How To Stand Up For Yourself When You Have ADHD (at Work, in Friendship and with Your Partner)

Despite growing awareness about ADHD and neurodivergence, there is still a false assumption that somehow people with ADHD can be “less than.” What’s even worse is that many folks with ADHD internalize this stigma from a fairly young age and it grows into a negative thought pattern that plagues them through adulthood. They may think of themselves as deficient, unreliable, or incapable. This couldn’t be further from the truth as we know that ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with being an outside-the-box thinker and doer.

But as long as those misconceptions remain out there, it falls on individuals to educate others and, all too often, defend themselves. If you’re thinking this isn’t quite fair and passes on too much responsibility, you’re right on both accounts. Be that as it may, it’s still up to you to learn how to stand up for yourself and overcome negative thinking. This will not only help build confidence but will also make you more resilient. Let’s look at some strategies to help you advocate for yourself.

Build Self-Confidence & Self-Worth

woman smilingSo many people with ADHD have a nagging, sometimes debilitating inner critic. How can you succeed when the pesky voice in your head is putting you down and holding you back? You can counter the inner critic’s voice by strengthening your inner ally. This positive coach is the one who provides encouragement, reminds you of your value, and recognizes the good in things you do. Strengthen this ally by paying attention to what is working, what you enjoy doing and when you feel happy with something you did. 

At the end of each day, with your partner at dinner, via text with a friend, or in your journal, acknowledge three things that went well. They can be big or small, important or trivial. By taking time to acknowledge the good, you give less oxygen to the voice that questions your worth. So often we are our own worst critic. Judging yourself harshly can sometimes be a reality check, but usually it just demoralizes you. It’s tough enough that others may judge you. Treat yourself with the kindness and compassion you deserve. You’ll be building self-confidence and self-worth instead of fueling anxiety.

Ask for Help

hikers helping each otherAsking for assistance or delegating tasks doesn’t come easy for many of us. Some adults with ADHD struggle with perfectionism as a means to control outcomes so there are no mistakes. But living well means learning as you journey through life. Sometimes, we have to lean on others for support. At other moments, you might have to stand up for yourself and tell your boss, friend or partner what you need without shame or fear of being judged. When you can’t do it alone, your first step is accepting that. There are times when you can’t do it alone and that is okay! Becoming comfortable with asking for help relies on several things: 

  • Accepting that it’s okay not to know how to do something  
  • Accurately assessing personal strengths and limitations
  • Understanding that learning happens through trial-and-error experiences 
  • Acknowledging that perfection doesn’t exist

Progress counts more than perfection. Perfection is impossible to achieve but so many of us aim to achieve it. When we can’t we freeze or berate ourselves or, in the worst cases, give up trying. Instead of setting unreasonable goals, focus on smaller, attainable goals that you actually can meet. Making progress on a task is always better than striving for perfection and getting nothing done. 

Use A Growth Mindset Approach

I'm possible graphicShift away from trying to prove your worth to others using false comparisons or judging yourself as less than. Transition from seeing yourself as less than into building your confidence about what you like about yourself, your unique ADHD brain and what lights you up. Asking for help and being open to learning doesn’t make you weak or a failure. It actually makes you stronger because you are accepting yourself as you are–warts and all. Understanding your limitations and asking for assistance is how we learn and grow. This is what’s called a growth mindset: the ability to reflect on your emotions, behavior, and circumstances and make adjustments as necessary for continued learning and living fully.

When you reframe self-evaluation from good/bad to working/not working, you reinforce a growth mindset and bolster your resilience. You acknowledge problems without succumbing to failure mentality, avoidance or giving up. A growth mindset provides a way to focus on continued learning, improving efficiency in problem solving and identifying tools and resources you need along the way.

We are all works in progress, learning and developing at our own speeds. Believe in the power of “YET.”  Tell yourself, “I may not be able to do this YET, but I am learning.” Be patient with yourself and ask the same of others.

Lean on a Friend

friends outside with bikeHaving someone to lean on when times get tough is necessary and rewarding. When you find yourself confused, frustrated, or in need of emotional support, having a buddy to turn to is invaluable. They can help you figure out a difficult problem, provide a different point of view you may not have considered, or simply offer a shoulder to cry on. A good friend can cheer you on and advocate for you just as you do this for them. They understand your challenges and offer support and advice during tough times. Nurturing loving, caring relationships are mutually rewarding and a few true buddies fill these roles. You don’t need a dozen friends in your inner circle and most people, despite their social feeds, really don’t have more than this.

Own Your ADHD

accept understand empower graphicIf you’re not fully comfortable with your ADHD diagnosis, it may be tempting to conceal or avoid it. But hiding your ADHD means you’ll continue to struggle, feel ashamed and hold yourself back. The best approach to standing up for yourself is to be as open and honest about your ADHD as you can. Different situations call for varying levels of self-disclosure. If you are unsure about what to say or when to say it, discuss this with a trusted friend, caring family member or a mental health professional. In this way, you will be more likely to get help when you need it and access resources that will actually help you be more productive and confident. It really is ok to say, “I sometimes struggle keeping up with conversation in large groups” or ‘I need to take notes in meetings so I don’t forget any important details.” I like to remind my clients that we are all perfectly imperfect. Show yourself for who you are while putting your best foot forward. Allow your authentic self to shine.