How ADHD Impacts Self-Esteem and Ways to Foster Self-Worth
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that affects the brain, making it difficult to focus and control impulses. Many people misunderstand this mental health condition as a character flaw rather than a neurological disorder.
If you have ADHD, you may be familiar with the following situations. People may:
- Blame you for being responsible for your symptoms
- Say you should try harder
- Suggest that sheer willpower can transform you into someone "normal"
However, it's essential to recognize that none of these concepts is true. Your symptoms are not your fault. Just as you didn't choose to have ADHD, you can't simply wish your symptoms away.
It's worth saying that constant criticism, blame and shame do not cure ADHD. Those actions may instead cause a decrease in one's self-esteem.
Low self-esteem can have several negative impacts, such as:
- It can make it harder to pursue goals or try new things due to the fear of failure
- People may also experience isolation as they may fear rejection or criticism from others
- They may find it difficult to say no or enforce boundaries
Boosting self-esteem can undoubtedly improve one's quality of life. However, achieving this might be challenging in a society where stigma is prevalent.
Continue reading to discover ways to help yourself or someone you care about with ADHD develop stronger self-esteem and self-worth.
Self-esteem vs. self-worth
Though closely related, these two concepts have different meanings.
Self-esteem is how you see yourself based on your skills, personality, and what you've achieved. It can change depending on what's happening in your life and what others say about you.
Self-worth, however, is how much you value yourself as a person. It's about whether you feel capable, lovable, and deserving of respect from others.
What's the link between ADHD and self-esteem?
Research suggests that individuals with ADHD typically experience lower self-esteem than their neurotypical peers.
Several possible reasons could be considered, including:
ADHD is often stigmatized due to its lack of visible symptoms. Some people may overlook your needs or respond with anger when asked to accommodate your condition.
Evidence found that individuals with ADHD may experience discrimination at various stages of their lives:
- Parents tend to criticize or show cold behavior towards their children with ADHD traits
- Children are more likely to bully their classmates who exhibit ADHD behaviors
- College students are less likely to interact with young adults who suffer from ADHD
Frequent rejection can lead to a decrease in self-esteem. If others treat you poorly, you may begin to believe that you deserve it.
Lack of accommodation
Individuals with ADHD often do not receive the necessary accommodations to succeed in school or work. These challenges can impact their performance and limit opportunities. Organization and time management issues can hide innate abilities, which leads to low grades and negative reviews. This can restrict further education or employment options, reducing the chances of finding a conducive environment that caters to one's thinking style.
A 2022 survey of 162 people with ADHD found that they were most often criticized for symptoms such as focus, forgetfulness, organization, and time management, which are largely outside their control.
If you have ADHD, your brain processes time differently than most people. As a result, it can be challenging to stay on track with your schedule or plan things logically. However, it's important to understand that you don't intentionally forget things. Instead, differences in the way your brain functions can make it difficult for you to remember certain things. This is one of the reasons why ADHD is often considered a disability.
When someone criticizes you for having ADHD symptoms, it may feel like a personal attack. Personal criticisms are more likely to damage your self-esteem.
People with ADHD may be more sensitive to rejection, but it's unclear whether this is due to ADHD or the criticism they face. Rejection sensitivity can cause neutral comments to be perceived as criticism and trigger strong reactions. Some people with ADHD also experience rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD). Even mildly negative comments can provoke panic, rage, or guilt in RSD.
How adults with ADHD can boost their self-esteem
One way to improve self-esteem is by focusing on internal strengths. A 2016 study found personal traits that support self-esteem in adults with ADHD, listed from strongest to weakest effect:
- Sense of control - assures you that you can influence your life's direction in the long term.
- Confidence - allows you to trust that your skills can support you in the short-term.
- Courage - necessary to face the unknown and do what you believe is right
- Composure - willingness to accept things you can’t change and maintain hope for the future.
- Creativity - enables you to combine ideas and consider things from different perspectives
- Ability to love - involves expressing warm feelings and accepting affection from others.
Another way to boost your self-esteem is to surround yourself with people who accept and understand you, without trying to change you. These people could include family, friends, or members of an ADHD support group.
How parents can boost their child's self-esteem
If you have a child with ADHD, remember that your behavior can impact their sense of self-worth. Here are some tips to help you emotionally support them:
Acknowledge their strengths
It is a fact that every individual has certain skills that they excel in. It could be that your child has a flair for music or a great sense of humor. Children may only be aware of their talents sometimes, so if you notice any, let them know. Your appreciation might motivate them to pursue that talent throughout their life.
Set them up to succeed
If you want your child to accomplish something, equip them with the necessary tools to succeed. For instance, if they have a paper to complete, you can assist them in outlining their talking points to alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed. Even minor accomplishments can boost your child's confidence.
Measure growth, not rank
Avoid comparing your child to neurotypical classmates or siblings, as this unfair comparison can be discouraging. Instead, focus on praising their effort when you notice certain skills or behaviors improving, and celebrate their growth to inspire them to try even harder.
Show them plenty of affection
Children with ADHD may struggle to make friends or fit in at school. Although it may not always be possible to prevent rejection, you can provide unconditional love and support at home. Having at least one supportive relationship can enhance their self-esteem and may even give them the confidence to seek out other positive relationships.
When to get professional support
ADHD treatment typically involves a combination of medication and therapy. Although medication cannot suddenly boost self-esteem, therapy not only helps improve ADHD symptoms but also facilitates a healthier relationship with oneself.
ADHD and low self-esteem can combine to create unique challenges and difficulties in daily life.
Consulting with a therapist could have benefit if you:
- Hold back in conversations because you're afraid of annoying people.
- Say negative things about yourself when you're upset or guilty.
- Often, you worry that others dislike you when they don't reply to messages or seem less excited when talking.
- Were bullied or mistreated in the past.
- Struggle to do everyday things like taking showers or eating.
If your child or teenager frequently shows symptoms of ADHD, it may be beneficial to consider connecting them with a therapist. The treatment for ADHD can help boost self-esteem in children and teenagers. Some common symptoms that they may be displaying include:
- putting themselves down to get a laugh out of others
- reacting to compliments with suspicion or irritation
- refusing to try new things due to the fear of failure and embarrassment
- becoming angry or crying every time they're asked to complete simple tasks
ADHD is often misunderstood and stigmatized, which can easily affect your perception of yourself and contribute to low self-esteem. It can take time to rebuild your sense of self-worth, especially if you've spent most of your life absorbing these negative messages. However, seeking social support, practicing self-compassion, and getting guidance from a therapist can go a long way in boosting your self-esteem and helping you value yourself just as you are.