ADHD and Low Self-Esteem: Being Criticized and Believing It
One aspect common to many adults with ADHD is low self-esteem. When you live your life making stupid mistakes, falling short of—or forgetting entirely—your goals, or being yelled at by figures of authority, you'll likely be a mess when you reach adulthood. If you haven't learned to laugh off the gaffes, you might either adopt an insouciant attitude over time, or internalize the criticisms. I was of the internalizing variety (Signs of Self-Stigma: Do You Stigmatize Yourself?).
I remember one job ages ago when I worked for a local newspaper as a paste-up artist. It was boring work, so I often found my attention wandering. I also had a very difficult time NOT reading all that wonderful news. I didn't know at the time that I was an information junkie.
One time, I finished a batch of pages and there were no new ones to complete, so I took the opportunity to walk around the newsroom and become more familiar with it. When I got back to my desk a few minutes later, there were pages ready to be pasted up and the editor was so angry with me he shouted and yelled, spittle flying, face beet red.
I was so used to bosses losing their cool with me, I didn't report the jerk to human resources. I thought it was my fault. This is where my ADHD induced low self-esteem reared its ugly head.
Low-Self Esteem Made Me Blame Myself
Other adults with ADHD see low self-esteem manifest itself in different ways, but my way was to blame myself. So low was my self-esteem that when I became disabled because of the side-effects of Desoxyn and Zoloft, I actually blamed myself then as well. If I hadn't been so unique and rare—such a complete loser—I wouldn't have experienced side-effects (The Pain of Self-Stigma Because of Mental Illness). I actually felt that way. It is obvious poppycock, but you can see what an insidious poison low self-esteem can be.
I wrote about my self-esteem issues on my own blog this week, but it's an important enough subject to address here, too. As an adult of 43, I look back at the poor kid that I was and wish I could give him advice.
- I would tell him that just because he was distracted didn't mean he deserved to be yelled at.
- Just because he makes mistakes doesn't mean he has to put up with bosses being cruel to him.
- I would have told him to stand up for himself more often—he deserved it.
- I would have also told him that not all jobs were optimal for him, and that he should seek out jobs that didn't expose his ADHD weaknesses.
- Lastly, I would have told him to learn how to like himself because that's what I did later on to wrest control of my self-esteem away from the ADHD roller coaster of self-worth.
There's a lot I would tell my 20 year old self that would have made a difference for me then (ADHD: Low Self-Esteem, But You’re OK). I can't tell him, unfortunately, but I can tell my kids. I can also tell you if you need to hear it. Are you ready to believe that you shouldn't blame yourself either?
Tell me below how ADHD-conditioned low self-esteem has affected you as an adult. How did you begin rebuilding your self-esteem or do you still struggle with this?
Cootey, D. (2010, February 2). ADHD and Low Self-Esteem: Being Criticized and Believing It, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/adultadhd/2010/02/adhd-and-low-self-esteem
Author: Douglas Cootey
I've really started to feel the effects of the lack of self esteem in the last year. I got on a cheap generic instant release Adderall(no health insurance) and it has helped with focus, but I've found that the shyness and low self-esteem are still on my shoulders and I lose so much weight when I take it. It has caused me to become negative, depressed, and my girlfriend finally broke up with me after a year of putting up with my ADD and that only caused me to feel worse about myself. I'm sure people say it all time, but I feel worthless and helpless and it is tough for me talk about it. I don't feel like burdening other people who likely won't understand where I'm coming from. It's really difficult to get the right treatment when you don't have health insurance or a lot of money.
College DEGREES!?! You're doing better than I ever did. I was barely holding my act together when I became disabled. Pulled out of school and got busy being the full-time parent. You need to pat yourself on the back immediately! Haha! You're amazing. I'm sorry you never found your exact traits in the Hallowell/Ratey books. I didn't always agree with them, but their books are often still a wonderful resource. Hang in there. We all have unique challenges to overcome. And I agree with you. We are all here for a reason. The trick is finding what that reason is. Thanks for commenting.
1) Build on basketball. He excels at it and he needs successes in his life. Encourage him to practice more. The more he focuses on basketball and his success there, the better he’ll feel about himself. Even if he does poorly on a test, he’ll always have basketball.
2) Consider borrowing Driven to Distraction from the library, or any other books by Hallowell & Ratey. Answers to Distraction is another excellent resource that might help the two of you understand how his mind works better.
3) Read this blog. Share excerpts with your boy. I have ADHD and I used to be where your son is. Maybe something I write can help improve your outlook. All is not hopeless. In fact, just today I wrote about six things you can do to help an ADHD loved one focus on their responsibilities and tasks. http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/adultadhd/2010/02/six-ways-to-help-your-adhd-loved-ones-forgetfulness/
4) School can take a healthy, bright ADHD child and pound the heckfire out of them until there is no self-esteem left. That’s why it is so crucial to not only learn to laugh at these mistakes, but to also see that just because we make dumb mistakes doesn’t mean we are dumb.
5) Look into CHADD. Sometimes there are chapters in your locale.
6) Make sure your son has a wise guidance counselor. Request a change if the counselor is just a pencil pusher.
Above all else, keep reaching out to him as you are doing. We’re all busy parents these days, but we are all our children have to rely on. You can do it.
Thanks for commenting.
You’ve got all the tools you need now to make a change in your life. You understand why you have low self-esteem. Now you need to determine that you want high self-esteem instead (if you haven’t already). Start with one thing at a time, changing how you think about yourself. It can be done. I know, because I’ve done it, and I’m still working on it.
Thanks for sharing that. I’m excited for you. Good luck!
hope i made sense.
I'm so grateful for HealthyPlace.