Boost Mental Well-Being for Women with ADHD: Reduce Self-Criticism and Build Self-Confidence

May is Women’s Health Month: a time to recognize and advocate for women’s physical and mental health care. Women with ADHD, and those who care for neurodivergent children, frequently deal with additional stressors, anxiety and depression, often without adequate support. At the same time, they can berate themselves for the things they are not in the face of impossible social standards laid out for females of all ages. Self-doubt frequently creeps in and plagues your ability to make decisions and feel good about your choices. Sadly, too many women with ADHD are often their harshest and loudest critics, making it tougher to feel good enough, worthy and empowered. Psychological and emotional wellness for women begins with learning to quiet that negative inner-voice, practice self-compassion and develop resilience.

The harsh feedback loop in women with ADHD

Women are socialized to please others and take care of them–emotionally, physically and psychologically. Their self-worth can be tied to what people think about them and how many friends (real or virtual) they have instead of the uniqueness of their innate talents and personal traits. In today’s busy and over-connected world, it’s easy to compare yourself to others and come up short. Suddenly you may find yourself in a cycle of negativity in the midst of scrolling your Instagram while waiting in line for a latte or for school pick-up. This self-critical feedback, generated from years of messages about missing the mark, tuning out during a conversation, or being chronically late, can be hard to shake off. Women with ADHD, already sensitive to feedback or rejection, repeatedly interpret things more negatively and personally than the situation may actually call for. They are especially vulnerable to feelings of low self-worth.

Change your relationship with the negative voice

While it’s unrealistic to eliminate negative thinking, reducing its power and influence is crucial for fostering self esteem and resilience–two key issues for women. You have to change your relationship to the negative voice: to separate actions you regret and the layer of shame you add onto them. Identify the lies that voice tells you such as: “You are stupid, you make bad choices or nobody likes you.” We all have moments when we doubt or blame ourselves. But there is a difference between what happens in real life and the stories that you tell yourself about those events. These harsh interpretations directly influence the way someone takes meaning from whatever occurred. 

Although the inner critic seems to increase insecurity and self-loathing, deep down it’s goal is to protect you and ensure you are safe. It puts you down in a misguided effort to keep you from experiencing pain from others. If you already think you aren’t good enough, then whatever anybody else says on this subject can’t hurt you. Nobody can be more critical of you than you are of yourself so you avoid the vulnerability of receiving negative feedback. This may sound confusing and even crazy but it happens for all of us.

Stumbling and regrouping is part of being human

It’s natural for all of us to stumble and make mistakes. Being accountable for an error and making amends to set things on a better course differs significantly from repeated apologies, not learning from your experience and engaging in the blame game. Your goal is to turn down the volume and intensity of that negative voice by acknowledging and accepting who you are in a given moment with whatever resources you have available. You don’t have to believe what the inner critic is saying. Instead, acknowledge the feedback loops in your mind without being ruled by them. See the inner critic as the irrational, unbalanced and demented protector it is–holding you back from taking risks and sharing your true self with the world.

Make space for confidence and resilience with a growth mindset

The most powerful tool women have to counter negative thinking is self-esteem and its cousin, resilience. Confidence empowers you to make decisions, get through life’s ups and downs and recover after setbacks. It’s your inner ally. Confidence also helps quiet the inner critic by reassuring it that your wise, inner self has the resources to meet whatever challenges you are facing. So while you’re quieting your inner critic, turn up the volume on the voice that nurtures you with compassion, kindness and support.

  1. Identify limiting core beliefs and negative self-talk. Name your limitations and the ways that you put yourself down. Then, find evidence that contradicts those beliefs. Write these down. If you believe that people don’t really like you, think about the ones who do. Recall a time when you had fun together. Write this down as a reminder. Remember that no one is judging you as harshly as you judge yourself. Talk to people in your life who love and know you best and get their perspective on all your best qualities.
  2. Separate feelings from being: Feeling bad doesn’t mean you are less than or unworthy. It may be tough, but your work is to stop letting negative feelings from defining who you are. Imagine that your mind is the sky and your thoughts and feelings are clouds that pass by. They aren’t the essence of the beautiful blue expanse of who you are. Use self-affirming phrases such as “I can feel anger without overreacting,” “I’m disappointed in myself but I’m not a bad person” or “I can try something new and handle whatever happens because I’ve done that before.” 
  3. Nurture a growth mindset approach: Shift away from trying to prove your worth to others, using false comparisons or judging yourself as less than. Transition from seeing yourself in a negative light to practicing compassion and kindness toward yourself. If you are saying something to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a third grader with a skinned knee, stop. Remember that 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.” Practice kindness and patience towards yourself.
  4. Create phrases of encouragement to strengthen your inner ally: Having a few helpful phrases to say to yourself can really help you get through those low moments. Positive self-talk counter-acts that negative voice so you don’t have to believe it. Build your confidence, reinforce your strengths and tame your inner critic with reminders of your gifts and traits. Sample statements might be: “Everyone makes mistakes, including me. What can I do differently next time?” OR, “There’s no such thing as perfection. It’s okay to stumble, just keep trying.” Write these down on your phone so they’re handy when you need them.
  5. Practice mindfulness and self-compassion with meditation: Picture yourself in your “happy place”–somewhere you love where you feel calm and content. Visualize the face of someone whom you love and trust. What supportive words would this person say to you? How would these words comfort and encourage you? Put your hand over your heart and send their love to you. Write these phrases down and return to these images and words whenever you need a boost. Learning how to fill up your own bucket fosters the essential resilience women need now more than ever. 

If you’ve been stuck in a pattern of knocking yourself down, learning to pull yourself back up takes A LOT of practice and grit. Learning to control the volume on that negative voice is a life skill based on persistent resilience and genuine self-esteem. It’s one step at a time so stay patient because two steps forward and one step backwards is still forward motion. 


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