Shame, Anxiety and Worthiness with ADHD

Shame anxiety and worthiness with ADHD

I am going through a Brene Brown phase. I know what you are thinking – “everybody likes Brene, Liz! You are not that special!”

And you are correct. Everyone loves her work, including Oprah. But because I am always behind the curve I am just getting started. I picked up a copy of The Gifts of Imperfection a while back, and I have taken my time reading it.

This started out as a book review and then took a detour into ADHD land.

Call it whatever you want: This lady has something to offer for everyone. Including those of us living with ADHD.

Most of my life has been marked with this unending feeling of inadequacy. I have never been smart enough, fast enough, pretty enough, or thin enough. For whom? I don’t know – myself?

This inadequacy complex is aggravated by my ADHD symptoms and I am pretty sure (99%) that I am not alone. I get countless emails from women similar to myself who are struggling to live up to their own expectations.

And then there is the shame. This is where Brene Brown comes into the picture. I mean, I have shame and I have had the ADHD diagnosis for years.  What about those just diagnosed?

[bctt tweet=”I never got over the shame factor. I’m constantly apologizing for what I think I lack.” username=”HealthyADHD”]

The shame never goes away. Whether you have ADHD or not.

I cannot lay it all out for you so I will highlight the sections I believe apply to my personal situation, as well as that of other women living with ADHD.

Setting Boundaries is a form of Compassion

Having ADHD means you are constantly trying not to disappoint people. This often leads to overcompensating. Overcompensating can take many forms, but the most common is a lack of personal boundaries.

How many of us fail to say “no” when we need to? <raises hand.>  Inevitably, I end up resentful and grouchy.  Or I blame other people for my own inability to set boundaries.

Brown argues that by holding people accountable for their behavior we are actually accepting them as they are – and in turn freeing ourselves from having to blame them for hurting us. The best way to hold someone accountable is to set a personal boundary.

Acceptance of ourselves (which is part of authenticity) and our needs forces us to be more accepting of others. Ultimately we become more compassionate. Brown writes, “the key is to separate people from their behaviors – to address what they are doing, not who they are.”

Lesson 1: Separate your ADHD behaviors and symptoms from who you are as a person. Set boundaries so that you can better accept yourself and others.

You Are Worthy of Putting Yourself First

You and I are both worthy of everything. Of love. Of belonging. Of our life and our happiness.

What is it about this ADHD thing that makes us feel so unworthy? (if you figure it out let me know please!)

Dr. Brown writes about “worthiness prerequisites.” I know that I have always had these prerequisites surrounding my life. As an adult I have prerequisites surrounding my ADHD and this website.

  • I’ll be worthy when I get 100k page views per month.

  • I’ll be worthy when I make money on my writing.

  • I’ll be worthy when I can quit my day job.

This is the thing – we all feel like we cannot be authentic about who we are. We all have our social face on, as Ms. Brown writes, we “chameleon” our way through life so that we feel like we belong.

I write about my flaws all the time, but I do it so that I can “fit in” with all of you.

You are my tribe. You, the readers, form my sense of belonging.

As I learned from this book, putting ourselves first, and accepting ourselves first is a revolutionary concept. But I am going to try it.

Lesson 2: Put yourself first. Don’t feel guilty about it. Know that you deserve it.

Brene Brown quote on authenticity. Sham, anxiety and worthiness with ADHD.

Anxiety Comes From Within

Most of you know that I take anxiety medication. I used to take ADHD medication. Maybe I should try them as a cocktail? Or not.

Ever considered the fact that most of the racing thoughts that keep us awake at night are coming from our own minds? I for one know that my expectations for myself are so much more demanding than anything someone else could ask of me.

In her book, Brene Brown defines shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

I’m pretty sure all of the pressure I put on myself to start an online business, get my writing out there, and to look damn good while I do it is self imposed. I want so badly to appear neurotypical and NOT ADHD.

Maybe I need to get over it. Get over myself. I need to stop worrying about how people will react when I put myself out there as a mentor for women living with ADHD.

I need to lose my fear of “being perceived as unworthy.”

According to Dr. Brown, “shame happens between people, and it is healed between people.”

Lesson 3: Recognize how you are creating shame and anxiety in your own life.  Tell your shame stories to the people in your life. Like I said in my Emotional Management post, talk back to the negative thought patterns.

Here is a mindfulness pocket guide you can start with.  It also includes a worksheet to help you start re-training your negative thought patterns:

Pocket Guide to Mindfulness in Your ADHD Life

Shame is the Birthplace of Perfectionism

So yeah…I have written about perfectionism and ADHD before. Am I the only one seeing how shame, worthiness and ADHD are so interconnected?

Brown explains that perfectionism is focused outside of ourselves. It is about the way others see us. We are seeking external rewards, praise and acceptance.

Overcoming perfectionism is only possible through self-compassion. “Our imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we are all in this together. Imperfectly, but together.”

Lesson 4: Practice Self-Compassion. Focus less on external rewards and more on internal (instrinsic) rewards. Define yourself. Evolve.

[bctt tweet=”Perfection is not attainable. But self-acceptance is, and it just might save you.” username=”HealthyADHD”]

It is OK to do Nothing

A while back I wrote this post about why I think being distracted is ok. Sometimes. At the time it was sort of a joke.

Brene Brown agrees with me! She cites the research of Dr. Stuart Brown in to the importance of play. She writes, “play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups and is at the core of creativity and innovation.”

I have always felt that taking a “brain break” at some point in my day is essential to my well-being. I used to let my students take a brain break during long block periods at school. They were much more motivated and cooperative after a few minutes of down time.

I have never understood our society’s focus on productivity at all costs. We work longer daily hours and we have less weekly vacation than any other industrialized nation. And in the words of Ms. Brown, “we use our spare time to desperately search for joy and meaning in our lives.”

Lesson 5: Give yourself a break. Don’t measure your success by the size of your bank account or the car you drive. Rest is productive and it might even improve your brain function.

This is entirely too long for anyone with ADHD to read.

For more information on Brene Brown visit her site at:

Get My List of Favorite Blogs and Web Resources!

You can purchase her books and support this site at the same time by using my links below. Thanks in advance!

Thanks for installing the Bottom of every post plugin by Corey Salzano. Contact me if you need custom WordPress plugins or website design.

  • Rachael Mazzei

    I am just discovering your site and I am so glad I stumbled upon it. I was just diagnosed with ADD after struggling with these very issues for 30 freakin years! It’s so uplifting to know that there are other people who deal with the same crap! Thanks for the tips <3

  • Liz

    Hi Rachael-
    Believe me you are not alone! I am so glad you stopped by.
    Having ADHD is one thing, being a woman with ADHD is a whole different situation.
    No matter how far we have come we still expect so much from ourselves. I hope you will stick around and hang out, or better yet join one of my Facebook groups!

  • fragdemented

    > What is it about this ADHD thing that makes us feel so unworthy? (if you figure it out let me know please!)

    I’m still working on this for sure, but in a recent therapy session I may have stumbled on an answer. At least for me, I look around at my cluttered, messy house and in the mirror at my weight, and all I see is someone who isn’t living up to the standards of the world. I’ve known that I don’t think the way “normal” people do for a long time. I thought, if I could harness the strengths of my ADHD, then I could fix the problems in my life and even if the solutions were weird, then I would be quirky instead of a mess. That’s the thing right there. I see the negative effects that my ADHD brain has on my life and it makes me feel like I’m losing at life. I feel unfit for my family, friends and even myself. I tend to be on the brink of an anxiety attack every time a friend comes over, because they will see my mess of a house.

    My biggest fear is that one by one, people will see me as disgusting or unreliable as a human being and leave me alone without anyone. I hope this helps. It’s helping me just to throw it out there.

  • liz lewis

    Hi there!
    Thanks so much for commenting. Good question?!
    I think it has to do with a lifetime of criticism from both ourselves and others.
    It’s hard to be a woman and have ADHD – we never feel like we are good enough, our homes aren’t good enough.
    I will say the older I get the easier it is to accept that this IS who I am.
    People that know me understand that my house is sanitary but not organized, it is what it is.
    Lets cross our fingers that the world doesn’t shut us out. The more we speak out the stronger we become as a group. I hope you stick around! Our Facebook group is a fun place to connect with other women that “get us.”

  • Happy

    Hi! I was literally in the middle of reading this thinking, this is so long, I don’t know if I can get through it. Considering I just started a blog myself I felt that I need to put in a little more effort and read the whole thing. Or at least skim it. I’m excited I found your blog. I’ll probably binge on it in the next couple of weeks. I loved this post.

  • Liz

    Thanks so much for commenting, Happy!
    It’s so funny you say that because I have been contemplating switching to some shorter content, or breaking up posts. I mean I have ADHD, my readers have ADHD…you know?
    What is your blog? Can I read it?