Many adults with ADHD feel shame. A bottomless, all-encompassing shame. They feel shame for having ADHD in the first place. They feel shame for procrastinating or not being as productive as they think they “should” be. They feel shame for forgetting things too quickly. They feel shame for missing deadlines or important appointments. They feel shame for not finishing tasks or following through. They feel shame for being disorganized or impulsive. They feel shame for not paying the bills on time or keeping up with other household tasks.
Shame is “probably one of the most painful symptoms of ADHD and one of the hardest challenges to overcome,” said Nikki Kinzer, PCC, an ADHD coach, author and co-host of “Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.” Some adults with ADHD live with shame every day, she said.
Unlike guilt, where we feel bad about our behavior, shame means we feel bad about who we are. Shame is “the painful, distressing, humiliating or self-conscious feeling about oneself as a person,” said Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in ADHD. When you experience shame, you see yourself as inherently worthless and unlovable, as shame corrodes your entire sense of self, he said.
“Much shame is carried from [your] childhood years of being told outright that [you] were ‘lazy,’ ‘unmotivated’ or ‘unintelligent,’” he said. One of Kinzer’s clients described it as an old tape recorder playing in his head. Even though he knew it wasn’t true, he still had to be vigilant about not falling down the rabbit hole of negativity.
Shame can lead to a sinking self-esteem, which can lead to depression, anxiety and high levels of stress, Kinzer said. Which can lead to harmful behaviors, such as self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.