brand new start free of negative emotions so that you can begin communicating with more clarity, mutual trust, respect, and of course love. In other words, start communicating and stop miscommunicating.

What are the components of Wiping the Slate Clean?

1. Recognize that until now the root problem in the relationship is a genetic, physiological condition that very likely has been untreated or under-treated.

2. Recognize that you and your partner have very different brains and that you really don’t experience life in the same way. If you are the ADDer, get very clear that your ADD behavior likely has far more impact on your partner than you currently realize and likely has been far more damaging to the relationship than you now know. If you are the non-ADDer, get very clear that it’s not all your partner’s fault and that it is very likely your misperceptions and reactions, though logical-seeming, are also major contributors to the negative spiral.

3. Understand that your brain and your partner’s brain sometimes get their wires crossed, which results in miscommunication, dysfunction, and unhappiness.

4. Get clear that you both are good people and that each of you has been doing their best under the circumstances.

5. Combining points 1-4, let go of anger, resentment, and grievance and make a firm resolution to stop blaming one-another and cease with negative judgments.

6. Get clear that we are all one hundred per cent responsible for our feelings and our happiness. Your partner is not “making” and has not “made” you unhappy. If I am angry, stressed out, or upset, it’s because that is how I am choosing to react to words and actions. Let me say it another way: I am totally responsible for what I say and do and how I feel because those are choices I make. Conversely, what other people think and how they feel are totally outside my control. Let me say it a third way: stop blaming the other person and allowing yourself to act from a victim position. You are not a victim.

7. Forgive your partner for all past actions and forgive yourself for the misconceptions and negative judgments and self-judgments that may have contributed to conflict and mutual upset.

8. Do not attempt to communicate when you are emotionally triggered or holding negative judgments about your partner. Wait until you are feeling good or at the very least neutral.

Note: I have know people who have gone weeks and months choosing not to communicate or barely to communicate because they always felt triggered. These people have come out the other side with their relationships vastly strengthened.

9. Put aside any feelings of hopelessness for the time being and trust that you are truly beginning a new and better chapter in your life. Try to be open and curious about the changes you are making. You might be surprised by what you find.

To repair a broken relationship is maybe one of the most challenging but also most rewarding things you can do in life. If you need support, make sure and get it! A coach who is knowledgeable about ADHD can help.

-Coach Drew

Communication: Seeing Destructive Patterns

My Fellow Distractoids,*

Are you and a loved one living too much (or all) of the time in a negative feedback loop of reactivity and anger? Are you living in a relationship where there is chronic anger and stress?

Today I want to talk about a common pattern found in relationships between ADHD and non-ADHD partners. Call it the ACTION (or NON-ACTION) – REACTION – REACTION – REACTION rut.

MASTERS OF DISTRACTION see the miscommunication likely present in this pattern, and they take steps to end the cycle. DISTRACTOIDS stay in the pattern, digging deeper and deeper ruts.

Let’s break down an example —

  1. Action — I impulsively blurt something insensitive while my spouse is speaking.
  2. Reaction — He/She takes offense and angrily tells me that I am a rude, nasty person.
  3. Reaction — Under attack and ashamed of myself, I shut down and clam up.
  4. Reaction — Feeling unheard, my spouse turns up the volume and yells at me that I amnot only rude but clueless and unapologetic. Maybe she asks me if I am an adult or a 5-year old (and I shut down even more, etc.).

Sound familiar? So what the hell is really going on?

ACTION — Yes, I blurted something out, but that’s part of impulsivity aspect of my ADHD. Sometimes, despite not wanting to, I get excited and talk over people. I didn’t mean to say anything rude; it just came out the wrong way. And I really am sorry. In truth, though I might have had an awkward moment, I am not a rude, nasty person. (Note: this could also be a non-action, like …. Ummmm … failure to take out the trash.)

REACTION — Instead of looking at my blurting for what it is, a symptom of ADHD, my spouse judges me harshly and attributes my ADHD symptom to a negative character trait, i.e. that I am rude and nasty. The judgment, though seemingly logical, is based on misunderstanding my behavior.

REACTION — I want to take back what I said. I want to apologize. But now I physically can’t do that. Why? Suddenly my brain is no longer working. I am super-anxious and at a loss for words. The reason is that I’ve had a shame reaction and my brain has been flooded with fight/flight/freeze neurotransmitters. I can no longer communicate effectively because my thoughts and memory are locked up.

REACTION — My spouse misinterprets my involuntary sudden shut-down and withdrawal as willful avoidance, not caring, maybe even not loving her/him. Again, the reaction looks and seems logical, but is based on the misperception that I still have control of all my faculties when in reality I do not. As I retreat and withdraw in an effort to overwhelmed, emotionally flooded-out system, my spouse more aggressively pursues in order to connect and be heard.

As you can see, the pattern is reactive and self-reinforcing. It’s a pattern of pursuit on the part of the non-ADHD partner and retreat by the ADDer. It very often can take on the characteristics of parent-child type dynamics.

So what do you do?
1. Recognize that you and your partner have very different brains that perceive things and communicate in very different ways.

2. Wipe the slate clean. Know that ADHD-related miscommunication, not character flaws and incompatible personalities, is the culprit here. (I will say more about this in another post.

3. Make a firm resolution to engage and try to communicate when either of you is triggered and upset. This will likely go nowhere.

4. Make a firm resolution to set up a regular time and place to talk when both of you are feeling calm and relatively free of conflict. Make sure these conversations are focused and free of distractions. And that they are a time when both of you can “speak from the heart.”

5. When you talk, do so in a mindful, respectful, non-judgmental fashion. Ask questions that will lead you to a full understanding of what your significant other is going through. (I will have more to say about communication in another post.)

The idea is to replace dysfunctional, damaging, and hurtful communication with effective, respectful, useful communication and to raise the level of empathy and understanding on both sides. It’s a lot easier for two good people to fall into this destructive pattern than it is for them to get out of it. But it will be worth it.

-Coach Drew

*NOTE: I am greatly indebted to the writing of Melissa Orlov for the ideas and information in this post. I highly recommend her books.