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E18. ADHD and Conquering Toxic Shame

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today we're going to talk about an important subject, this is one that's kind of near and dear to my heart. It's one that's not necessarily on a lot of people's radars, but I see this topic make a huge impact on the people who I work with. I've seen it for myself, personally, and it's something that I want to spread awareness about so we can do better for ourselves.

The topic is ADHD and shame. For those of you who aren't really sure what I mean by shame or what's included in shame, I'm basing some of this talk today on the work of Brene Brown. She's a storyteller and an author/researcher and she's done some interesting work on shame and talks about how shame has this destructive impact in our lives.

So, what is shame? What's not shame? Shame is this belief that at the core of you, there is something wrong with you. You are not okay or acceptable the way you are.

What Shame is Not:

1. Guilt

Shame is not guilt. Guilt is different and can actually even be constructive in our lives. Guilt is when you don't feel great about a decision you made because that doesn't gel with who you are, who you want to be, doesn't gel with your moral code or your values. That is guilt.

2. Humilliation

Shame is also not humiliation. Humiliation is kind of a "flavor" of embarrassment that often comes up in situations where you're embarrassed, but you also feel like you've been wronged.

There was a Tic Tok challenge, (I know this is kind of low-hanging humor fruit) but women sent their partners into a store to go get made up feminine hygiene products. And, of course, a lot of the guys came back really annoyed, some pretty angry because they had been humiliated, they had been sent into these stores with these ridiculous names of products and they had been made the butt of a joke.

This one guy in particular stood out to me because he illustrated the difference between shame and humiliation. He came out... his partner had sent him into buy the "Magic Fwem Fwem Fresh 2000". You can imagine how it went for this poor guy. They announced that over the intercom, the cashiers were laughing, the shoppers were laughing, and one of the cashiers even said to another cashier, "What is this idiot asking for?" And, the guy was so indignant, he said, "First of all, I'm not an idiot!" He also said, "I felt like I was three inches tall!" and he was really angry.

So, that's not shame, right? Feeling that you've been wronged and feeling really embarrassed and really small, but not believing you're small. I'm not an idiot, I shouldn't feel this way. I shouldn't have to feel this way. That's humiliation.

3. Embarassment

The same for embarrassment, when an embarrassing situation happens, you might feel really small, really uncomfortable, really ridiculous, but it doesn't necessarily change your view of you as a person.

I do so many embarrassing things, but in general, I tend to have a sense of humor about them and they don't necessarily impact my view of me. You can see that with shame there is a pretty important difference between embarrassment or humiliation or any of these other "cousins" and shame.

What is Shame?

Whether it's a big event that triggers it, or a relatively small thing, shame triggers this feeling of unworthiness that you are not okay. It shrinks you; it makes you want to escape, retreat, and unlike guilt (that might encourage you to live more in sync with who you are and who you want to be), shame does not help us grow.

It kind of puts us on "pause" and this ends up being a common theme for people with ADHD, struggling with shame. It doesn't matter how accomplished someone is, how successful they are, how beloved they are. Many of the people who I work with, who are all of these things, struggle with this core sense of unworthiness and this feeling of imposter syndrome. "Oh, yeah, I'm doing great now, it's kind of a fluke, but the bottom is really going to drop out soon. I know that it will, and people will see who I really am".

If this sounds familiar and this is you and you're struggling with shame, you're struggling with this feeling of unworthiness, what can you do?

How do we combat shame?

If you're somebody who's worked with me or listened to me for a while, you probably know what my number one is going to be. My number one step in dealing with shame is to notice. This is our number one step in dealing with so many things, is just noticing them.

1. Notice

Noticing when those kinds of thoughts come up.That sounds like such a small thing, but it's really not. If you have this kind of backdrop of unworthiness going on in your life and you suddenly take notice of it, not only can you see "Oh, but this is also that thought coming up. This is that feeling coming up", but you can also see and notice what your next moves are. Usually with shame, our next moves, when we feel shame is separating from people, is retreating, is protecting ourselves.

Shame wants to go hide and go in a corner somewhere. Shame does not want to push into community and to connection and into support. When you notice, "Hey, this is what this feels like, this it's what's going on", and the next thing you want to do is kind of bail and go hide and go retreat, then that is really good information. That noticing can be a powerful first step before the next steps.

2. Share

Step number two after you notice, is share. I just said that when you are experiencing shame, you do not want to share, you don't want to connect with people. You don't want to be vulnerable; you don't want to put your shame stuff out there because it's a really uncomfortable, scary place to be.

I do want to preface this by saying that I'm not suggesting that you share with anyone, and you share kind of "haphazardly". You want to pick people you trust and that you really believe deserve this position in your life, but in order to find out who those people are for you, you have to take some risks. There has to be some amount of calculated risk, where you decide you're going to take a chance on sharing with someone and it can be so powerful.

I had a very, very difficult struggle several years back, and it was something that I had a lot of shame around. I didn't think that anybody understood, or anybody connected with this, and I had a very close friend who I had no idea dealt with this, share the same kind of struggle with me.

Somewhere in our discussions about life, one of us took the first step, the first risk on this. She was just this amazing support and being able to share a struggle that you have with someone and for them to respond with compassion and empathy and even "Hey, me too, I've dealt with this too", can be a very powerful, healing thing.

Now, maybe you don't have a friend like that, maybe that person for you will be a professional who is going to stand in the gap for you, maybe it's going to be a family member, or some other trusted person. But the formula is the same: that when we share, when we're vulnerable, shame can't survive. Shame needs secrecy and separation to keep going. When we share, when we connect with people and get into community with people, then shame can't keep thriving, it just kind of extinguishes.

3. Find where you belong.

Number three is very much connected to number two, but slightly different. It is find where you belong.

Now, another Breneism is differentiating between belonging and fitting in. In her way of defining this, belonging is when you have a place just as you are, you come as you are. These are your people and you're accepted just as you are, whereas fitting in means you're accepted because you are "towing the line". You are conforming to what is accepted. Maybe you call this masking, sometimes, or people pleasing, but you are accepted with conditions when you're fitting in.

When you find where you belong, when you find your people who you really fit with, these are much more likely to be your people who are going to give you a safe place to share. Now, we don't have control over whether we find these people, but how can we up our chances?

That's by being you. When you are authentically you, the people you belong with stay and the rest take one big giant step back, and that's okay. That's a good thing. You want your people that you belong with to be the ones that stay, and you want your people you don't belong with to "mosey on".

When I moved to the town that I live in now, it was about eight years ago, I was really lonely. We moved, it was the summertime, and the kids were not in class. I had been working in a clinic and I had resigned to move my family and my husband was traveling a lot during that summer, and it was just lonely.

Even though moving in the summer is a good plan because you don't disrupt a school year, it doesn't really set you up to connect with people, because you're out of routine, you're out of schedule. So, one morning during the summer, we went down to the pool and my kids were swimming and one of my neighbors sat across from me and she said, "Oh, how are you liking everything?"

I've been an adult long enough to know that there's really kind of a range of acceptable answers here, but I just didn't have it in me. I really didn't. I looked at her and I said, "Actually, I'm really lonely." and this could have gone several ways.

But, as it turned out, this was a very authentic person who didn't really want to do the small talk thing, either. She had this amazingly compassionate response and shared her own vulnerable story about when she moved to the area several years before and somebody asked her how she was doing, and she burst into tears and was very embarrassed about it.

So, it was this moment where I was very much "me" and I found one of my dear friends in the process. I'm not saying that you have to be socially awkward at the pool in order to make good friends. I'm just saying to put yourself out there, and it does thin out the crowd, and that's a good thing.

The handful people that are left are "your people" and in my experience, having these people is a great antidote for shame. They're the ones that when you say, "Oh, man, I really blew it", they get real, too, and say, "Yeah, I've been there. It's okay, you've got this".

4. Self Acceptance

Number four is even more important than number two and number three, and it is self-acceptance, radically accepting yourself. And by radically, I mean, accepting yourself just the way you are. Now, I can say for me, in my life, this has been hard. My MO tends to be when I'm in a place of not feeling worthy or feeling shame, I tend to fight to improve myself, to fight to achieve something that's going to make me "measure up".

One time I was talking to one of my sisters (I am very lucky that I have two amazing sisters), I was talking to my sister (I don't even remember what I was talking about) something that I was just drilling down on, wanting to improve, and she stopped me and said, "Donae, you are perfect, just the way you are. I love you just the way you are."

That just kind of bowled me over, because it was so sincere, and it was not how I felt about myself. But hearing that from someone is a big deal and it was a big deal for me. Little by little, over time, I've been able to become that person for myself.

It can be tricky, because we do we want to grow, we want to change, we want to improve. That is very human of us, and that's a good thing. But our value doesn't hinge on that, and that's the big difference. When you accept yourself, you are okay the way you are, and believe it or not, some of us feel like "Oh, without that kind of angst, we're not going to have the motivation to grow" and it's just the opposite.

It's the shame, it's that separation, that makes us not want to take risks. When you have someone sit across from you and say, "You are solid, just the way you are", that gives you wings! You are ready to take all kinds of risks, and when you're that person for yourself, it very much does the same thing for you.

Another thing that this kind of self-acceptance gives you is protection, because when you really feel that way about yourself, the opinions of other people have less weight. We're human beings, we want to connect. They're not going to have no weight, but they become much less weighty in your life.

We just had a family gathering for Thanksgiving, and there was some extended family there and there was an older relative that we don't really see that much. I guess when I was out of the room, the topic of my work and what I do came up and later on, she pulled me aside and she said, "I would have never guessed that you had that," and by "that" she meant ADHD, and her face looked like she was talking about leprosy!

There was probably a time when that would have been very off-putting to me and maybe that would have made me feel "less than" or shame, or just not great about me and my brain, and it's good to be in a place where that was actually kind of funny.

I have enough steadiness and enough comfort and enough acceptance of myself that those kind of reactions or responses are... I'm not going to get carried away with them, or even really take them seriously at all, and I didn't.

When you radically accept yourself just the way you are, you do create this "shame buffer" and when we accept ourselves the way we are, it makes room for our humanness. It makes room for the fact that we're not going to get it right, that we'll always have room to grow, that we're going to say silly things or that we're going to make mistakes and that doesn't change our value.

That acceptance of ourselves is not hinging on performance, it's not hinging on us somehow achieving worthiness, because you have it, inherently, as a human.

That that brings me to the end of this episode of ADHD Crash Course on shame and the ways that we can protect ourselves against shame.


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