When Adult ADHD Feels Like “Not Being Good Enough”

When Adult ADHD Feels Like "Not Being Good Enough"

What does it feel like to have Adult ADHD in a relationship that doesn’t “meet you halfway”? What does it feel like to have ADHD in a world that can even feel endlessly critical and devoid of empathy? A world where adult ADHD means not being good enough?

What does it feel like to be constantly admonished for what you’ve done wrong — but seldom praised for what you have worked so hard (sometimes five times as hard as your critics) to do right?  What does it feel like when it’s the people closest to you — a partner, a spouse, a parent — who constantly criticize you?

This powerful first-person essay should give you an idea. But first some background.

This is a long essay. You might find it unsettling or even “extreme”. You might not be able to personally relate. Still, please consider reading it. (And be sure to check the comments, where the writer provides an update.)

My goal in all my work is bridging the divide between “ADHD and non-ADHD” (the latter a term you’ll never catch me using). Creating, if you will, dual-empathy.

To see how common ADHD-related challenges can manifest even in dual-ADHD marriages,  please consider reading the essays from two women with late-diagnosis ADHD—each married to men with late-diagnosis ADHD:  You, Me, ADHD Book Club.

The Importance of Ranting

For many years, I’ve read thousands of e-mail “rants” or “vents” from the partners of adults with ADHD. They come via my free online discussion group (ADHD Partner)

A rant/vent is a post wherein the writer releases long-simmering frustration. Why do I encourage it? Two reasons:

  1. It’s an important step toward finding one’s voice and creating positive change.
  2. It’s better to vent these frustrations to the group than to their ADHD partners, who need all the post-diagnosis optimism they can get. 

Typically, the most tortured essays come from members who live with “in denial” mates. That is, adults who cannot or will not see the adverse impact of their ADHD symptoms on loved ones and themselves. The number seems to be on the upswing, perhaps due to the plethora of sites peddling ADHD gifts and ADHD superpowers.   This is catnip for people with poor self-esteem, low empathy, and high grandiosity.

Sometimes, ADHD symptoms can so entangle and limit the perspective of these adults that they blame everyone else around them for their problems.  If they are confident enough that this is true, they can be very convincing—and even intimidating.

As a result, their partners (not knowing that ADHD is afoot or what it really means) accept an unfair share of responsibility for the couple’s conflicts.  I wrote extensively about this phenomenon in my first book: Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Adult ADHD relationship


The Double-Sided Sword of Denial

Yet there exists a parallel phenomenon for some adults with ADHD: They endure people who remain “in denial” about ADHD and the sometimes-formidable challenges they are up against. In this way, the “denial” sword cuts both ways. So can an apparent lack of empathy.

Here’s the thing: I also facilitate a face-to-face group for adults with ADHD.  And, I receive many e-mails from adults who have ADHD. But I’ve not been privy to written rants from adults with ADHD (excluding those tortured souls who flame me as being a Pharma Shill or Whore, despite no pharma funding).

Perhaps the adults in our local group are simply polite. Perhaps their friends and loved ones are more enlightened about ADHD—not “in denial” and actively empathic on developing joint strategies.

Just possibly, though: They beat themselves up over their missteps so much. Hearing it from others just tosses one more justified critical voice on the heap. It’s been going on so long in their lives, perhaps they don’t even think to mention it.

A Visceral Kick to the Gut

Recently, I received this e-mail from a new acquaintance, L. Friesen. We met when she read some of my posts on an ADHD discussion forum and sent this message:

Months ago I wrote to you about wanting to send you something I was writing. I realized that I was having difficulty articulating what I felt needed to be said. It’s taken months of going back and forth with it and it’s evolved from where I first started.

It’s not all that polished and I apologise for that. [She uses British spelling.] I find few in the helping area that I truly respect and you write with a sensitivity that is often very touching.  I’m curious about your response to what I wrote.

Here is my response to Ms. Friesen:

A visceral kick to the gut.

I’ve always felt empathy for the challenges of adults with ADHD, including the pervasive misperceptions and myths about it, because I made a point to educate myself. But still, this essay’s raw and heartfelt emotion stayed with me for days. 

My gratitude goes to Ms. Friesen, for allowing me to share her powerful essay with you. I hope her words give voice to your personal experience—or help you to understand the people with ADHD in your life.

—Gina Pera

ADHD Partner perspective

On With My Vent In All Its Offensive Glory

By L. Friesen

I’ve observed that prefacing what you’re going to say with “I’m just venting” means you are declaring immunity from criticism for being irrational or unfair. You can be irresponsible about the casualties that read what you spew or be as bigoted as you want.

I’m invoking this “right” for myself.

You will simply have to put up with my impertinence because, as you already know, venting is not something allowed to those who are neurologically questionable. For us it is called “making excuses” or, gotta love this one, “being negative.”

I don’t care to be objective because it’s my life and my experience, which isn’t an objective experience. I’m out of control, I’m breaking the rules. This is my “oppositional defiance” and not a legitimate “vent.” Legitimacy is only for the normal. So on with my vent in all its offensive glory.

A Lifelong Sacrifice to Public Opinion

From my earliest years, I recall the disapproving voices.

“Little girls do not run up and down the block screaming.”

“Look at you, you got mud all over your dress!”

“What were you thinking?”

“What is wrong with you?!”

There was never an answer to these hurtful questions. My parents, injected with fears that they were badly permissive parents, left me no shelter from this storm of accusation. No one was coming to rescue me.

I felt like a sacrifice to public opinion.  I watched the people who loved me—more than anyone else in the world—berate, scold, and many times slap me for reasons I could not understand.  “With a spoiled child, here is what you do,” they were told. Or, “Just give me that child for a week and I’d fix her.”

I began to believe that I must be bad, that everything was my fault even if I couldn’t figure out what it was that I had done. Now I am told I care too much what others think and that I “have low self-esteem.” I don’t actually believe this.  It becomes impossible to manage a self-image that is bombarded with negative attributions, and I need to be ever vigilant in order that “others” do not penalize me for just being myself.

From the earliest memories of my life, my treatment hung upon the whims and mercies of an unmerciful other out there. Never knowing when the looks would come or why, the disapproval hung thickly as if I was followed by a flock of crows. A group of crows is called a “murder,” and perhaps in some ways, this is apt.

ADHD empathy

I Never “Grieved” For My Own Children

At least I was spared the indignity of having my parents “grieve” over me. Blessedly,  I never once grieved for my own children. I never felt I was put upon by all their energy or the homework we had to get through each night. They broke stuff and got into all sorts of things. They did try my patience on certain days. But each night, when they were asleep, I’d go into their room and see what a little angel I had in each of them.

There is a certain rage that wells up inside of me when I hear parents who are angry and resentful of their child—or those teens who are floundering desperately and get heaped with all sorts of lingo about consequences and contracts and threats of being thrown out to fend for themselves. I look at the grievances and the blame that gets heaped on those young shoulders and wonder how they will do well. The steady drumbeat of criticism has already done its damage.

I don’t think there’s anything more offensive to me than seeing the blame perpetuated onto another generation. When I read of the suffocating control that some parents wield,  in order to “keep their sanity,” I am filled with such that only one who’s been there can know. I was just a mom with wonderfully spirited children.

The Adult ADHD perspective

No Excuse for “Symptom Leakage”

Now, as an adult, should there be leaking of any symptoms, there will be room for interrogation, along with lots of “should” and recriminations.

To have ADHD means that you will be subject to the continuous and damning refrain: There is no excuse. I must look normal—and act normal—because there is no excuse otherwise. Oh, we’re told that it “can” be an explanation. But it’s just a well-worded and appropriately self-deprecating acknowledgment of culpability for our crimes.

What are these crimes? Apparently, refusing to take our designated place as unworthy of actually being excused. We must always be pardoned by the grace of those rising above our behavior and proclivities. As if they’re walking around with that condescending smile and token accommodations saying, “You’re welcome” to me all day long. The message also gets sent that we are ungrateful and callous for not saying thank-you for any allowance at all.

Yes, I know that mouthings are made here and there, a much rarer event than the monkish intonations of  “You must not use ADHD as an excuse.” In theory, I am absolved upon a rare “bad day”. But in practical terms, this is not the case. I can be called to account for any leakage. Inevitably to follow:  The disparagement or disapproval of my failure to utilize one “coping” device or another.

There really is no excuse for having ADHD. Messages to the contrary are a salve doled out so sparingly that usefulness is moot. My voice will be excluded because my reputation precedes me. I’m one of “those” who can’t be trusted, for we are ever under the critical and suspicious gaze. I have been positioned as someone of inferior reputation. Therefore, I must be lying, I must be making an excuse.

ADHD partner perspective

I Lack “Self-Awareness”—Oh Really

It’s true, though: After a lifetime of interrogations, you learn to watch what you say when those questions begin. You learn that it’s humiliating to hand someone the stick that they will beat you with. I will be dismissed with lines such as, “People with ADHD lack self-awareness.”

I have become very aware. It won’t do, however, to allow a voice that isn’t filled with anxiety and trepidation for your favour that today I performed okay. In short, any defense is labeled patronizingly as “defensiveness.”

When you’re losing ground in an argument, you can always push one of the buttons on the laundry list of my diagnosis. For example, the button self-doubt works wonders: my view of reality is skewed by my condition. The button of lacking self-awareness. It doesn’t do to point out that this lack of self-awareness cuts both ways, that you are no more aware of or understand the cues I send.

It is irrelevant to mention: I am inconvenienced by any number of rituals that slide so fast past your awareness—because you expect and demand that I be normal.

Your reasoning becomes harsher as your unchecked expectations escalate. Your blinded awareness of my state leads you to characterize your observations in the most hurtful ways. You say,  should I ask for consideration, you are forced to ‘”lower your standards.”

It’s a pointless exercise to wonder or dare to ask aloud: Why is it always me that needs to learn their verbal, emotional, physical language and to heed their default rules of conduct while also translating mine into theirs for their comfort?  Why is their communication style, their processing, their outputting the decided template—the one I can fill in with bits of me that are whitewashed and made more palatable for them?

The Adult ADHD perspective

You’ve Made a Twin of Me In Your Mind—the Normal Twin

You say I mesmerized you with my hyperfocus—a bit of magic dust I covered myself with to trap and enslave you. It wasn’t that I was actually a warm, funny, decent human being with any redeeming qualities. Now, with bitterness and rank self-pity, you complain that the real (inferior) me was concealed beneath a magic glow.

The resentment you express over my “deception” just adds to my disorientation. You’ve made a twin of me in your mind—my normal twin, the one you really want.

You measure me constantly against this figment-of-your-imagination twin and I am predestined to fall short. At some point, you will threaten to abandon and scorn me. Then, as the anxiety and the part of my brain that allows for super performance tries to stave off the loss, you watch and sighhh and commiserate that it’s just a manipulation to stave off the inevitable. I won’t truly change, you say ruefully. Because to truly change (to your standards, anyway) would require a level of perfection impossible for anyone.

ADHD hyperfocus

Why Is This “Ideal” Twin The Goal?

Ultimately,  you don’t want to participate in the give and take of my coping strategies. That requires your maintaining an uncomfortable level of vigilance while modifying your habitual ways of doing something. When you find this difficult and sometimes impossible, you throw at me that you do everything and then insist you can do no more—all the while insisting that I maintain this same level of effort for you.

Why is this ideal me (the one in your head) the goal?  Do I get to show you the lovely box I’ve constructed for you from my ideal template? Shall I walk you through the exact instructions you’ll need to follow in order to wedge yourself into it?

You will allow me to show you how much I care for you by throwing some “opportunities” my way to make me feel better. That is, to let me feel slightly less like I’m trying to keep a raft afloat—held together with duct tape as parasitic fishes poke microscopic holes in it. You’ll let me think my foundering is getting me closer to your realization: that I do in fact love you and want you in my life.

Oh, and you’re welcome.

Super-efforts only last a few weeks and you can’t understand why? They do for you as well. But then, you don’t have to use this part of your brain for normal performance as well. Many times you will leave, grieving for the hypothetical twin. I am left wondering if I can begin again. Maybe I can find someone who will care about me without my own loving feelings being rated according to performance-based system.

ADHD partner perspective

Dodging Social Landmines Is Exhausting

My social timing will never be perfect. I’ll stand out from the crowd, which will lead either to unsolicited and often unhelpful advice or they will back away slowly. I strain to contain the thoughts, to remember the hundreds of niceties, correct postures, correct lines of the conditioned script you call empathy and socially adaptive behaviour.

Anxiety will spike as my mind floods with potential social landmines, things you give no thought to. I know that, should I find myself feeling enjoyment, a laundry list of how I’ve socially failed and embarrassed you will soon follow. When I’m enjoying myself, the tight hold I must maintain on my body, my facial muscles and my thoughts loosen and “here there be dragons.”

As we finally leave this field of landmines, the exhaustion overwhelms me, leaving me little ability to fend off the recriminations over my moments of unchecked control. This will be followed by finishing the list that I must accomplish before my day is done. For, not to do so means having to listen to you say that I never do anything and you have to do everything. That I have just exhausted myself in “doing” for you so that your social needs will be met is swept aside as negligible. Those efforts are invisible to you, so they don’t count as doing.

ADHD empathy

Meanwhile, At Work: More Landmines

The next morning I go to work, where similar landmines await.  I’ll spend the next 8 hours jogging around those landmines. Should my attempts be too imperfect, the ax is waiting.

In fact, I see it coming now, when my differences reach a critical level and I begin to be treated with disdain. I move on, with you unaware. Nor can I tell you. I never do anything. Then you will wonder why I quit yet another job.

But how about you? Will you acknowledge several times each day that you have not lived up to the ideals imposed upon you by society. Or, will you make some pretense?

I look for support and see none around me. So I go online.  If not vilified, then I am certain to run into the overly cheerful, overly pumped up, positive voice of what appears to be a special ed teacher transitioning into adult practice.  These are the places where commentary and narratives of the non-ADHD partners share their pain, where:

  • Embarrassingly over-confident cheery tips for “handling” my  ADHD are doled out like recipes for “never fail” pastry.
  • Bigotry and ADHD-ist statements flow freely.
  • I dare not chime in my own experience because it might contradict the ongoing debasement, censure, and denouncements. I was personally told it’s a measure of their pain and that I have to understand.

The unspoken message: I am insensitive and blissfully unaware of my bull-in-a-china-shop ways. I need to “pay attention” so that I can learn just how destructive I am.

Your Pain Eclipses Mine

I damn myself the instant I confess my condition, do I not? How selfish I am to be so unaware of your pain and do nothing. It couldn’t be that—after a lifetime with no treatment and a lifetime of abuse—I am in no position to do so? This, along with a complete lack of acknowledgment that what I’ve faced is a condition at all. I don’t know how to help myself, much less help your pain. Your pain eclipses mine. You are the innocent victim of my ADHD. I am cast into the role of victimizer, which adds to a lifetime’s burden of guilt.

It couldn’t be that your comparing of me to “what I could be'” is more often the source of your pain than anything I do or do not do?

It’s very understandable, you’ll be told; “They” can make you crazy. You’ll toss out the occasional “I’m not perfect, either.” But you wield the weapon of our symptomology while your own lack of perfection remains concealed. Not very much of a level playing field, is it?

They extoll your virtues—what you put up with. poor dear. It’s chaos and madness—the terror of the roller coaster. For me to cry, to rage, to acknowledge what is being done and how my reputation is being shredded will only bring on yet another accusation of self-pity. I am evil by nature. Tis my nature, said the scorpion.

The Adult ADHD perspective

My Caring About Your Pain Is Not Credible

I actually care that you are in pain. I’d like to help, I’d like to share with you so that you could understand perhaps where you are mischaracterizing, where you can push for more, and how you can be more effective.

Unfortunately, I am not credible. That crazy ADHD brain is described as out of touch with reality—skewed.  Then there is the implied motive that I’m gaming you. Who would take advice from a doctor or lawyer whose view of reality is skewed? If I correct a misperception, I am being “defensive.”

There are so many methods to silence me, to discredit me, that I am left mute while the flow of your rage burns a psychological acid on my character. It would appear my role is to be one of acknowledger of how we people with ADHD run around and wreck people’s lives.

It’s all sewn up neatly, and  I am immobilized, a silent stone.  Speaking out brings chiding or censure; emotional reactions are forbidden. I must apologise and comply. After all, I need to be examined, treated, and cured. Emotional reactions reflect my bad brain. I must be grateful to be your affliction—and most of all to be polite and say “Thank you.”

To acknowledge shame is shameful; to acknowledge my hurt frightens you. I might “give in” and no longer march towards that destination I can never reach. That destination being to look and act and perform like an NT [neurotyical].

Everyone is taught to conceal weakness, to mask “the problem,” and soldier on. If I try and conceal mine, the accusation of lying or deception is forthcoming. You will never accept that I was giving my best performance because it wasn’t good enough.

When Adult ADHD Feels Like "Not Being Good Enough"

Adult ADHD Means Not Good Enough

I dare not mention it for I know what’s to come. That relentless urging to be better than I am, as I am clearly not good enough. “What could you have done differently?”, the kindly yet patronizing voice will ask.

It is not mine to express frustration or demand acceptance; otherwise, that lightly scolding tone will tell me I’m being negative. I learn that my reality and my experience and my nature is negative. To speak of the reality of it is to jeopardize a cultural need for everyone to be the same.

So I sneak in ways of soothing and resting myself for the next onslaught and I’m told that these methods are “not good enough.” These methods are in fact relieving and pleasurable. Naturally, that’s maladaptive. I must employ and perform an inexhaustible amount of compensatory strategies.

I must go to bed at night at a prescribed time so that I can lie awake and perform an inventory of my actions to satisfy any recrimination that I am not “taking care of myself,” making excuses, or lacking empathy for you.

If this doesn’t work, then medication is the answer. My partner now sees that all is right in the world as I behave closer to “normal.” I’ve become medicalized, a project that feels like a punishment, the demand to obediently take the medications despite the intolerable feeling in my body from the side effects. The demand to obediently follow the script of wellness and getting better. “I’m getting better! I’m doing better. I didn’t forget to do that thing you asked me to today.”

When Adult ADHD Feels Like "Not Being Good Enough"

“I Can’t See You Doing Anything”—How True Indeed

There are moments when the thinly veiled disgust washes over your face as you find my small triumph an embarrassment for its mundanity. It’s also glaring evidence that you live in blissful ignorance of the struggle you expect me to make look easy. You can then  say, “I can’t see you doing anything?” True indeed.

I need and want to develop strengths. I want to pursue goals and live in a way that allows me to be comfortable. Yet, in all this narrative, I feel oddly left out.

My experience of desiring to achieve is overshadowed by your fear that I don’t have the correct desires—or any desires at all. Your fears and demands create such anxiety in me that my head swirls.  The relentless herding towards a satisfactory goal leaves me on my personal “trail of tears”—exhausted, confused, and parts of me so undernourished that I become disoriented in my own life.

I have been battling for survival all my life. As society disallows any legitimate symptoms, I am now in a double bind.  The rhetoric is designed in such a way that, should I complain, I am just “buying into” a defeatist attitude. Or that the judgment is all in my head or that I lack empathy for those who are affected by my ADHD. It is expected of me that I will labour perpetually to become that which I will never be. To prove I’m normal.

Even though you can’t see all of the labours I put forth daily, I am labouring and it’s a heavy burden. What makes my burden unendurable are the needlessly ever-present insinuations and devaluations that like rain, weigh me down, often past the point of my endurance.

L. Friesen

More Stories on ADHD & Relationships

Myth # 2: ADHD Is An Excuse for Irresponsibility

I wish I’d Known Earlier about Adult ADHD

ADHD and Lacking Empathy: Was I Raising a Narcissist?

Breaking Out of ADHD Relationship Dysfunction — After Not Breaking a Fall

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—Gina Pera

114 thoughts on “When Adult ADHD Feels Like “Not Being Good Enough””

  1. Pingback: Others say it better than I can…. – Desperately Seeking Dopamine

  2. Huge thanks to L. Friesen and the site maintainers for sharing this. Like a few others I saw in the comments I wish I could share this with my partner, but it would be an attack even though though the intent is actually desperate plea for acceptance.

    Still, even if this isn’t something I could share with the person I want to share it most with, I am so grateful to feel a bit less deluded and alone. I probably will share this with my therapist though.

    1. This resonated so much with me. It felt like I was reading my own life and I cried bitterly during my first of many readings.

      I did share it with my partner out of desperation during a fight. Then we made up and I considered deleting the message but kept it in the end. All she said the next day was “why do you go to bed so late? You always used to go to bed at 9pm when we started dating. Now you want me to read more stuff about ADHD?” The fight was completely unrelated to my bedtime by the way. I doubt she’ll ever read this. She always says the reading material I share makes her feel burdened and that I expect her to change everything about herself. Meanwhile I am expected to dance to a very specific tune at all times or be vilified for symptom leakage.

    2. Hi Henri,

      I can sympathize with both of you.

      You might want to be accepted for who you are, or at least understood.

      Your partner might want more cooperation and answers to bewildering questions such as “why are you going to bed so late now, when you didn’t while we were dating?”

      The answer might be in both of you moving toward the middle. That is, toward solid education about ADHD and maybe medication treatment.

      As L. Friesen said in a comment to her essay, things have improved since she started treatment. That did not invalidate how she felt at the time. But it did indicate that improving her functioning improved her life.


  3. I feel like forwarding this personal account of ADHD to my estranged family so that they might finally get it, but I wont because I know they wouldn’t even bother reading it

    1. Hi David,

      Why not send it anyway, with no expectation? If it makes you feel better.

      Given the heritability of ADHD, maybe your family is in denial of their own challenges.

      I’m glad you found answers, despite them.

      take care,

    2. David, I feel similarly to you. I want to share this with my wife so she can maybe see how crippling my experience can be, but I know confidently that it will be taken as an attack. I am so deep into my own “lies” and lack of “self control” that if I try to look for help in a way that isn’t approved I will just push it over he edge and lose everyone. Great feeling huh?

    3. Hi Anonymous,

      I can only imagine how “great” the feeling is. 🙁

      And yes, I would not anticipate getting a positive reaction from sharing this post with her.

      If she has been suffering, too, from your ADHD-related challenges (however unintentionally on your part), she just might not be able to “open her ears” to empathizing with you.

      At least until her experience is validated. And maybe not even then. I can’t say.

      But I do know that when both partners have their experienced validated through education and peer support, both are more likely to be open to new strategies.

      I will soon be launching my online training. Be sure to subscribe to my blog here in order to be notified.

      It will be a game-changer.

      take care,

    4. Margot Mare Richards

      I feel the same way, feel like they will just be dismissive, its comforting to know others go through feel the same about how their family treat you. I find it overwhelming masking my anxiety and just stay inside and hide .

    5. P.S. Margo, it’s a painful way to live.

      As the author of the essay notes in the comments, her pursuing ADHD treatment has made things better for her.

      If you haven’t tried medication, I encourage you to learn more about it. And not rely on the average prescriber.


  4. And here I am, 46, reading my life, lived by others, a genetic tract speeding silently around the world in synchronized chaos, hidden within brains.

    It’s 1:38AM on a Friday night and I’m avoiding going home because I can’t face my wife and another headache-filled weekend of guilt and frustration because my ADHD is a burden, insurmountable, and her therapist says I am a neurotic and just need to take responsibility. The telemedicine from out of state.

    I now distrust therapy by telemedecine. She has ended therapy with our couples therapist. For her, there has not been enough progress, no return of the sweet feelings she was looking for. Dispirited. Disillusioned. She is bitter and tired.

    Growing up miserable, neglected, and traumatized herself, her flights of fancy into a horror show of negativity, divorce threats, feelings of hopelessness, and repudiation become four hour marathons draining my body and mind as I try to right a sinking ship using a broken paddle with a hole in the middle. She says she’s done enough.

    She works with stunning efficiency, around the house, picking up dirt, doing laundry, and snappily delivering lunch to myself and our young son. I arrive at work, frazzled, under-slept, and too enervated to sit down and eat what she has prepared. Too frazzled to work, often, for hours, unless convenient string of small emergencies and gratitude temporarily structure and sustain me. I push back with every ounce of self-control that the issue facing us is not my neuroticism or that I just need to take responsibility. As we do this dance she refuses to acknowledge her part. Maybe briefly, reluctantly, hours later.

    She is oddly insistent and confident to the point of arrogance. She is fine. She’s done the work. Now I’m the problem. The proof is there. She does her job well and keeps organized.

    Her childhood was worse than mine. So I must be weak. Neurotic. I am privately disgusted by that word. It can be used to deny every legitimate emotion of a sensitive person.

    Can anyone else imagine having to talk your emotions home in a bucket, and sort through which ones are legitimate, and which ones are overreactions? I lapse into hopeless silence myself. How can I possibly explain? Loud and insistent, I am re-traumatizing her. Annoyed but calmer, and I am indulging in uncontrolled ADHD symptology. Quiet, and I am denying the connection she desperately needs. Measured, and she says I sound forced, not credible. Begging, pleading, I debase myself and encourage the dysfunctional cold power wielding patterns she learned a a child.

    Nothing works and my emotional brain searches desperately for air. She agrees that we are a universe apart in our thinking but bitterly complains about our lack of intimacy, which is now nearly total.

    She wants to be held tenderly (who wouldn’t?) while she drops verbal bombs that scar for months but — dare I bring them up — become new fodder for conflict, searing complaints about my over-sensitivity, and what a burden that is to manage. Should I be silent? A social worker herself, she compulsively analyzes and evaluates my behaviors from a clinical perspective but laden with the heavy notes of a frustrated and exhausted wife, exacerbated by an admitted unwillingness to share her own feelings directly. Instead any talk of hurt feelings are met with talk of, again, separation. How I don’t understand her. It is always vague and I am an excessively precise person. She groans and complains.

    I try to white knuckle my way through requesting enough detail to understand what’s going on without sounding petulant. The perennial threat of separation, of giving up, is now arriving several times a week, almost daily. I am integrating it; I am learning the ways of trauma and drama. I contemplate mirroring the drama and letting the relationship burn down; knowing the tremendous disadvantage I would be, alone, in simply running a new life.

    I try to be fair minded and have healthy inner dialogue; but this is fruitless. Am I exaggerating or avoiding? Dialectic thought or any other intellectual technique comes up short. In my gut (right?) I feel — paralysis. I could ramble for pages. Writing comes easy. Action does not.

    Her diagnosis is unclear. She has received speculative diagnoses of borderline, PTSD, and depression. Nothing quite fits. It is a smorgasboard. Her father was terrible. Her mother was absent. She was alone. She doesn’t remember well. The ghost of her father follows her everywhere. The men in her family were useless, abusive. I feel like I am paying the price for my family’s misfortunes and hers.

    I run my own business. I have not processed payroll since early November. I just processed three but now my account is empty. I have 40 invoices to send out and 3 more payrolls to catch up. I have done none of this, despite having every opportunity. I could, and sabotage myself with thoughts about the futility, to work diligently towards supporting a life filled with so many other tightly wound layers of conflict that it will never be unpacked, that I am biding my time until it all falls apart. The scarring comments. The criticism. I’m too sensitive, and being told that again and again is a horror show of recursive stab wounds. I don’t want to go home.

    1. Dear Daniel,

      You have my enormous sympathies. I’m so sorry that this is your day-to-day life right now.

      I read every word, and I saw nothing about ADHD treatment.

      You might protest, “Can’t you see my ADHD is not the main problem here?”

      That might be true. But here’s the thing: You seem to be in a very difficult situation, one that requires the most from all your Executive Functions (planning, emotionally self-regulating, initiating, etc.).

      In fact, I was just writing about this in an online training module. That is, even though your spouse might have her own problems, for now, that just doesn’t matter. The best thing you can do is optimize your ADHD treatment.

      Forget the random therapists. Most of them don’t have a clue about ADHD — and can make things worse. I devote a chapter to “How The Wrong Therapy Is Worse Than No Therapy” in my first book (which also explains evidence-based therapy for ADHD): https://amzn.to/39iichT

      ADHD is largely not a therapy issue — at least in the beginning.

      Medication is the single most effective tool in the ADHD toolbox for many, many adults with ADHD. No, not everyone with ADHD “needs” medication. But it seems to me that you are a good candidate.

      Will it be easy to get right? No, unfortunately. It will take some vetting and questioning. I guide readers through the medication-optimization process in You MeADD. So it will be useful for that, too.

      FOR NOW, I do NOT recommend that you share the book with your spouse. You don’t need any more fuel thrown on your fire right now, imho.

      Instead, YOU read it. But start with the Success Strategies. You need optimism and hope and a Way Out of this pain.

      ADHD treatment offers you the most likely path.

      The more you become clear and higher-functioning (at work, etc.), the more clear you will be in what’s happening in your marriage.

      Perhaps you will see that it’s an untenable situation, and you make exit plans. Or, you begin to see your dysfunctional behaviors from a more functional (and empathic) vantage point. In other words, it might be that you are over-attributing problems to your wife’s past and under-attributing problems to your ADHD-related challenges.

      Do something about them, for yourself and potentially your marriage. That is the best I can tell you.

      Best of luck

    2. I wanted to reply to Gina’s comment below.

      First, it is reassuring and heartening that the author indeed reads these long, pained, ranty messages and responds fully. I’m very impressed.

      To fill out the rest of the story: I never suspected I had the condition, especially with most of the popular press being about children and the hyperactive side. (Ironically 20 years ago a speech pathologist intuitively suspected it after meeting me socially for an hour.)

      About two years ago, my wife insisted I find a personal therapist with an ADHD diagnosis as a strong possibility and it fit like a glove.

      I have been on medication for about that much time as well after making several adjustments. I meet my prescribing doctor every 3 months for a detailed interview.

      My therapist, who I meet bi-weekly, and I are constantly working on daily living techniques to help, from wake-up alarms, to calendaring, to delegating routine tasks delegation, to coping techniques.

      I have grimly accepted, for example, that there is a lot of similarity to addictive and alcoholic behavior, so you simply dispose of all the “booze” in the house, rather than white-knuckling one’s way through resisting temptation.

      I have tried to reduce my irritable responses or apologize afterwards now that they are coming into focus.

      It also lets me see my wife’s irritability and frustration more clearly when my own noise is not polluting the space. The point is taken, though, that self-care especially regarding the business is important no matter what happens.

      It’s making peace with the “no matter what happens” part that is part of that “wall of awful”.

      She already read some of the book and as you predicted it did not lead to good things because she focused on the negative spousal experiences and pursued them aggressively, and I was not ready to listen to a one-sided discussion of grievances about hurtful behavior from a spouse.

      I will take the book to work and get through it as a “distraction” from whatever work I am avoiding :-). That is good practical advice.

    3. Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for replying.

      Okay, so you’re already on a treatment path. And your therapist knows that practical strategies are part of the plan. Great.

      From my vantage point of 20 years, with thousands of adults with ADHD and/or their partners, parents, etc.. it’s pretty rare for medication to be done right for ADHD.

      In fact, the stories I hear on a daily basis might just curl your hair. 🙂

      So, I would not assume that your prescriber has optimized your medication. There are also issues around sleep, caffeine, diet, etc. — even citric acid consumption. Even this huge issue around the Concerta crappy generics, it’s only through reading my blog that some consumers discover this — and then they have to convince their MDs and the pharmacists.


      Our couple-therapy model includes practical interventions where couples can work on joint strategies — around to-do lists, planning for various things (vacations, retirement, etc.), completing projects, etc.. But those work much better when the spouses have declared a truce and put in good-faith efforts.

      I’m sorry your wife had that reaction. It’s just a book. 🙂 The big variable is the personality and perspective that a reader brings to it.

      Read the reviews on Amazon and you’ll find many 5-star reviews from adults with ADHD. Also, it’s important to remember that it was about the 3-4th book on Adult ADHD alone, not to mention relationships (only ADD & Intimacy came before). This blog was only the SECOND on Adult ADHD. Period. There was pretty much zip awareness back then. Hence, the many scenarios, to help people recognize.

      I always say that it takes enormous empathy and intelligence to understand ADHD—and how to help a person increase functioning. Those two qualities aren’t found over-abundantly in the world, imho.

      Through my longstanding support groups for the “partners of,” I can see that clearly.

      In my training, I emphasize the important of airing reactions to the diagnosis——but at first with one’s peers or a professional.

      I especially caution the “partners of” about laying into their ADHD partners with a litany of past grievances. Their ADHD partners are having to grapple with some shocking news and many emotions. They need space for that in a neutral, supportive setting. The partners also need to “vent” but that’s what their peers are for. After enough vetting, they start to come around and become willing to work on joint strategies.

      I know how much the folks in my local Adult ADHD appreciate and benefit from peer support. I hope that you can find that somewhere. Wish I had something to refer you to.

      take care,

  5. Then don’t get married/partnered. So simple really. If you know all this about yourself, then at least do unsuspecting folks the favor of not wasting their time and emotions. ADHD folks want it both ways. They want intense almost impossible understanding and consideration and also for the other person to have zero expectations or needs. You are living in a fantasy world where everyone is supposed to offer you things you can never return.

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t think it’s so simple, though. 🙂

      Here is the essay author’s comment on the post:

      As for being decent, I know in my past I wasn’t able to be decent to my partner.

      i had untreated adhd, postpartum depression, and two little kids.

      I did know I had adhd because I was one of the rare girls who were diagnosed as a child in the 60’s. Adhd in adults was not recognised at the time, and I had no idea I was depressed, I wasn’t sad, I just had no energy for anything and the life had just drained out of me. I look back and wish someone had told me i could get treatment. During that time, I strained the relationship I had with me ex in ways that were so unfair to him. He had to do his job and most of mine.

      I’m grateful there’s more help for people now. There’s no magic pill, you still have to put in the work, and find pieces of time just for you but I do believe people’s lives can be made better if we reach out for help.


    2. Sarah, I hope this is not what you’re trying to say, but it seems like you are saying that those of us with ADHD do not deserve to have relationships because we’re not very good at them. Happiness should not be reserved for the neurotypical people only. That’s really unfair and a way to make the world a less happy place. We still do our best, but sometimes, we need others to at least try to understand what it is we’re going through instead of constantly criticizing us.

    3. This is not a description of who the writer is. This is who the writer is seen as by their significant other. The answer is not to admit that you are defective and have no right to expect anyone to ever love you or even spend five minutes with you because you’re so disgusting. That is just how the writer’s SO makes them feel. The solution, frankly, is for the writer to ditch this person who actually hates them, and find someone who appreciates them. This is an abusive relationship and the writer is the victim, but like all abuse victims, the writer is being made to feel as if it is all their fault.

  6. I’m crying during your essay.
    Your ability to articulate the feelings within yourself to me are astounding.
    Thank you for allowing me to feel empathy towards myself.
    I’ve been described as non-empathic and I have recognized it within myself.

    1. Dear April,

      So glad you found L’s remarkable essay.

      It’s unfortunate that so often, “You are not empathic” is thrown around as an insult or attack.

      The more we learn about this highly variable human organ called the brain, the better off we all are.

      With ADHD-related difficulties around empathy, for example, we have research, including showing that stimulant medication can enhance one’s innate empathy, especially in terms of acting upon it. I wrote about it here: https://adhdrollercoaster.org/adhd-and-relationships/adhd-impaired-empathy-and-dopamine/

      take care,

  7. What I have read in a single breath with 200% concentration is what I have been trying to explain for my whole 35 year of life!!!

    I was diagnosed with adhd 3wks ago after my son was diagnosed.

    The hours of arguing just to get my point across has been exhausting and heart braking, without knowing I had adhd I found a way to live happy out of the peering judgementental eyes of society’s elite (normal) that came a a cost of self isolation! For as long as I can remember!

    From my experience I have no trouble working out how other people feel admittedly over analysing. Constantl knock back abuse violent relationships and yet I still have the ability to love hard and even through fighting the war of life still have a loving attitude some may say blind sighted and still believes people have the ability to love and care as hard as I still do. Instead of making us adhders do what you normal folk do why not work hand in hand with us and a utilise our super hero abilities to accomplish the things you normal folk could not even begin to understand what we can do! Try it is selfish negative adheres may just suprise you!

    And as for not trying to explain how we feel, in my case that’s all I spend my days trying to do it’s just normal folk can’t hear me because they are filled with angry emotions of unfairness and at Times inability to listen or ask the calm questions to male what we say understandable.

    Mindful writing for people with adhd comes from years of fighting for acceptance and then they finally accept who they are! Try hiding and fighting your natural urges and creativity of being who you are burning to be but can’t because you don’t act like every one else who behavior, interests, creative expression, or yearning to love as who you are isn’t framed.

    Y the majority as normal that my love takes real skill. How many ways can a person explain them selves or feelings. Behind why they walk over dirty laundry to fix a diy bedside cabinet lol. Would you keep explaining when no one and I mean no one listens ??? Would you explain yourself when you’ve spent the best part of your life just trying to be accepted for who you are!!??

    My son was expelled from school at 5 for being different, frustration of not being understood or failure to sit down at a desk as he’d rather stand, in the shameful society if you do not conform to what’s socially accepted you are shunned out of society as you are defected, growing increasingly angry and frustrated that you may exhibit unwanted agressive behaviours.

    I do not nor would I even dream of casting judgement on others in the way people do me. Lastly after all that nasty ruthless treatment I would still help the next person no matter what they seemed to be. From reading most messages it’s clear to see us adhers have an inhuman ability throughout all our adversity and trial we still over power that evilness with a burning desire to love and be loved.

  8. sounds about right. always wondered why i’m supposedly the socially awkward one, when it seems that the social process itself is about 2 dozen scripted interactions lol. thanks for putting it all into words.

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