Dealing With Shame When You Have ADHD

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Shame is an emotion that plays a big part in the lives of people with ADHD. When you feel shame, you feel a huge sense of embarrassment and humiliation about who you are. Shame and guilt are closely connected; although subtly different. Feeling ashamed can lead to many problems, including depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol problems. Here are some common reasons why people with ADHD feel shame.

The Shame of Having ADHD

Many people feel shame for having ADHD. Do you? When you feel ashamed of having ADHD, you are ashamed of a part of yourself. You try to keep up a facade, so people won't know your struggles behind the scenes. This can be exhausting and lonely; because you can’t get the support you need or feel close to the people in your life. It would be great if you could be as comfortable with having ADHD as you are with your eye color.

Shame of Feeling Different

A lot of people feel shame about being different from their peers. Children can feel this more acutely than adults. Children desperately want to fit in with their friends and they dislike things that make them stand out or draw attention to themselves. Aside from the behavioral differences that ADHD can bring, such as hyperactivity, there are other differences with having ADHD; such as having doctor’s appointments or extra help at school.

Shame About Having ADHD Behaviors

Having ADHD can affect your behavior in all sorts of ways; such as: acting impulsively and doing something you feel embarrassed about, not being able to follow a conversation and then feeling ‘stupid’. You might feel ashamed of your home because it is cluttered or because you may be always forgetting things. ADHD affects everyone’s behavior differently, but feeling ashamed of it is a common theme.

Shame About Your History

Do you often think about past failures and feel full of shame? - How things didn’t work out with your ex, or the time when your credit card didn’t work, or when you ran out of gas on the highway? You might find your mind often goes back to those memories and each time, you relive that shame.

Shame About Where You Are Now

A common theme I hear from adults with ADHD, is they don’t like where they are in life. They didn’t reach the milestones they thought they would at this age. Perhaps you see your friends reaching life goals that you want too and that causes you shame and resentment because you know you are just as smart and capable as them.

Ways to Heal Shame

Luckily, there are steps you can take to address and ease the shame you may be feeling.

  • Acknowledge that ADHD is a neurological condition, and many of the things causing you shame are a direct result of having ADHD. When you do this, it lifts the blame and shame you have been inflicting on yourself.
  • Learn as much as you can about ADHD through support groups, books, podcasts, and blogs. This knowledge and support will help you to know it isn’t just you. Other people with ADHD experience similar things. This can be very empowering to shake the shame away.
  • Work with a mental health professional who is experienced in working with shame. They can help you process the shame you feel in your life. Your doctor may also prescribe stimulant medication, which can minimize many symptoms of ADHD and allow you to function to your full potential.
  • Change how you speak to yourself. Compassion neutralizes shame. Self-compassion in the form of kind self-talk (the way you would to a child or friend) has a positive effect on the body. This step alone will change your life.
  • Write a list of the practical things you can do to reduce the shame in your life. For example, if you feel ashamed every time you arrive late at work, develop a strategy so that you arrive on time.

By Jacqueline Sinfield
Jacqueline Sinfield is an ADHD coach, and the author of "Untapped Brilliance, How to Reach Your Full Potential As An Adult With ADHD."