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5 Ways People With ADHD Can Forgive Themselves & Release Their Shame

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If you're a person with ADHD, you might find yourself in a cycle of shame. Shame for things you may have said, for not "reading a room" the way a neurotypical person might, or shame simply from a childhood where people made you feel bad or less-than because of your differences. 

Now that you're an adult, how can you shift away from criticism and resentment and move towards forgiveness and letting go?

If you're carrying guilt and shame about your attention, learning, and emotional challenges, being judged and unforgiven is especially difficult. You already struggle with maintaining a growth mindset and learning from your mistakes.

But when you feel humiliated and resented, it’s even harder to accept your stumbles as a natural part of living. It can be hard to forgive yourself. 

Now that you recognize those feelings, you can aim your focus on practicing forgiveness with your neurodiverse family (and yourself) to foster better self-esteem and more contentment at home, work, and with friends.

RELATED: How To Identify, Heal & Banish Your Deepest Shame

What do you need to do to break the cycle of shame as a person with ADHD?

1. Recognize the impact of ADHD on behavior.

Living with ADHD can be challenging for kids and adults and the people who love them. Children and teens test limits, argue about routines, and struggle to manage intense feelings.

It’s tougher for them to remember their chores, to brush their teeth daily, or to stop playing Fortnight or using Instagram.

Like adults, kids and teens may know what they should do, and sincerely want to do that.

However, due to challenges with impulse or emotional control, they cannot make better choices with consistency.

Sometimes, it’s unclear to folks with ADHD and their circle of friends, relatives, and caring adults what behaviors are purposeful and what reflect having ADHD. This confusion leads to blame, shame and frustration.

2. Understand what it means to forgive — and what it doesn't.

Forgiveness is a purposeful decision to let go of feelings of resentment, blame, or revenge towards someone who has hurt or harmed you–whether or not you think they deserve it.''

It does not condone what they did but, rather, frees you from the pain of holding onto your anger and criticism.

Forgiveness is about mercy and compassion. It's something you offer because you realize that it is the most effective response to a situation.

Forgiveness encompasses an awareness that a number of social-emotional and environmental factors influence the reactions, emotions, and behaviors of people with ADHD. It’s also about being cognizant of your self-righteousness.

Whether your young adult son refuses to take his ADHD medication and can’t seem to hold down a job, your ten year old explodes when you won’t let him watch R-rated movies, or your teen repeatedly leaves their dirty socks on the couch–what you can control is your response.

Yes, you’re agitated and disappointed. Yes, you know the medication will help, PG-13 movies are more appropriate and the socks belong in the hamper.

But, what’s needed here is understanding their struggles, scaffolding to teach executive functioning skills, following natural and logical consequences, and, frankly, letting some things go.

RELATED: Social Anxiety & ADHD: How To Better Manage Anxiety With Supportive Planning And Preparation

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3. Learn the tools of forgiveness.

Forgiveness offers somebody the gifts of kindness and generosity of spirit. Empathy is a key component of forgiveness, particularly when we are talking about neurodivergent kids and adults.

Compassion teaches that, just like us, they're doing the best they can in a given situation with the tools they have available to them, in that moment.

This is especially true for their Now/Not now brains. When flooded with strong emotions, rational thinking goes on a quick vacation, and the amygdala takes over with survival responses instead of thoughtful, cognitive ones.

At times, compassion can be difficult.

When you're in pain — anger, sadness, guilt, or shame — it’s much harder to practice empathy or compassion. It’s common for people (parents, partners, children, or teens) to export this pain onto others. Then, those folks take it on and try to fix it.

However, this is usually an impossible task, because you're not a miracle worker, and your capability to make things "OK" is limited. Rather, acknowledge what is going on, brainstorm potential solutions together, and see what happens.

Focus on doing your own work, why you feel triggered, and how the present situations might replicate something from your own history. Set up a family policy of using a Take-Back of the Day to demonstrate forgiveness in real-time.

4. Offer yourself forgiveness and compassion, too.

Rather than berating yourself for not being good enough at home, at work, or in your relationships, practice accepting yourself, as you are, instead.

Decrease your expectations about your professional, academic, or parenting skills so you don’t walk around feeling like a failure.

A mother recently told me, "I’m pretty good at forgiving my three children with ADHD, but I struggle with not forgiving myself and blaming myself. I feel like I can never do enough to provide the structure they need."

Pay more attention to what you're doing with the resources you have available. Everybody stumbles — two steps forward and one step backward is still forward motion.

If you make a mistake, be accountable for your actions without going into a shame spiral of self-loathing. This is really tough to do, especially for perfectionists.

But it doesn’t serve you and it certainly doesn’t model for your kids how they can accept themselves. Start by forgiving yourself for something small, such as yelling about bedtime, rather than tackling all of motherhood.

5. Allow for forgiveness to be an ongoing practice.

Forgiveness is an ongoing practice: it's a gift that grows and changes over time. Releasing your resentment increases your potential for happiness and contentment.

This is the best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones.

RELATED: 10 Things You Need To Know If You Love Someone With ADHD

Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is an international lecturer and workshop facilitator and has focused her work on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences and mental health challenges and their impact on school and family dynamics for over 30 years. For more information, visit her website.

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This article was originally published at drsharonsaline.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.