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ADHD and Low Self-Esteem: Being Criticized and Believing It

Low self-esteem caused by ADHD is very common in adults with ADHD.  Learn about adult ADHD and low self-esteem and rebuilding your self-esteem.

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?

15 thoughts on “ADHD and Low Self-Esteem: Being Criticized and Believing It”

  1. I was diagnosed last year at age 25 with the help of my girlfriend’s psychologist. The things she listed made so much sense to me that I laughed as I went down the checklist. I’ve always noticed that I couldn’t focus like regular people, I’ve always gotten easily flustered(probably Low Cognitive Tempo), and have been shy with low self-esteem for as long as I can remember. I flunked out of college 5 years ago, believing that I was too immature(though not a partier) or not smart enough. As a result, I’ve worked at a stressful job that I hate for far too long.
    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.

    1. So true, Evan. But there are libraries filled with ADHD self-help books. Check them out. They all won’t be for you, but one of them will. You can accomplish an awful lot on your own without therapy or meds. The first thing you have to do is learn to like yourself despite your ADHD. Then your self-esteem will begin to mend. I’ve been there. I know of what I speak. Good luck.

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