Emotional management is not something you are born with. Most of us develop social/emotional coping skills throughout our childhood and into our early 20’s. But for those with ADHD this ability to regulate our emotions seems to be somewhat inhibited.
It was always easier for me to avoid all uncomfortable emotions. I would never let myself cry at movies or at funerals, no matter how much I wanted to. I have never been a hugger either.
Have you ever gone off to cry alone? Yeah, me too.
I have read some self help books and seen a bunch of psychologists. As an aside, this is my way of saying my advice is not professional in nature.
Somehow, I have been able to pull myself out of the emotional muck over the last 10ish years. It was a deliberate effort and I still work on it every day. This is not necessarily a list of tips that will change your life. It is meant more to be food for thought.
Some steps (and a bunch of adult homework questions) on the path to emotional management with ADHD:
Forgive anyone who you blame for your neurosis
(Neurosis not ADHD. Nobody gives you ADHD.)
I don’t know about you, but I was not taught healthy emotional management. My mother was widowed and parent to two ADHD children. She did a lot of screaming.
We recently watched as my brother got married. If you knew my brother you would know that the road to this point in his life was a rocky one. Not only did he share the ADHD diagnosis, but he lost his father before he turned four.
Angry outbursts were common in our house. My brother was oppositional, hyperactive and extremely impulsive. Our mother was angry, lonely, bitter and at times verbally abusive. I don’t say this to insult her, she just didn’t have the tools to parent in any other way. She was alone.
My father was across town with his wife, working to support her needs and desires. As a young person I never experienced healthy adult relationship role modeling. I had no idea what a healthy marriage looked like, or even how two adults talked to each other. Did you?
Ask yourself some questions:
What kind of role modeling did you get from your parents?
Were they loving and affectionate?
Did they hate each other? (Don’t worry mine did too.)
How did they talk to you?
What unconscious messages were you getting from their body language toward you and each other?
How did you and your siblings interact?
How did you internalize all of this?
If the messages you received as a child were less than self-affirming try to consider what was going on at that time. Think about it without placing blame. And then let it go.
Try not to fear your own emotions
My 86 year-old Grandfather made what I assume to be his last trip here for my brother’s wedding. He is declining, losing his ability to speak clearly and walk. It embarrasses him that he needs a walker and several adult men to help him go up and down just a couple steps.
He smiled all night and I could feel how happy he was to have 4 generations in one room.
At one point I walked over to him and he grabbed my hand and said, “You know, you are such a lovely woman. When did you grow so beautiful?” I hugged him and thanked him. I let his happiness soak in.
This sort of emotional exchange is very uncomfortable for me. Not only because I don’t take compliments well but also because emotions scare the hell out of me.
Do you hold back tears whether happy or sad? (You can admit it, I do it too.)
Do you feel overwhelmed when you feel two disparate emotions at once? (Ex. Happy/sad at the same time)
Do you hide your feelings from the people close to you?
Does holding in emotions cause you to do other things to calm yourself? (Overeating, sleeping too much etc.)
I do all of the above. For the first time I actually told both my husband and my mother how I was feeling about my Grandfather. I still cried alone, but at least I verbalized it and admitted to having feelings!
Try telling the people close to you when emotion slaps you in the face. It is freeing!
Stop thinking everyone is angry with you
As a kid I was witness to a lot of fighting. Too much fighting, more than a kid should see. One of the after effects of this is that whenever the tone in someone’s voice gets even a little tense sounding I go into panic mode.
Do you avoid even minor confrontations like the plague?
Have you ever hidden something fairly innocent from someone you love because you were afraid to tell the truth? (Like eating the leftover wedding cake. Just as an example.)
Do you start to sweat at the very thought of asking for a raise at work?
Do you interpret any tension as anger?
My brother’s head almost exploded this weekend when one of his groomsmen was running late. In the past I probably would have been more afraid. My brother can be scary when he is angry.
Instead I went downstairs and asked the bride what the “plan” was. Then I went upstairs and diffused the situation. I am not even sure what I said?
There may have also been some Jack Daniels involved, but the point is I didn’t run away and I didn’t get upset. You know what, I didn’t stop and blame myself either. Imagine that.
Don’t immediately assume that anger is a bad thing. Anger is sometimes masking other emotions. Like wedding day jitters.
REALIZE IT IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU.
I know this sounds obvious but it is an easy thing to forget. If you hear people talking off by themselves, it is probably not about you. If the barista at Starbucks is rude to you when you place your regular order that is also not about you.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
I remember I used to be that person that panicked every time I noticed a few women talking privately in the corner. I would be certain that they were glancing over at me, talking about me. I used to think whenever somebody giggled in the gym they were laughing at my jiggly butt.
This all sounds incredibly self-involved because it was! Have you ever been paranoid like that?
This is the thing- people do not often do things, say things, laugh, cry etc. because of you and you alone. Your fellow humans are as into their own lives and neurosis as you are. TWEET!
99% of the time we are discussing something mundane like washing our kids undies.
As a rule if you see me giggling and pointing, it is probably at my dog.
More questions for you to think about:
Why do you actually care if someone is talking about you?
What is the worst thing someone could say about you?
If they say “it”, what happens next?
Would you live through hearing it said about you? (Of course!)
Really think about what it is you are afraid of. Don’t spend your time the way I spent my entire 20’s – in a stew of insecurity and anxiety. Life is too short!
NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS NEED TO GO
For the purpose of this post I will call these NTP’s. These NTP’s are common in those of us with ADHD. We have often been subject to criticism, condescension and downright anger by our friends, family and coworkers.
When we hear negative information about ourselves we are likely to internalize it and repeat it to ourselves in our own head.
The problem with this is that we probably do not know we are doing it. I encourage you to tune in to the voices in your own head. It’s not as bad as it sounds. <snicker>
The next time you feel a pang of self-doubt ask yourself:
What was going on 10 seconds ago?
Was something said to me, or was it something in my own head?
Did someone ignore or fail to respond to something I said?
What was I thinking about before I felt this way?
Am I being rational or am I being irrational?
Seriously, if you sit and just listen to the stuff that goes through your head, you might be surprised how often you have these negative thoughts. They become so ingrained and they flash across our consciousness so quickly, we do not even notice them.
Start identifying the NTP’s that are unique to you. And then start talking back to them.
Not out loud. Then people will be staring at you and pointing.
CHOOSE TO LIVE IN THE POSITIVE
This sounds trite I admit it. Cognitive Therapy shows us that by changing your thought patterns (see above) you can change your functioning. For many of us the pattern of failure in our lives is stifling.
When you cannot be productive at work, as a parent or as a life partner you start to view the world through a very negative lens.
I spent so much of my life fulfilling my own negative self-fulfilling prophecies. It wasn’t until I chose to be positive while still acknowledging my faults that I was able to let the negativity go. As an added bonus I am able to accept the faults of others more easily too.
I had to make a decision to change my thought patterns and change the way interpreted the world. Change is hard work.
Some more questions for you:
What really makes you happy? (Your children spouse, reading, creating art etc.)
When was the last time you remember being truly happy?
Do you make your own happiness or do you expect others to do it for you?
Do you feel you deserve to be happy?
Do you have trouble seeing the positive side of people? (Or yourself)
I don’t want you to think I am giving you marching orders and then dropping the subject. Handling the emotions that come along with ADHD and other associated conditions is a full time job. It is a lifetime of work for those of us who understand the struggle. I cannot promise much, but I can use a line I stole from my mother:
Anything worth having is worth working for.
Do you feel that emotional management is an issue in your life?
How do you manage your emotions?