5 Ways to Deal with ADHD and Feeling Like a Failure
Almost without exception, ADHD makes people feel like a failure. Symptoms of adult ADHD, such as inability to be still, to focus, to pay attention, to plan, and to organize, get in the way of the tasks of life. This can be highly frustrating and can leave someone with ADHD feeling like they just don’t measure up to everyone else.
The nature of ADHD can create what is sometimes referred to as a cycle of failure (Selikowitz, 2009). The cycle of failure in adults with ADHD looks like this:
- Feelings of failure and inadequacy
- Desire to avoid tough situations and back away from challenges
- Diminished achievements due to lack of effort
- Feelings of worthlessness, small accomplishments feel meaningless
- Strong sense of incompetence
- Feelings of failure and inadequacy
- Continuation of the cycle
This cycle of failure can be a trap. You, however, are the one who holds the key to that trap. Your ADHD doesn’t have to keep you in its snare. Here are five tips to help you use your key to unlock the trap so you can break free from the cycle of adult ADHD and feeling like a failure.
5 Ways to Handle Adult ADHD and Feeling Like a Failure
- Empower yourself with action. Actions are more powerful than thoughts, words, and feelings. Consider exactly what’s on your mind. Of your feelings of failure, what is bothering you the most right now? What small actions can you take, today and every day, to make the changes you want? Avoidance is part of the cycle of failure, and action is part of the cycle of success (Finding the Best Job for Your ADHD Brain).
- Explore your interests. Find flow. You are so much more than your ADHD, but ADHD doesn’t give you a chance to figure that out. Rather than ruminating about things you can’t do, turn your attention to what you’d like to do. Start out by finding things that you want to do just for fun, for hobbies. That way, you face no pressure to perform. Finding something you love to do and simply doing it is a great way to grow past that sense of failure.
- Develop a sense of purpose and belonging. People with ADHD often feel isolated. Learning social skills will help you interact positively with people and feel a sense of belonging. Belonging to a group brings acceptance, camaraderie, mutual support and fun, all of which boost success and banish that experience of adult ADHD and feeling like a failure (ADHD and Friendships: How to Make and Keep Friends).
Create a sense of purpose while finding others to connect with. What are your passions? Do you want to find an adult ADHD support group? Volunteer in schools? Help people repair bicycles? The sky’s the limit. Helping others by doing something you love and are good at keeps you from feeling like a failure.
- Avoid comparing yourself to others by finding and appreciating your strengths. Regardless of whether someone has ADHD or not, making comparisons to others will bring on a sense of failure nearly every time. Making comparisons isn’t a healthy thing to do, yet people with ADHD do it all the time. Seeing only your weaknesses and comparing them only to someone else’s strengths creates a strong sense of inadequacy.
Instead, turn your attention inward. Identify those traits that you’d like to improve (everyone has them), and also identify traits that you like about yourself. What are your strengths? What are you good at? How do you already use them in your life, and how do you want to use them even more? This balanced view of yourself helps you see and believe that you’re not a failure. Find guidance for identifying and using your character strengths on the VIA Institute on Character website.
- Accept imperfections and decrease perfectionism. People with ADHD tend to be incredibly hard on themselves, and often on others, too. As you work through the belief that you’re a failure, it’s important to know that this isn’t a black-or-white, all-or-nothing concept. Being imperfect doesn’t mean you’re a failure, just like being successful doesn’t require perfection.
Part of doing this is learning to accept praise from others, something that’s hard for people with ADHD to do. But when you can listen to what someone is telling you and accept the praise you’re being given, you begin to learn that you are worthy, you are good enough, without having to be perfect.
If you have ADHD and find yourself feeling like a failure, use one or more (they all work together) of these five ways to believe in yourself.
Last Updated: 01 November 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD