To people who don’t truly understand Adult ADHD, it seems a ridiculous oxymoron: A perfectionist person with ADHD? Yet, the phenomenon is surprisingly common.
For example, I hear among perfectionism among my friends with ADHD who say it takes them hours to write an e-mail. They want it to be “just right.” And they don’t see any clear line between awful and perfect.
As I emphasize in my first book, ADHD is essentially a challenge with finding that middle ground between over-doing and under-doing.
I am happy to share with you this post on the topic from blogger Liz Lewis, who writes the entertaining and thoughtful Healthy ADHD blog.
By Liz Lewis
For the longest time, I tried to figure out why so many women hide their ADHD. I’ve written about the reasons I hid my diagnosis (“Hiding My ADHD“).
It’s not just about being ashamed. It’s about thinking you can “beat it”. And some of us feel so unable to control our symptoms we start trying to control everything little thing. This kind of thinking leads to perfectionism.
Perfectionists Have Trouble Making Mistakes
More than anything, “perfectionists are rigid”, according to Adrian Furnham, D.Phil, D.Sc., professor of psychology at University College London. In an opinion piece for The Telegraph [no longer online], Furnham explains that perfectionists believe that “their acceptance and lovability is a function of never making mistakes…it’s all or nothing.”
It’s true: I am remarkably rigid for someone who lacks the ability to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. My behavior also confirms Dr. Furnham’s statement that for perfectionists, “Mistakes are equated to failure.”
As a person with ADHD, I take mistakes hard. I want—in the worst way—to do everything perfectly so that I won’t be judged for my diagnosis. The irony? In the past, my mistakes were pointed out to me and criticized fairly harshly; now I do it to myself.
Mistakes = Humiliation + Criticism = Shame (In the mind of a person with ADHD.)
Traits Common to Perfectionists
I’ve done some reading on the subject of perfectionism, and these commonly associated traits resonated for me:
I was always eager to please. As a child, I told adults whatever I thought they wanted to hear. You’d never find me arguing with teachers, parents, or anyone I considered an authority figure. Many children with ADHD are just the opposite: They can become oppositional and argumentative. I didn’t argue, I just tuned everything out.
It’s shocking, I know, to imagine this jumped out for someone with ADHD.
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I used to be more critical of people than I am now. The older I get, the more I want to understand other people instead of criticizing them. In general, I don’t like to judge or hurt anyone’s feelings.
Having trouble sharing feelings
Oh geez. I am so bad at talking about feelings. I mean epically bad. My husband could tell you stories about my inability to have difficult conversations. I love getting to know others, but sharing myself is a weak spot.
I planned my wedding with as few witnesses as possible because I didn’t want to say, “I love you” in front of people. If that’s not pathological, I don’t know what is.
ADHD, Meet Perfectionism
I have ADHD, and I also tend toward perfectionism. So where do the two traits intersect?
According to the American Psychological Association, there is a difference between “adaptive” perfectionism and “maladaptive” perfectionism. In other words, you can be a perfectionist in a healthy way, or you can be a perfectionist in a very unhealthy way. (“The many faces of perfectionism”)
Examples of adaptive perfection exist is professional athletes and surgeons. I’m not gonna lie. If a surgeon is working on me, I expect perfection. A professional athlete I am not concerned about unless their training impacts their physical or mental health in a negative way.
Unfortunately, perfectionism for me tends to be more maladaptive. It would stand to reason that I am not alone in this; I know other women with ADHD who appear to be perfectionists and exhibit some of the traits I discussed above.
How Is Perfectionism Maladaptive?
The APA article explains that when you start to believe that perfection is how you attain social acceptance – that is maladaptive behavior. Or if you put so much pressure on yourself to develop the perfect body that you go down the path of disordered eating – that is maladaptive. I will confess I have been guilty of both of these maladaptive perfectionists tendencies in the past.
Again, I do have ADHD. I still suffer with this urge to force myself into being perfect. Achieving a perfect body, perfect home, and perfect credit score will make my life infinitely more satisfying. Right?
Maybe, maybe not. I have ADHD and I am a perfectionist. And I am still learning and growing and changing. (And hopefully providing some insightful information for my Tribe.)
What Do You Think? Can A Perfectionist Also Have ADHD?
Why? Or Why not?
Can you overcome perfectionism?
About the Author:
Liz Lewis brings high-touch supports, like coaching and small group discussion, to an often underserved population: women and mothers with ADHD who live in the real world. Visit her blog: HealthyADHD