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.




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.


Thumbs up, not down!

Thumbs upIf you believe you fall short compared to others, it’s natural to feel insecure or inadequate. But when you add in some ADD tendencies, like making careless mistakes or blurting out comments you later regret, it’s easy to understand the sense of incompetency, or even worse – the accompanying shame. As one client said, “but I am inadequate,” to which I strongly disagreed!

A Sense of Not Being Good Enough
A sense of inadequacy includes feeling incapable, incompetent or simply not good enough. You may be forgetful or mess up occasionally, but these things don’t make you inadequate, nor do they trump your capabilities. No one is on top of everything and the reality is that you may need to ask for help, set reminders, or even work harder than some. But repeatedly focusing on shortcomings is destructive.

It’s our cultural norm to focus on blunders and ‘areas for improvement’. We’ve been trained to seek perfectionism by scanning for weaknesses and correcting them. While improving ourselves is important, it’s also vital to consider our attitude and method of going about it.

Give Yourself a Thumbs Up!
Consider that kids with ADHD do best when they hear positive feedback three times more often than negative. That approach would probably serve adults well too. Are you shooting to be a person who never burns the toast or always says the perfect thing? Or could you go a little easier on yourself while still aiming to do your best?[�] Continue Reading

It’s Time to Care Less

begging for chance - business womanWhether you worry about what people think, try not to offend anyone or put on a happy face all the time, you’re living from a place of fear. We all want to fit in. But focusing too much on pleasing others takes us away from being fully present.

Consider that you cannot know most people’s true feelings, nor should you. As the saying goes, “What others think of you is none of your business.”

I am not suggesting that you behave arrogantly or not care at all; being respectful of others is important. But I am addressing our tendency to allow other peoples’ attitudes towards us to figure too prominently in our self- appraisal. It’s exhausting and detrimental to worry about things that are ultimately out of our control.

Fear of being excluded or treated poorly can lurk inside us. Perhaps it’s a memory of being the last one picked for a team or a particularly embarrassing moment. Those feelings of ostracism and shame run deep and it’s time to put them to rest.

Everyone has their particular concern – Am I smart enough? Thin enough? Rich enough? ‘Together’ enough? People unwittingly behave as if they are being monitored on other people’s radar screens all the time. It’s like those bumper stickers on trucks asking, ‘How’s My Driving?’  By giving others the power to judge you, your sticker might be saying,  ‘Am I Good Enough for You?’[�] Continue Reading

The Path to Positivity

IMG_1235We constantly hear about the importance of having a positive mindset.  Clichés abound: “Look at the bright side,” “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and, “Every cloud has a silver lining”.  While I agree with these sentiments, I also find them pollyannaish and simplistic.

Pushing positivity on someone who isn’t feeling it can be insensitive or even dismissive.  It’s like saying, buck-up no matter what you’re feeling.  There’s nothing worse than the double whammy of being upset and feeling like a failure because you’re not optimistic enough!

Positivity doesn’t always work by flipping a switch, though that image can be a helpful reminder later on. When we have enough disappointing and hurtful experiences, it becomes exceedingly hard to think positively. We begin to expect the worst and our thoughts veer towards negativity.

We also may get in the habit of having harsh thoughts.  These may be self-critical, such as, “I’m pathetic,” assign meaning to other’s actions – “since he was late, it means he doesn’t care” – or highlight superiority, as in, “I would never sink that low.”  Or we may just proceed through life with an approach that we’ll never get what we want. The problem is that these beliefs and judgments do not inspire but lead us to pessimism.[�] Continue Reading

Sneaky Perfectionism

DiamondIs aiming for ‘good enough’ the best approach?  As with many things, it depends.  But for perfectionists, it might be a wise decision.

We live in a world where a lot is expected of us.  Unless you have a full-time secretary, housecleaner or errand-runner (not bad ideas!) your plate is likely full.  If you’re a parent, add another layer of responsibility to the mix.

There is an unspoken message that we should be able to manage it all beautifully.  It’s our culture of perfectionism.  Picture the lean blonde in her workout clothes, happily jogging after her return home from her corporate job with a smile still on her face.

Compare that to the story I often hear from clients, of arriving home exhausted, loaded with groceries and spending the evening glued in front of a television set ‘recovering’ from the day.

I get it, we all want to strive for goals and extend our best effort – in fact my last post was on that very subject!  But to be fair, I think we also need to look at the other side. Pushing ourselves too hard to achieve some notion of the ideal man or woman, without sufficient support or resources, is a set-up.  And when we fall short, the disappointment in ourselves is anything but helpful.[�] Continue Reading