Untangling the Shame Knot of ADHD

Knots of Shame Around a Woman

Where do I even begin with shame and ADHD? I was diagnosed back in college after barely scraping by academically despite being otherwise capable. That diagnosis set me on a years-long journey of self-discovery filled with equal parts relief and shame.

I can still recall sitting in that psychologist’s office, fighting back tears as we discussed my “symptoms.” Inattentiveness. Disorganization. Careless mistakes. I had secretly feared something was wrong with me for years. Having it labeled and defined was affirming but also intensely shaming. It meant all my struggles were seen, and known. I felt exposed.

I’ve come to understand ADHD has a neurological basis and isn’t some personal failing or character flaw. But when you’ve spent decades judging yourself for behaviors related to how your brain works, well, that shame runs deep. I still find myself berating my inability to just sit down and focus some days. Why can’t I pull it together when so many others to manage just fine?

My therapist reminds me constantly that how my ADHD manifests is unique to my wiring. Comparing myself to others is rarely helpful. Easier said than done, though. It’s hard not to envy those who can effortlessly organize their lives and thoughts when you’re continually losing your keys AND train of thought.

In talking with others, I’ve realized shame looms large for many with ADHD. How couldn’t it when our symptoms clash with society’s endless glorification of productivity and willpower? It’s no wonder medications that help us “behave appropriately” are a multi-billion dollar industry.

But there are upsides to how our brains work, too. Sure, I might leave a trail of forgotten obligations in my wake, but I also tend to think outside the box and see things from creative angles. Hyperfocusing on my interests means I approach them with an intensity few can match. My emotional openness makes me a loyal friend.

As with most things in life, it comes down to balance and self-acceptance. I’m learning to acknowledge my ADHD-related shame when it appears but not let it overwhelm me. To insist my worth isn’t defined by flaws I can’t control or by narrow social scripts about human behavior. And to surround myself with people who demonstrate compassion and inclusion.

What has your own experience been in navigating shame and neurodivergence? I imagine aspects resonate while others differ. It’s a journey we all walk separately yet together.