Tame Your Defensiveness

If you find yourself jumping down someone’s throat when there’s even a hint of accusation, it might be time to take a closer look. It’s easy to get defensive, especially if you feel unappreciated, attacked or unsupported. But this reaction is a lose-lose proposition that will damage your relationships, along with your self-respect.

Keep in mind that defensiveness is a form of self-protection. It’s a valid attempt to preserve your self-esteem and explain your perspective. But even if stemming from a protective instinct, defensiveness is much less empowering than a calm, open response.

What Leads to Defensiveness?
Hearing negative feedback is never easy. Yet criticism is especially demoralizing if you’re trying really hard and have the best of intentions. Feeling misunderstood or defeated are common for those with ADHD when an oversight occurs despite great effort. It’s natural to jump to your own defense.

Guilt and shame are other causes. If you’re aware of your shortcomings, having them pointed out is painful – like salt in a wound that makes you want to lash out.

Being treated like a child is another trigger. No one wants to be undervalued or disrespected, yet it’s easy to fall into a parent-child dynamic when one party is consistently more on top of things than the other.

Avoid this Cycle
Instead of a starting in on a defensive rampage, imagine remaining calm and receptive. Now picture doing so even (and especially) when you feel misunderstood, underappreciated, frustrated or blamed. It’s powerful!

To help you do so, remember that the other person has a point, just like you do – even if it’s hard to hear at the time. We all have our own versions of reality, along with our feelings about them! While you ultimately may not be able to change how others talk to you, you can decide to respond differently.

STEPS to Eliminate Defensiveness

Remember that people with ADHD have a tendency to respond impulsively, especially when triggered. Consider these commonly occurring thoughts that arise when confronted:
“She thinks I’m an idiot and I’m not!”
“I feel guilty that I forgot but he’ll get angry if I admit it.”
“She’s so righteous when she points out my mistakes that I just want to scream.”
“Hearing all the ways I fall short makes me feel like a failure.”
 “I can’t stand that I messed up again and I just don’t want to face it.”

Remind yourself that a defensive response begins a spiral of anger, greater distance… and (later) guilt about how you handled the situation. Instead, FLIP your typical response by saying, ‘I hear you’. You might even join in, by adding, “OMG, I did it again, how unbelievable!” This gets you on the same page. Others will be surprised, and while they might add in a few more digs to get their point across, your agreeable response will disarm them. Remember that others have a legitimate need be heard!

While a quick explanation might be helpful, going on too long can feel like an excuse to others. Remember that others need to be heard and that focusing on your experience only detracts from their need. At the same time, you have a right to speak up if you disagree. Just time it such that you have listened first, and then share your concern calmly.

If you agree with the feedback, then thank others for letting you know. By speaking up, the people in your life are being direct, which, when you respond favorably, can reduce resentment later on.

5. DO SOMETHING TO IMPROVE THE SITUATION IF THE CRITICISM IS VALIDThis is tricky but necessary to avoid doing the same thing again and again. You’ll likely find that it’s easier to address the issue at hand once the defensiveness is gone! If you don’t know how to change, ask for the other person’s suggestion, teaming up to find a solution.

Living with ADHD requires a certain level of acceptance. Despite all the strategies and efforts to be on top of things, there will be times you will be inconsistent. Educate the people in your life about ADHD so they understand how your brain works. When they see that you are equally frustrated and want to change, together you can come up with ways to deal with these issues in the future.

Additional points to keep in mind:

  • Watch for any tendency to make excuses, deny the facts, or blame others for being unreasonable – you’ve been triggered!
  • When you feel your hackles going up, that’s the sign to STOP engaging. Stall with a comment such as, “I hear you and need to think for a minute.”
  • If a comment is said in a way that makes you feel belittled, say something about it. First, receive the content of what was said; then let others know how their wording or tone felt to you.
  • See the humor. If asked why you left your car keys in the refrigerator, laugh at the absurdity!
  • If you try these techniques and are still met with anger, resentment may have built up for too long. If it’s hard for you to live with ADHD symptoms — it’s likely hard for the people in your life as well! Professional help may be needed to get on the same page.

You’ve likely had the defensive habit for a very long time. Let’s face it; these responses are an effective, though undesirable, solution to get people off your back so you might be a little reluctant to stop!

Learning to live non-defensively is a powerful step well within your control.  It takes some practice and might even feel a little strange at first. But being able to listen to feedback and remain open can improve your relationships and will bring a great sense of empowerment to your life.




Become the Master of Your Day

top-picDo you make the most of your time? At the end of the day do you feel like you had enough balance between work and pleasure? What about time for exercise, eating well and engaging in meaningful activities?  Most of us would answer, unequivocally, No!

 Life is demanding, yet there’s a high cost to letting your day master you – from chronic stress to pure exhaustion.  When you react to what’s in front of you instead of consciously deciding how to spend your time, you lose autonomy!

 The ADHD Factor
People with ADHD often feel like the sky is falling. This overwhelming sensation is understandable when you consider just a few common symptoms, like distractibility and difficulty remembering and prioritizing multiple matters. Think about getting ready for work in the morning.  What’s straight -forward for a neurotypical person is highly stressful for someone with ADD.  There are all the small decisions about what to wear or bring to lunch – as well as the need to remember what’s ahead.  (Just think about how often you run back from your car to grab a forgotten item!)  This extra effort is taxing and is not a good start to the day.  

Below I will review four areas that, when mastered, can help you move forward in new ways.  These are not simple ‘How- To’s’ but concepts to work with over time.

Concepts to Help You Master Your Day

I. Have something to look forward to.
No one is happy when life tips out of balance towards ‘all work and no play’.  But for procrastinators, it’s particularly hard to proceed when there’s nothing pulling them forward.  I’ve listed this first because pleasure is too often the last priority.

Feeling positive about your life is really the main purpose in mastering your time.  Consider what you want more of, or what’s missing in your life.  It could be something simple like more time with friends or getting away for a weekend.  Maybe you want to expand your life by volunteering or taking a course.  Or perhaps you need a major change in your life like moving or finding a new career direction. 

While adding something new can feel daunting, focusing on these important goals is empowering and will give you a sense of purpose and pleasure. For those of you who aren’t natural planners, unfortunately, there’s no way around it – but you can enlist help. Be brave and expand your life!

II. Free yourself from indecision.
There are no perfect decisions, yet we act as if there are, endlessly pondering our choices.  The fear of making the wrong decision or wanting to keep options open is often behind this difficulty.  And if you have a history of making poor decisions, this is understandable.

But consider how indecision impacts you and those around you.  When you endlessly deliberate, you’re pre-occupied, waste time and energy, and also risk becoming overwhelmed, which makes these decisions even harder to reach!

I encourage you to work towards being more decisive.  Learn to distinguish which decisions deserve your time and analysis and which are time-suckers. One quick way is to consider how much money, time, or effort is at stake. For important decisions, go ahead and take plenty of time to decide, enlisting the help of others as needed.

Remember that few decisions are irreversible or catastrophic – and that it’s impossible to have all the knowledge you need to make many decisions. There are advantages and disadvantages to every decision and there is great freedom to be found in accepting this. In addition, even if you make a poor decision, you are likely more resilient than you think.

For less important decisions, adopt the mindset that you will be more empowered, present, and available if you are decisive!  People tend to be kind towards those who make mistakes, but less forgiving towards those who are wishy-washy or stuck in decision paralysis.

Try these simple questions when you just can’t decide!

  •  If no one was impacted but me, what would I choose? 
  • What potential consequences am I worried about, and just how important are they?
  • Would I feel better doing nothing or choosing an option?

III. Learn to pick your top priorities every day:
Each morning, ask yourself the question:  “At the end of the day, what completed action(s) would best meet my/my families needs?” 

Look over your list and commit to just one action a day.  I hesitate to suggest that you schedule it because many people do fine fitting them in naturally. Do what works best for you. Once you get used to completing one priority a day, add another.  Feel the sense of completion and how it helps you feel more in control. Consider using the free ADHD HealthStorylines App to track your completed priorities and gain a sense of success.

 IV. Remember that you don’t need to feel like doing something in order to do it:
We all postpone tasks we don’t feel like doing, focusing solely on the present and ignoring the future consequences.  According to Ned Hallowell, MD, people with ADHD tend to think in terms of NOW and LATER, emphasizing that they usually focus on the present moment and fail to connect with later.  By slowing down, you can learn to make choices that take both the present and the future into account.

 There is also the common saying that what you focus on expands. When you focus on how much you don’t want to do something, it makes it harder to do!  When you shift your focus from reluctance to deciding to complete a task – despite the feelings – you can make enormous strides.

While I always cringed at the Just Do It campaign, I’m advocating for a version of it, when you: a) need to get something done soon, b) know it will not harm you to do so, and, c) have time in your day.  Under these circumstances, take your mind off your negative feelings and tell yourself, “I am now going to take care of business!”  Distract yourself by being in the moment, taking in your surroundings, and letting go!

Being the master of your day will lead you to a more satisfying and meaningful life.  When you feel on top of things there’s a sense of control that’s powerful.  Each adjustment takes some time and effort, but taking even one step in a positive direction will pay off.

If you can master one day you can learn to master all your days.


No Claim No Gain

 CLAIM: To assert and demand the recognition of
(Definition from Dictionary.com)

When you acknowledge your progress, you feel successful and gain a sense of confidence. But too often, this recognition is fleeting …or was never there in the first place!  Headway is disregarded, minimized or forgotten.

Just as you would claim lottery winnings or make use of your gym membership (hopefully!) – this concept applies to personal progress as well.  Why make the effort if you are going to ignore the results?

Yet that is exactly what people do over and over again.

Consider minimizing comments like: “It was nothing,” “Anyone could have done it,” or, “It’s just a drop in the bucket.”  While these comments may not seem significant, they reflect to the world – and to yourself – that your efforts are trivial.

What sorts of things do people avoid giving themselves credit for?

  • Their time and effort
  • Healthy choices
  • Overcoming procrastination
  • Making conscious shifts in attitude
  • Well thought-out decisions
  • Establishing new habits
  • Taking action
  • Kindness
  • Adhering to personal values

By focusing on your progress instead of your struggles, you invite further progress. Claiming the changes you make – whether they’re shifts in attitude, fresh perspectives, new habits or tangible actions – helps you take ownership and reinforce the changes.

CLAIM YOUR GAINS! Look for them, declare them, post them, practice them and make them you own!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you want more ideas on HOW TO Claim your Gains, read on….

Identify the changes you’re working towards. Having clear intentions moves the process along.   It can be hard to notice changes if you’re uncertain what you’re shooting for.

Pick a time to reflect. Be sure to notice all the small or significant headway you make every day. To get in that habit, pick a regular time, such as the minute you get into bed, or in the morning as you first sit down at your desk.

Track your progress by writing it down. Make this quick and simple. Decide where to record your list (perhaps a smartphone, word document or designated notebook.) Be sure to include efforts as well as end results.

Catch your tendency to minimize your accomplishments. Replace these belittling thoughts with inspiring statements such as, “I’m becoming who I want to be with each small step.”

Talk about it! One of the best ways to upgrade your self-concept is to share your success with others. Describing the changes you’ve made helps to clarify and reinforce them.

Lastly, review your list of successes on the first day of every month. This practice helps to remind you of all your accomplishments and might remind you of a past effort you want to resume.


Break Free of Ten Negative Patterns


Do any of these apply to you?

1.  Taking on someone else’s mood
2.  Keeping yourself small so that you don’t overshadow others
3.  Allowing ‘worst-case-scenario’ thoughts to take over
4.  Comparing yourself unfavorably to others
5.  Ruminating about a specific regret or embarrassment
6.  Assuming that others think poorly of you
7.  Getting into a NEVER/CAN’T/ALWAYS mindset
8.  Presuming that others have a better life or an easier time than you
9.  Automatically aiming to please without considering your own needs
10. Believing you are stuck

Negative feelings tend to fester and expand.  While the concept of choosing a positive mindset may seem simplistic, disrupting these patterns does come down to a choice:

A choice to actively release the negative feelings
A choice to value your mental health as much as your physical health
A choice to step away from patterns that hurt you
A choice of WHAT to focus on


Learn to recognize these negative patterns:  You can’t choose another way of thinking or behaving until you’re aware of what goes on inside your head. You might be surprised at how prevalent and draining these negative patterns have become.

After contact with others, begin to notice any lingering negative effects: Look for changes in your mood, sense of confidence, energy level, feeling of attractiveness, or even your outlook for the future. Also be aware of your own pessimistic thoughts and how often they occur.

Take a stand, and tell yourself, No More!  You don’t have to live with these damaging thoughts permeating your being.  As Mark Twain said, ‘Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.’  Just like flossing your teeth, it takes a daily commitment to catch and change these patterns.

Thank the problem:  While it may seem counterintuitive, it’s important to remember that we developed these patterns, in part, to protect ourselves. Sometimes low expectations prevent disappointment, or being fearful improves focus.  Thank the problem as a means of releasing it.

Let go of the negative pattern: Once you catch yourself falling into an old response or thought pattern, make it your #1 priority to release it.  Experiment with what works best. Ideas include: the mantra ‘choice,’ four deep breaths, or a pattern-interrupt like physical movement or listening to music. If you have a strong or ingrained feeling to release, find time to express your feelings in writing, talk with someone, or meditate. Working through these feelings helps to loosens them, and allows for change. Sometimes help is needed when you’re really stuck, but you can release these patterns with practice.

Use visualization: It can be useful to imagine certain types of negativity in a physical form that you can readily address.  For example, if you tend to take on other’s moods, you might picture being splattered with mud.  By using an imaginary spray hose, you can experience relief by picturing yourself washing all the mud away. Choose your own powerful visualization tool.

Chose what to focus on:  Thinking about what makes you feel inspired and connected with your life – come up with a message that will lift your spirits and pull you forward.  An example is: “I am discovering a new approach to my life that I am growing into and will allow me to be more happy and authentic.”  Remember your personal message every time you catch yourself in one of these ten harmful patterns and chose to make it your focus instead.

Best wishes in freeing yourself and developing a much happier and healthier mindset.


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