Ask Dr. Saline: How Do I Stop Apologizing For My ADHD?

woman frowningDear Dr. Saline,

I’m a senior in high school and I was diagnosed with ADHD in fifth grade. I get distracted easily, forget things and blurt things out more than I should. Then I feel really bad. I’m always saying “I’m sorry.” Last week, my two best friends told me that I apologize too much.I really want to break this bad habit  before starting college. How do I stop apologizing for my ADHD and just own it?



From Dr. Saline:

Dear Carmen,

sorry note on coffee cupIt’s quite common for people to apologize for their ADHD. Feeling bad about things that they say or do, many folks are embarrassed of who they are as a neurodivergent person. But shame about being different can lead to walking around judging yourself for not measuring up and worrying when you will make a misstep again. Often, regardless of your accomplishments, it can be hard to hold onto your successes. Imposter syndrome and perfectionism can make this even more intense. 

The best way to stop apologizing for your ADHD is to start by reducing the stigma and shame of your diagnosis. This may sound like an overly simple solution, but it’s actually a process that will take some time to develop. You can’t stop apologizing if you feel bad about who you are. You’ll need to first understand the source of the negative thoughts you’re confronting. Then, once you  work on catching these and reframing them into something less critical and harsh, you can redirect your feelings. Quieting the negatives will result in amplifying the positives and minimize how often you say “I’m sorry.” This can be a tough exercise for people with ADHD because they’re so used to living with negative experiences and challenges. But with practice, you can learn to normalize, accept, and embrace all aspects of your ADHD.

ADHD, Shame, and Self-Sabotage

outcast teenBefore changing the habit of apologizing for your ADHD, let’s take a step back and understand what’s behind the behavior. The shame you feel about ADHD likely took hold early on in your journey when people let you know that you were “different” from your peers or not measuring up to expectations or neurotypical norms.

Over time, these comments make you doubt yourself, increasing nervousness and worry about messing up or embarrassing yourself. This heightened insecurity led to anxiety about doing something “wrong” again. Apologizing, distancing yourself, or avoiding situations for fear of feeling “less than” others became a pattern of protection. You didn’t want to disappoint others and didn’t trust that you would be okay. So you blame yourself and apologize to compensate for the natural challenges of living with an ADHD brain. Many, many people with ADHD have developed the exact same coping method. Like you, they realize that it no longer serves them. 

5 Tips To Help You Stop Apologizing for Your ADHD

confident man at his deskShame tells you that you have made a mistake and you are a bad person for doing that. Guilt tells you that you’ve made a mistake but you are still a good person. You can reduce shame by shifting the negative thought patterns and accepting your humanity. Everybody makes mistakes and there is nothing wrong with you because you do too. It’s how we respond when we mess up and knowing what we need to be accountable for that makes all of the difference. You can alter your responses to people, situations and actions by mindfully adopting new skills.

  1. Research, uncover and own the shame –​ Acknowledge when you struggle with shame, and write down when it occurs. Then wonder about it instead of spiraling down into disgust with yourself. When does shame occur? Is it when you’re asked to help someone? Or when you’re participating in a group project? Own the trait and then reframe your thinking to be more positive. For example: “I interrupt because I am passionate.”
  2. Pay attention to what went well –​ Each night before you go to bed, write down 3 things that were good enough that day. They don’t need to be big victories. The idea is to simply take note of positive daily things so you can build up that energy. Maybe you enjoyed watching your favorite show, or helped a friend with a math problem, or reached your goal of running three miles. Tap into feelings of gratitude for what is going well in your life.
  3. Ask for help – You may hate asking for help for fear of looking weak or incompetent. But when you refuse to ask for help, reject it when it’s offered, or pretend you’ve got things covered when you really don’t, you make life much harder for yourself. Remember, your goal is to relieve your stress, increase productivity and gain confidence. Don’t let shame and fear stand in the way. Recognize when you would benefit from assistance and remember that asking for help is empowering, not demeaning.
  4. Accept the ADHD brain that you have –  We all have different types of brains that process information in unique, creative and idiosyncratic ways. These differences are part of what makes people diverse, interesting and innovative. Talk about your challenges with others instead of being embarrassed about them. Everybody has their own strengths and limitations. You may have had some tough experiences in the past, but on the whole, people are far more accepting and understanding than you may think.
  5. Amplify what you enjoy or do well  – When you make more space in your heart (and your mind!) for what you love, you’ll gain more confidence and perspective. This is the antidote for feelings of shame and diminishment. Consider your talents, abilities, and activities which bring you joy and try to do more of them each day.