I have a love/hate relationship with parties. The music and the people are brain-scrambling loud, (at least when my friends control the sound system). All too often in my state of overwhelm bordering on panic, I sit alone in a corner, nursing my glass and thinking “what is going on upstairs?”
To break the silence, I sometimes get unintentionally silly. A level of silliness that can only truly come from someone with severe ADHD tendencies, both good and bad.
Being awkward isn’t fun. However, as I grew up, I came to find that being awkward is less about social savvy and more about understanding how ADHD tendencies emerge in the happy chaos of socially charged environments. Here are 4 that you may want to watch out for yourself:
Hyperfocusing on perceived criticism
Let’s say you downed a big pack of M&Ms in one go while watching TV with friends. The person you’re watching the game with suddenly breaks the tense silence after a big play with a comment about how much of a candy fiend you are.
“What’s he trying to imply?!?” you think to yourself frantically. “Do I need to retort – or play cool?” your mind begins to ruminate on the options.
People with ADHD tend to take any remark or comment directed at them way too seriously as a result of our hyperfocus on potential threats. We often mistakes innocent jokes for attacks.
According to HelpGuide.org, people with ADHD sometimes develop self-esteem as issues as adults and take comments, both good or bad, as overly negative criticism.
From now on, whenever someone throws a comment at you for something you said or did, pause to think about the likely intent before weighing anything else.
Chances are, it was innocent or playful, not hostile. And even if it was hostile, behavioral expert Marc Chernoff writes: “What people say and do to you is much more about them than you. People’s reactions to you are about their perspectives, wounds and experiences.” So just remember that rudeness is about them, not you.
Having a temper-deficit fuse
If you REALLY felt offended by our example friend’s candy comment, chances are you jumped the gun and lashed out (this is especially true for kids). You may have even lashed out physically or walked out of the room – ADHD impulsiveness at work.
Short tempers are a sign of low emotional self-control, one of the most common social struggles for someone with ADHD. Mayo Clinic’s list of ADHD symptoms show that people with ADHD tend to be hot-tempered, have mood swings and a low tolerance for frustration, and blurt out the first things that comes to mind.
The good news is all of this can be dealt with with conscious effort. Managing your stress so you won’t be prone to emotional outbursts, seeing the bigger picture, looking at the situation from another person’s perspective, and being mindful of your actions are all ways we can consciously elect to “step out” of the situation and let the ADHD fires settle down.
Controlling ADHD-driven emotions can be challenging, no doubt, but a few extra seconds of cooldown make a gigantic difference in our ability to react with a clear head.
Self-Focus: It’s all about ADHD-ME
Let’s pretend you attacked your friend’s criticism. At this point cooling down is no longer an option.
But that’s not all. In your outburst, you may have hurt your friend in the process. And you don’t understand why he’s still mad at you a few days after the incident. After all, HE made fun of YOU. Right?
People with ADHD often have relationship problems with family and friends because empathy – seeing and feeling the point of view of others – doesn’t come as naturally to us. We find it difficult to see beyond our own selves because our mind is in a constant state of self-concern.
Of course, it’s not true that people with ADHD don’t care about others. So once again, you can press yourself to listen and communicate that extra bit in order to hear the other person’s thoughts.
According to Family Anatomy, ADHD kids who have learned to consider other people’s thoughts and feelings show great improvements in their empathic behavior. It just takes a little more from us to get there.
Social Rumination: “We’re fine again? Sure? Really Sure?”
Once you and your friend have patched things up, you may feel tempted to see how he “scored” you.
“We’re still pals, right? You’re not mad at me anymore… not even 10% mad?”
Us ADHD types tend to seek out validation of their behavior, relationship status, and everything else. What’s going on under the hood? We are seeking a coping mechanism for our mile-a-minute confusion with difficult events. So we do the logical thing, and ask away.
If you find yourself chasing others for reassurance, praise, or anything else… just catch yourself and stop. This is the easiest point in this list to fix, but only if you get good at catching your tendency to ask or seek external reassurance.
A little self talk and self counseling to remind yourself about the cons of validation seeking, will help make things easier to deal with.
Now that you know some ADHD social quirks, it’s time to act on them. You can improve the ways you (or your child) relates with others by acknowledging them and positively adjusting them in the moment. Over time it will become second nature, a part of your personality.
And remember – you can always seek help if you need it.