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.




ADHD Related Clutter or Hoarding?


The other day I noticed that one of my kitchen drawers was overflowing.  There were so many potholders, oven mitts and dish towels, that every time I took something out, other items fell to the floor.  Trying to close that stuffed drawer was like engaging in a Houdini act.

When I finally broke down and pulled everything out, I was honestly perplexed.  Why on earth would I keep all these things when I had more than enough?  And why is it such a challenge for me, and millions of others, to throw things out?

In the April 2013 edition of Attention Magazine, there was an article titled, “ADHD and Hoarding”.  The author, Debbie Stanley, LPC, NCC, CPO-CD, made a distinction between hoarding and tendencies to collect, clutter, and be disorganized.  Her fundamental point was that hoarding is about strong emotional attachment to things, often developed as a coping mechanism after a traumatic period in life.  Due to the severe origin of the problem, addressing hoarding can be a slow and difficult process.

Clutter and ADHD
While some people with ADHD may fall into the category of hoarding, most do not.  Instead, the clutter often begins as a “natural response” to intellectual curiosity.  It’s common for those with ADHD to pursue many ideas and interests.  While it’s a wonderful trait, the resulting living space can end up having piles of books and magazines (half-read!), multiple incomplete projects and mounds of unsorted papers.  In addition, items are often kept out in full view to prevent the out of sight out of mind tendency.  (If something is put away, not only may it be forgotten entirely, but also finding it again may take hours.)[�] Continue Reading

Hyperfocus: An Upside to ADHD

hyperfocusPeople with ADHD know that despite their reputation for being easily distracted, they can also have an uncanny ability to concentrate when truly engaged with something they enjoy.  It may not happen all the time – or at the best time (!) – but it’s still worth celebrating.

The official term in the ADHD world is hyperfocus, and it’s defined by Ari Tuckman, PsyD, as “a locking-in of attention wherein the person becomes completely absorbed in an activity to the exclusion of awareness of the rest of his environment.”  It can range from throwing oneself into a writing or painting project, to playing videogames for hours.

The good news is that hyperfocus offers the potential to get a lot done, often with ease.  

When you connect with what you want to accomplish in a way that grips your attention, it can be quite satisfying and productive.  Find ways to take ownership of your projects by making them creative and appealing, even if others question your methods!  When it comes to washing the kitchen floor, this may be a stretch, but even then, sing, dance around or do whatever occurs to you to make it more engaging.

[�] Continue Reading

Choose a Focus, Not a Goal

dreamstimefree_143101Do we need to think differently about goals when it comes to ADHD?

We all hear about the importance of establishing measurable goals as a way to track progress and achieve success.  There’s even the acronym S.M.A.R.T. that identifies the characteristics of an effective goal – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.

While this approach may succeed for many, what happens when it doesn’t?  In working with adults with ADHD, talk of goals can elicit sighs of exasperation.  I hear, “My mind doesn’t work in a linear fashion like that,” or “How can I know what I want in a year, when I can’t figure out what to do today?”

The very act of defining goals with such precision presents challenges. The executive functioning skills required to identify objectives, prioritize and decide on plans are impacted by ADHD.  Trying to make headway in this typical manner can be plain overwhelming.  There‘s often added frustration from recalling past attempts that didn’t pan out.[�] Continue Reading

Consumed by Reactivity?

Having strong feelings is one of the hallmarks of ADHD.  Whether your emotions come out in full force or are experienced internally depends on your level of impulsivity.  At the worst, reactive comments can lead to arguments or alienation; at the best, they can be an opportunity for fun and connection.  When strong reactions are kept inside, they can create an inner whirlwind. Either way, it’s important to look at your level of reactivity and gain a sense of control.

The upside
Experiencing things intensely can be positive and even exhilarating.  Consider the alternative of being flat and remote; while an extreme comparison, it’s helpful to appreciate the upside. Being highly emotional can provide energy and be an engaging way to live.

Consumed by Feelings
It’s important to be aware of your emotional state and its impact.  Since it takes a lot of energy to deal with strong reactions of any kind, you want to make sure you’re emotions are not the only thing in charge.

One way to do this, is to learn to separate your feelings from the need to act or respond immediately. At a later time you can consider possible responses, but in the moment, practice pausing and stepping back.  By detaching just a bit, you can look at the situation like an outside observer, and be in a better position to respond calmly and thoughtfully.[�] Continue Reading

Are Weekends Disappointing?

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-bored-woman-image20850696As much as we look forward to Saturday and Sunday, they can sometimes be a letdown.  With all the unstructured time, possibilities and decisions, weekends can be frustrating or even end in conflict.  With a little thought and attention, things can significantly improve!

We all have ideas for how to use our time.  On some occasions we simply want to relax and unwind, while other times we prefer to socialize and be out in the world.

Weekends can also be a a time to catch-up on errands and household tasks that accumulate during the week.  We place high expectations on these two precious days, and all that pressure doesn’t help.

 Five Suggestions for Improving Your Weekends:

  1. Take control and stop waiting for possibilities to appear.  Many people have a tendency to leave options open.  They want the freedom to be spontaneous and non-committal. Think about how often spontaneous opportunities really arise and consider whether this habit is worth the cost.
  2. Realize that plans are a good thing and can be a whole lot better than spending your weekend in limbo.  Planning and prioritizing don’t come easily to most with ADD.  Yet, there’s a new freedom that comes from having a few solid plans in place – with the decisions made you may find yourself feeling much more relaxed.[�] Continue Reading